Eastertide 2021 Music & Scripture

Here is the music list in one place. I’ve also included the Scriptural list for Lent and Eastertide.

Eastertide Music 2021

Apr.5   “Et resurrexit”  Bach from b minor mass   English Consort

Apr.6 “Death, Where is Thy Sting?”      6th movement Brahms’ Requiem extract

Apr.7  “I’ve Just Seen Jesus”    Sandi Patty & Larnelle Harris   A gospel classic.

Apr.8 “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

Apr.9 “If Thou Will Suffer God to Guide Thee”      Calvin Alumni Singers

Apr.10 “O Breath of Life”     Emu Music

Apr.11 “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah   Robert Shaw (The conclusion of Messiah)

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

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”     Vigil

Apr.12  “Song of the Three Holy Children”        Orthodox Christian 

Bonus: “Canticle of Daniel”   A contemporary setting.

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

Apr.13  “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”  arr. Hogan   Nathaniel Dett Chorale

Apr.14 “Beautiful Savior” St. Olaf Choir and Alums  Kenneth Jennings conducting

Apr.15  “O Lord, Hear My Prayer”    Xara

Apr. 16 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” Southwestern University Singers and Festival Mass Choir    arr. Dan Forrest

Apr.17 “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus”   Ruut Sullinen

Apr.18   “Walk in Jerusalem Just Like John”    Buddy Greene & The Isaacs

Apr.19 “If Ye Love Me”    Tenebrae

Apr.20  “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”   Ivan Griffin, Trinity Episcopal

Apr.21 “Ain’t a That Good News”  University Singers Univ. of Minn. Duluth  

Bonus: “Ain’t a That Good News”   Kathleen Battle  arr. Robert Sadin

Apr.22   “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”   St. John Cathedral Choir

Bonus:

 “O When Shall I See Jesus”     Fountainview Academy

Apr.23  “Go Down Moses”         Sam Robson   Fantastic!

Apr.24 “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord O My Soul)”    Matt Redman

Bonus: “Bless the Lord O My Soul”  from Rachmaninoff “Vespers”  Studio Piżmax 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfDreatXYeU     FANTASTIC!  From the Russian Orthodox Liturgy. Do not miss this! A reminder, Orthodox music is always a cappella.

Apr.25   “Shepherd Me Lord”    Arizona State University Concert Choir

Apr.26  “Near to the Heart of God” Fountainview Academy

April 27  “Blessing, Glory, and Wisdom”  JS Bach     Columbine Chorale

Apr.28  “We Give Thee But Thine Own”    Morningstar Pub.

Apr.29  “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”      Jadon Lavik

Apr.30  “Children Go Where I Send Thee”   Spelman College Glee Club    WOW!

May 1 “Rejoice the Lord Is King”   arr. Forrest   Covenant Combined Choirs 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9Ec28lwVEg     Youth still sing!

Bonus: “Rejoice the Lord Is King”    great arrangement well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGqzzIEV6JU    Hour of Power Choir

May 2  “Abide with Me”   Sam Robson    You CANNOT miss this!

May 3  “Psalm 80: The Vineyard of the Lord”   The Orchard Enterprises

May 4 “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”     John Rutter

May 5   “Peace I Leave with You”   Kantorei of Kansas City

May 6  “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4qNaAlZ1xc    Kenny Rogers and Home Free

(I know you heard this in Advent, but it’s appropriate here as well and a terrific setting.)

May 7    “Psalm 67”  by Charles Ives       BBC Singers

May 8  “Find Us Faithful”    Steve Green        A classic from the past.

May 9  “ “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”       Forest Home

Bonus:“They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”   Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir             This video is a visual affirmation of the text!

May 10  “The Love of God”      Gaither Vocal Band

Bonus: “God’s Love”    Corrie Ten Boom       (41:19) If you have extra time!

May 11 “I Love to Tell the Story”    Chris Rupp      Quartet

Bonus: “I Love to Tell the Story”   Alan Jackson     Country Classic

May 12 “Shema Israel”   Azi Schwartz cantor

May 13  “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”     Chet Valley Churches

May 14   “O Clap Your Hands All Ye People”   by John Rutter  The Cambridge Singers

May 15   “Veni Sancte Spiritus”   Lauridsen         The Singers, Matthew Culloton

May 16   “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation”       Stonebriar Choir & Orchestra

May 17 “Sweet Hour of Prayer”     Radiance    (You may remember these guys from a few years ago. Outstanding.)

May 18  ““Not to Us O Lord”      the Imperials

May 19 ““How Firm a Foundation”     Sanctuary Choir, Dr. Terry Morris

May 20 “The Creation”    a poem by James Weldon Johnson

May 21   “God and God Alone”   Steve Green     A classic from the past!

Bonus:  “How Excellent Thy

Name” from  Saul  Handel     Mormon Tabernacle Choir

May 22   “With Joy You Will Draw Water from the Wells of Salvation”   Donaldian Ensemble

May 23  ““Cum Sancto Spiritu”    Vivaldi     National Chamber Choir of Armenia

Scripture Index Lent-Pentecost 2021

Genesis 2:4b-7       5/20/21

Genesis   9:8-17   3/11/21

Genesis 16:7-15   2/27/21

Genesis 46:28-47:6   4/23/21

Genesis 48:8-19     4/24/21

Exodus 19:9b-15    3/5/21

Exodus 19:16-25      3/6/21

Numbers 21:4-9         3/14/21

Deuteronomy 7:1-11    5/10/21

Deuteronomy 11:1-17  5/11/21

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 5/12/21

Deuteronomy 32:44-47 5/8/21

I Samuel 16:1-13                     4/26/21

2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 16-19 3/9/21

Psalm 4                               4/14/21

Psalm 33:12-22                     5/21/21

Psalm 77                      2/22/21

Psalm 80                   5/2/21

Psalm 84            3/9/21

Psalm 95            4/28/21

Psalm 115          5/18/21

Proverbs 30:1-9 2/24/21

Isaiah 32:9-20   5/4/21

Isaiah 42:1-9    3/29/21

Isaiah 42:5-9      5/7/21

Isaiah 43:8-13   3/22/21

Isaiah 50:4-9a        3/31/21

Isaiah 58:1-12   2/17/21

Isaiah 60:15-22 3/17/21

Daniel 1:1-21     4/8/21

Daniel 2:1-23     4/9/21

Daniel 2:24-49  4/10/21

Daniel 3:1-30      4/12/21

Daniel 6:1-28      4/13/21

Daniel 9:1-14     2/18/21

Daniel 9:15-25a      2/19/21

Daniel 10: 2-19   4/16/21

Hosea 5:15-6:6  4/20/21

Matthew 9:2-13 2/20/21

Mark 4:30-32          5/1/21

Mark 8:31-38      2/28/21

Mark 11:15-19    3/10/21

Mark 12:18-27    4/14/21

Mark 16:1-8         4/7/21

Mark 16:9-18       4/21/21

John 3:1-13          3/12/21

John 3:14-21        3/14/21

John 7:37-39        5/22/21

John 10:1-18        4/25/21

John 11:1-57        3/26/21

John 12:1-11         3/20/21

John 12: 1,2,12-16 3/27/21

John 12:20-35        3/30/21

John 12:36-43         3/3/21

John 12:34-50         3/24/21

John 13:1-17, 31b-35  4/1/21

John 14:18-31           5/5/21

John 15:1-8               5/2/21

John 16:4-11             5/15/21

John 16:16-24           5/19/21

John 20:24-31         4/11/21

Acts 1:1-12                5/13/21

Acts 2:14-24             3/23/21

Acts 3:1-10                4/17/21

Acts 3:12-19              4/18/21

Acts 3:17-26              4/22/21

Acts 8:1b-8               4/29/21

Acts 8:9-25                4/30/21

Acts 10:1-48              5/6/21

Romans 3:21-31           2/25/21

Romans 4:1-12         2/26/21

I Corinthians 3:10-23     3/8/21

I Corinthians 10:1-13     3/16/21

I Corinthians 15:35-49   4/5/21

I Corinthians 15:50-58   4/6/21

Ephesians 1:3-14             3/12/21

Philippians  1:3-11       5/17/21

Philippians 2:1-11        3/25/21

Philippians 2:6-11        3/26/21  (Incarnation)

Hebrews 1:8-12                3/1/21

Hebrews 3:1-6              3/15/21

Hebrews 4:1-13            3/18/21

Hebrews 4:14-5:4         3/19/21

Hebrews 5:5-10             3/21/21

Hebrews 9:23-28               3/9/21

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19   3/2/21

I Peter 3:8-18a                2/23/21

I Peter 3:18-22                 2/21/21

I John 3:10-16                 4/19/21

I John 5:1-6                          5/9/21

I John 5:9-13                    5/16/21

Rev.7:9-17                       4/27/21

Sunday, May 23 Pentecost

Reader: “On the day of Pentecost”

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

Scripture: Acts 2:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You’ll recall that the Feast of Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage festivals which required every Jewish male to journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. That explains why there were Jews present from all over the known world. (In the absence of today’s media, what better way to spread the gospel. In fact, people to people communication is still the most effective way on earth!) 

For the past ten days the disciples and a group of believers had remained in Jerusalem praying together daily in accordance with Jesus’ directive at his ascension. They were to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit that would come to dwell in them in Jesus’ absence. The believers were gathered when a violent supernatural wind from heaven came blowing through the room. Wind in Scripture often depicts the presence of the Spirit of God. The wind hovered over the waters at creation. 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. Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. In talking with Nicodemus, Jesus referred to the Spirit as wind blowing where it will.  Fire and wind appear together again in this passage. This coming of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, again, fire representing the presence of God. 

Whereas the presence of the Holy Spirit was given in measured degrees in the First Testament among various prophets, as we have mentioned previously, this was the first time it was given in full measure to all believers. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, came 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 rejection of God. So he confused the languages so they could not understand each other resulting in the people being scattered over the face of the earth, thus destroying their prideful, man-centered unity. Now, people from many countries thousands of years later in their own languages hear the good news that God has delivered people from their pride and sin. The gospel is the unifier of all peoples! Would that our world grasped this truth today.

The unity of the whole of Scripture is undeniable. (This is one of the reasons it is so important to study the First Testament as well as the New Testament.) The areas mentioned would be the modern day regions of the Kurds, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Arab regions south and east of Israel, Egypt, Libya, islands in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Rome. One of the central themes of the feast of Pentecost historically has been repentance. So it is no surprise that Peter’s sermon which follows this passage is on repentance, with the result being thousands of people became believers! And that same Holy Spirit continues to convert thousands of people in our day.

What a fitting way to conclude these past fifty days of time in God’s word. The ability to lead a Christian life in our own strength, determination, and self-reliance is not possible. Perfection is God’s standard, hence, we are doomed. God provided his Son to take our place on the perfection side of things as he accepted Jesus’ death in our condemned place as evidenced by the torn curtain. At Jesus’ departure he gave  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. Let us live that life.

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 moments with the Lord these past months. Thank you for your support. It has truly been a joy in preparing these devotionals. My hope is that you have gained in your love for the Lord and have been drawn closer to him and at the same time grown in your knowledge of the Scriptures. I also hope you’ve been introduced to some new music or known music in new settings. In a few months I’ll most likely be working on next year’s Advent series. You may also receive some emails with some things to think about between now and then, but Advent begins next Nov.28, 2021.   

The Lord be with you,

  Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com

©Daniel Sharp 2021

Saturday, May 22

Reader: “ ”

Response: “ ”

Scripture:   John 7:37-39

On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Once again, context is everything in understanding the impact of what Jesus did in what you just read. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three major pilgrimage feasts for the Jews. The population of Jerusalem had swelled considerably with massive crowds in attendance. The feast was an eight day celebration with messianic implications. Each day of the feast there was a processional water ceremony in which there was a prayer to God to send rain in the late autumn. On this final eighth day, the ceremony was repeated seven times. Water was brought in a golden pitcher and poured on the altar as the Levites sang Is.12:3 “With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!”

There are three types of water sources in Israel. A cistern which collects rainwater during the rainy season. In these large stone caverns the water can become stagnant and contaminated. A second type are wells which are more valuable except they can dry up in a drought. The most valuable water source are the brooks and rivers which are fed by springs. They are known in the Bible as “living water” in other words, water with movement. They are not subject to drought or stagnation.

When Jesus on this last day of the festival shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me. Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” In his reference to “living water” Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit who was yet to be given to the people. He was hearkening to the day of Pentecost, yet in the future. But it was also a clear call to come to the Messiah. This “living water” of the Holy Spirit would never dry up. 

Ancient Jewish theology connected the water drawing ceremony with the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was related to salvation. This theme was often repeated among the prophets and was commonly understood by the people. Jesus made this exact connection in this passage. As with the woman at the well, Jesus offered “living water” of salvation that man’s spiritual thirst may be eternally quenched. The people were very quick to pick up Jesus’ messianic claim by his response. We see here once again an example of Jesus fulfilling the Jewish festivals and fulfilling the law perfectly. When you look at the seven primary festivals, we find Jesus completing each one to the fullest.

Music:  “With Joy You Will Draw Water from the Wells of Salvation”   Donaldian Ensemble

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, give to me the living water that I may never thirst again. Amen.

―Daniel Sharp

Friday, May 21

Reader: “We put our hope in the Lord.”

Response: “He is our help and our shield.”

Scripture: Psalm 33:12-22           

What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,

    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

The Lord looks down from heaven

    and sees the whole human race.

 From his throne he observes

    all who live on the earth.

He made their hearts,

    so he understands everything they do.

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,

    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.

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

    for all its strength, it cannot save you.

But the Lord watches over those who fear him,

    those who rely on his unfailing love.

 He rescues them from death

    and keeps them alive in times of famine.

We put our hope in the Lord.

    He is our help and our shield.

 In him our hearts rejoice,

    for we trust in his holy name.

Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,

    for our hope is in you alone.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

Read the first sentence again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Can you imagine? “What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.” Some day when the Lord returns, yes. But alas, we live among a rebellious people who have no care or fear of the Lord. Yet the Lord looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. He doesn’t see a mass of people, he sees individuals. He knows what’s in their hearts and he knows everything they do. Though God generally stays out of directly intervening into people’s lives and choices, he is very aware of everything going on in a person’s life. God is not distant. 

In uncertain times even the best equipped army cannot save compared to the Lord’s saving power. Human beings are not the ultimate answer to solving problems and threats. For the Lord watches over you and me as those who fear him. When we rely on his unfailing love, we are in the perfect place. The Lord is our help and our shield in times of struggle and uncertainty.

It is no mystery that the United States is in the midst of great unrest and a power struggle for control of the government and consequently control of the people. Then we read this psalm and are reminded of the certainty of God understanding every heart of every person, for he made them! He knows the heart that is working against him seeking to destroy his work in the world. He is sovereign. Our ultimate confidence is in our Lord in the midst of uncertainty. As the psalmist says, “We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield.”

How does that work? Rather than becoming more upset or worried with each new intrusion or godless endeavor by those in rebellion against God, we turn to the Lord and converse with him in prayer reminding ourselves “he understands everything they do.” God is not disinterested in this world and nothing is a surprise to him. Pray and rest in him. He’s God after all!

Music:  “God and God Alone”   Steve Green     A classic from the past!

Bonus:  “How Excellent Thy Name” from  Saul  Handel     Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Prayer:  O Lord Jesus Christ, who wast moved with compassion for all who had gone astray, with indignation for all who suffered wrong: inflame our hearts with the burning fire of thy love, that with thee we may seek out the lost, with thee have mercy on the fallen and with thee stand fast for truth and righteousness; both now and always. O God of all goodness, whose greatest gifts are thy simplest gifts, bestowed on all men; give us thy blessings, love and peace, and gladness of heart, health of body and mind, and the joy of serving thee. Amen.          ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.57

Thursday, May 20

Reader: “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils,” 

Response: “and the man became a living person.”

Scripture:  Genesis 2:4b-7

This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.

When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the earth. For the Lord God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all the land. Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

During this Eastertide the resurrection and eternal life have certainly been part of the focus as we head toward Pentecost this coming Sunday. I’d like to go back to the beginning in Genesis and have us look at the passage that introduces the arrival and the uniqueness of humans entering creation. 

A second name for God is introduced in this pericope. The first two chapters to this point refer to God as Elohim, the all-powerful creator God. In our portion God is referred to as Yahweh Elohim, which speaks of an eternal God who formed an everlasting covenant with Israel. In other words, there is a more personal dimension in the creator God as well. We see evidence of such in the latter section of our passage. 

At this point in creation there was no vegetation life on earth because there was no water and there were no people to cultivate the land. Cultivation and working the land you’ll notice is not a result of the fall. Sin had not yet entered the new creation. Farming the land predated sin! Later with the fall of Adam and Eve, the ground was cursed because of their sin and the eternal losing battle against weeds and thistles began. Caring for and stewarding creation was part of human identity and purpose from the start. The earth is the Lord’s and man has been given the responsibility to act as its gardener with accountability to its Owner.

The last part of this passage strikes me as very “earthy.” The LORD God took dust from the ground and formed a man. The earth to this day is a reference point for humans. When we die we are planted back in the earth to return to dust, the substance which formed us in the first place. Like many places in Scripture, it doesn’t say about the process in which God formed man, it just states that he did. Then came a creative act unique to all of creation. God breathed into the man’s nostrils and this dust-formed man became a living person, unlike anything else God made in all of creation. God was intimately involved in making this creature. God put his own breath into the man. Adam’s first breath came from God! God did not do this for any animals. Only human beings are made in the image of God. Only human beings have souls. The psalmist says that we are “a little lower than the angels” (Ps.8). Only humans have dialogue with their Creator. Only humans have spiritual awareness and a moral conscience. 

In a world where many human beings are searching for their identity in all kinds of strange ways and trying to find meaning and purpose as to why they are here, we have to but go back to Genesis two to see God’s initial plan. God created a man and woman, male and female, to be fruitful and multiply and take care of his earth. Their identity rested in being made in God’s image. Having read this passage again, I take comfort in what God has done. Perhaps we can help someone today who is struggling to figure things out.

Music:  “The Creation”    a poem by James Weldon Johnson

Prayer: Creator Spirit, who broodest everlastingly over the lands and waters of earth, enduing them with forms and colors which no human skill can copy, give me today, I beseech Thee, the mind and heart to rejoice in Thy Creation. Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes; forbid that the lure of the market place would ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees; forbid that under the low roof of workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky; forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face. Let the energy and vigour which in Thy wisdom Thou hast infused into every living thing stir today within my being, that I may not be among Thy creatures as a sluggard and a drone.  O Thou whose divine tenderness doth ever outsoar the narrow loves and charities of earth, grant me today a kind and gentle heart towards all things that live. I rejoice in the wonder of Thy works all of which speak to the glory of their matchless Creator. In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.           ―A Diary of Private Prayer, p.125, adapted Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, May 19

Reader: “You will grieve,” 

Response: “but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.”

Scripture:  John 16:16-24

 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:     

Once again we find ourselves in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples just hours before his arrest and crucifixion. They are having trouble following him in what he is saying. They have no idea what is about to happen. Previously Jesus has told them that he would be arrested and killed and rise on the third day. That never really registered with them. Jesus is preparing them for the extreme sorrow they will experience when he is killed even though the world will be happy thinking they have finally done away with Jesus. But with the resurrection comes overwhelming joy!

It is interesting that Jesus uses the example of labor pains and new birth. What he is about to accomplish is indeed a new birth. The old weight of sin and the law is defeated and the righteousness of the law is perfectly fulfilled. No longer will worship go through an earthly priest. But with the tearing of the curtain in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the disciples can pray directly to the Father using the name of Jesus. What Jesus is describing to the disciples had not yet happened. He is preparing them for what lies ahead. Even with this preparation of what is going to take place, they will still scatter at the moment of truth and forsake Jesus.

In this account I am reminded of some similarities to the world in which we live. If we look at the immediate surface of things, it is not encouraging. There is social, racial, and political unrest. In the states there is concern of government intrusion and over extension of power. Judeo-Christian values are clearly under attack. It does not appear any of these issues are headed for a solution or even progress. Likewise, when Jesus was crucified it had all the appearance of a disastrous crushing defeat. Jesus’ talk of the Kingdom of God seemed to have come to a swift, fatal conclusion. The disciples were understandably in deep sorrow and discouragement. 

Yet as it turned out, the crucifixion was labor pains resulting in a glorious “new birth!” What do we take from this? We go to the Father in prayer in the name of Jesus concerning our world realizing that he has overcome the world, even in the midst of temporary trials and sorrows. Do not lose heart brothers and sisters. Our Big Brother has gained the victory!

Music: “How Firm a Foundation”     Sanctuary Choir, Dr. Terry Morris

Prayer:

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

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

Tuesday, May 18

Reader: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us,”

Response: “but to your name goes all the glory.“

Scripture:  Psalm 115   

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,

    but to your name goes all the glory

    for your unfailing love and faithfulness.

Why let the nations say,

    “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens,

    and he does as he wishes.

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,

    shaped by human hands.

They have mouths but cannot speak,

    and eyes but cannot see.

They have ears but cannot hear,

    and noses but cannot smell.

 They have hands but cannot feel,

    and feet but cannot walk,

    and throats but cannot make a sound.

And those who make idols are just like them,

    as are all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust the Lord!

    He is your helper and your shield.

 O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord!

    He is your helper and your shield.

 All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord!

    He is your helper and your shield.

The Lord remembers us and will bless us.

    He will bless the people of Israel

    and bless the priests, the descendants of Aaron.

    He will bless those who fear the Lord,

    both great and lowly.

May the Lord richly bless

    both you and your children.

May you be blessed by the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth.

The heavens belong to the Lord,

    but he has given the earth to all humanity.

The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,

    for they have gone into the silence of the grave.

But we can praise the Lord

    both now and forever!

Praise the Lord!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

I find this psalm most insightful and appropriate for the days in which we live. For it directly addresses some of the assumptions our societies embrace. The writer states up front his allegiance to and acknowledgment of the Lord’s glory. Life is about God’s faithfulness and unfailing love. For the believer that is the starting and ending place. God is central. There is nothing else in the category of God. He is in heaven and he does whatever he wishes. He is sovereign. He has all authority. He works out his own plans in his time and in his way. To God be all glory.

But our world is on a very different course. It would be fair to say there is no concern about giving glory to God, quite the contrary. In truth we find the world culture embracing this next section of the psalm, the part about the idols. The idols described are all human productions. The trust is placed in what the humans have made. There are beautiful expensive man-made things that are worshiped, multiple homes, boats, cars, and wealth. People wax eloquently about their viewpoints on various problems but have no wisdom and cannot see the real core problem― man’s wicked sinful heart. In attempting to solve political issues, people don’t listen, they have ears, but can’t hear. 

For example, how often have we heard, “Trust the science!” The modern day setting of this psalm would read: “Not to God, not to God, but to science goes all the glory.” But science is not God. It is not infallible nor always accurate. It contains human elements. It has no power yet our world bows down as to a god.

The psalmist continues with “Israel, trust the Lord.” He is saying, “Believer, trust the Lord,” he is your shield and helper. Make sure he is where all your confidence resides. He blesses those who fear him. The ultimate solutions are not produced by humans for at the core, the human heart is the problem. So not to us Lord, but to your name be all the glory! Friends, in our days when there is so much quiet fear by those around us, our confidence is in our God who is in the heavens and does as he wishes. Rest in him.

Music: “Not to Us O Lord”      the Imperials

Prayer:

Grant me, O most loving Lord, to rest in Thee above all creatures, above all health and beauty, above all glory and honor, above all power and dignity, above all knowledge and subtlety, above all riches and art, above all fame and praise, above all sweetness and comfort, above all hope and promise, above all gifts and favors, above all jubilee that the mind of man can receive and feel; finally, above angels and archangels, above all things visible and invisible, and above all that Thou art not, O my God. To Thy name be all the glory. Amen.

―Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471), The Quiet Corner, p.6

Monday, May 17

Reader: “Every time I think of you,” 

Response: “I give thanks to my God.”

Scripture:  Philippians 1:3-11   

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

This passage from Philippians is unique in light of these daily devotionals for Paul’s words could be my very own. When I think of the 800 plus of you who are part of this daily encounter with the Scriptures, I thank God for the part you play in helping to grow God’s kingdom. Many of you share or pass along God’s word to others. We are spreading the Good News. God is working in all of our lives. In Paul’s words, “You have a special place in my heart!” 

If you are like me, when I pray for loved ones and friends, I’m not always sure what to pray. There is the general “bless them,” but I think there needs to be more than that. Paul gives me great help in the last part of this passage. Let’s look at his praying for his friends and what he says. We can pray that our friends’ love may overflow more and more toward all those around them as they reflect Christ’s love. Second, we can pray that they grow in knowledge and understanding in their walk with Christ. Pray that they will understand what really matters in this life so they can live pure and blameless lives until Jesus returns. We can pray that they be filled with the fruit of salvation, that is righteous character which is the result of Christ’s work within them. When that happens God is glorified, the very purpose of our being here on earth. I thank Paul for helping me know how to better pray for you all. 

Prayer is a powerful living dynamic that transcends time and space. It is not simply a Christian task to be checked off. Rather, it is a means of drawing together a living subversive community of a working Kingdom on this earth while in hostile territory. So when we pray for each other, we are cracking the stronghold of the evil one as we seek to undermine his slipping hold on this world. God desires to work in and through his people. As we pray, we invite his action in the lives of his people. Don’t ever underestimate your prayers for your brothers and sisters.

Music: “Sweet Hour of Prayer”     Radiance    (You may remember these guys from a few years ago. Outstanding,)

Prayer:

O Lord, in prayer I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs over all evils on the shores of mortality. In prayer I see myself as nothing; I find my heart going after thee with intensity and long with vehement thirst to live to thee. In prayer all things here below vanish, and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others. In prayer I can place all my concerns in thy hands, to be entirely at thy disposal, having no will or interest of my own. In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners, the church, thy kingdom to come, with greatest freedom, ardent hopes, as a son to his father, as a lover to the beloved. Help me to be all prayer and never to cease praying.   

                                                       ―The Valley of Vision, p.146

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16

Reader: “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,” 

Response: “so that you may know you have eternal life.”

Scripture: I John 5:9-13

Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.

And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

How do we know if something is true? Some kinds of things are easily provable. We can see an object―I do have a ball in my hand.  Or we can measure a claim―I am six feet tall.  Or we can test a statement as to its veracity―if I let go of the ball, it will fall to the ground. In the physical world that works well. But what about finding the truth of a statement that relies on human testimony rather than some other kind of observable scientific measurement?

Moses records in Deuteronomy the necessity of having at least two witnesses to verify a conviction of wrongdoing. In other words, human testimony can be believed as affirming something is true. It happens in court all the time. Our whole legal system is based on putting confidence in the reliability of the truthfulness of human testimony. The ninth commandment forbids bearing false witness, or false testimony. The character of the one bearing testimony is profoundly important. 

Some form of the word “testimony” occurs six times in today’s short pericope. John writes if we can believe human being’s testimony, flawed as humans are, surely we must put infinitely more weight on God’s testimony, who is perfect, holy, and sinless. God’s testimony concerning his Son is perfectly, absolutely true with no possibility of falsehood in any way. Those who believe in the Son of God know their belief is perfectly placed with no possibility of being deceived. Their confidence is based on the reliability of a changeless perfect God in whom there is no darkness at all. Their certainty rests not on their amount of faith, but on the flawless character of God alone. 

We may be tempted to think that while people in our world who reject Jesus Christ do so as an act of their will, it is just a choice they are making. Such thinking is a surface response. What is it that they are actually saying? In a nutshell they are calling God’s testimony regarding his Son, a lie. God is lying! What he says about Jesus being the Son of God is not true. God is flawed. Rejecting Christ is not only a choice, on a bigger scale, it is calling God a liar and as such, has cut off the only hope of salvation. The person who has rejected Christ, has put themselves in the position of judging God!

What has God testified? Whoever has the Son, has eternal life. No Son, no life―presently and eternally. John wrote this out in this short letter so believers could know, based on God’s testimony, the certainty of eternal life while still living on earth.

Believers need never doubt or wonder. Whatever emotional or psychological feelings I might have regarding eternal life in heaven bear little significance, everything rests on the truthfulness of the testimony of God. I know I have eternal life in heaven.

Music:  “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation”       Stonebriar Choir & Orchestra

Prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Word and Revelation of the Eternal Father, come, we pray Thee, take possession of our hearts, and reign where Thou hast right to reign. So fill our minds with the thought and our imaginations with the picture of Thy love, that there may be in us no room for any desire that is discordant with Thy holy will. Cleanse us, we pray Thee from all that may make us deaf to Thy call or slow to obey it, Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, art one God, blessed for ever. Amen.                       ―WIlliam Temple, 1881-1944, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.55

Saturday, May 15

Reader: “It is best for you that I go away,” 

Response: “because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come.”

Scripture:  John 16:4-11

Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer. 

“But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

A reminder of the context tells us this conversation of Jesus with his disciples occurs on Maundy Thursday, the day before his crucifixion. Notice Jesus’ timing of giving them the information they needed was perfect. In his words, the disciples were going to face some difficult days ahead in relation to their Jewish brothers. Since Jesus had been with them physically, he could guide and protect them, helping them understand what was happening and what they needed to do to respond. That is why he didn’t tell them about the Holy Spirit’s role prior to now. But now he is leaving them. In passing, this does not mean the Holy Spirit was not present before now, but that the role of the Spirit would be more specific.

Predictably, their concern here is not where Jesus is going, but that they will be left alone. Their spiritual guide is leaving them and they are thinking, “Now what will we do?” It reminds me of leaving home for the first time and not having mom and dad to help make decisions and give guidance. I remember how uncomfortable that was. This is much bigger in the disciples’ eyes. Like my early life, a new chapter was forming for the disciples and Jesus’ leaving them was essential.

These next few sentences give us the most concise description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as any place in Scripture. There are three things: convict the world of its sin, of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The use of the word “convict,” a legal term, is significant. Now the world is on trial before the Spirit and stands guilty. Whereas the world tried Jesus with false evidence and unjustly convicted him, now the truth comes full circle and the sin of the world for rejecting the Son of God is called into account. Second, the righteousness of God is demonstrated as the only source of true righteousness which is found in Jesus Christ. Finally, the guilty verdict applies not only to the world, but to the ruler of this world, the devil. In the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the judgment of a condemned Satan was complete. These absolute truths are confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ departure from the disciples enables this work of the Holy Spirit to happen and move God’s plan forward.

The result is that you and I have a teacher, guide, and counsellor present in the Holy Spirit. Take some time and imagine that Jesus is with you in the flesh today. He is going everywhere you are. Talk with him about everything you are dealing with. Maybe go for a walk with him. Ask him some questions. That kind of presence is what Jesus made a reality in sending the Advocate. Live today in communion with the living Holy Spirit. It’s not just a theological truth, he’s the source of spiritual life.

Music:  “Veni Sancte Spiritus”   Lauridsen         The Singers, Matthew Culloton

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3laWxBucxo     (In Latin 13th c., Read through the English text first. This piece is from a larger work Lux Aeterna.)

Come, Holy Spirit, send forth from heaven the ray of thy light.

Come, Father of the poor, come, giver of gifts, come, light of hearts,

Thou best of Consolers, sweet guest of the soul, sweet refreshment.

In labor, thou art rest, in heat, the tempering, in grief, the consolation.

O Light most blessed, fill the inmost heart of all thy faithful.

Without your grace, there is nothing in us, nothing that is not harmful.

Cleanse what is sordid, moisten what is arid, heal what is hurt.

Flex what is rigid, fire what is frigid, correct what goes astray.

Grant to thy faithful, those trusting in thee, thy sacred seven-fold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation, grant everlasting joy.

Prayer:Holy Spirit, the life that gives life, you are the cause of all movement; you are the breath of all creatures; you are the salve that purifies our souls; you are the fire that warms our hearts; you are the light that guides our feet. Let all the world praise you. Amen.            ―Saint Hildegard von Bingen, from Prayers for Easter, p.107

Friday, May 14

Reader: “God reigns above the nations,”

Response: “sitting on his holy throne.”

Scripture: Psalm 47     

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!

    Shout to God with joyful praise!

For the Lord Most High is awesome.

    He is the great King of all the earth.

He subdues the nations before us,

    putting our enemies beneath our feet.

He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,

    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves. 

Interlude

God has ascended with a mighty shout.

    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.

Sing praises to God, sing praises;

    sing praises to our King, sing praises!

For God is the King over all the earth.

    Praise him with a psalm.

God reigns above the nations,

    sitting on his holy throne.

The rulers of the world have gathered together

    with the people of the God of Abraham.

For all the kings of the earth belong to God.

    He is highly honored everywhere.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:     

The Bible is a fascinating living book because it functions on several levels at the same time. What is written specifically about one time in history not only applies to that situation, but as it often turns out, applies equally to a future era. Such is the wonder of God’s word. This psalm is a perfect example.

The first part could easily be sung by Jacob’s descendents, (another name for the Israelites), as they conquer and drive out the nations taking occupancy in the Promised Land. They likewise acknowledge that God is the ultimate King over all, over them and over everyone.

At the same time, this psalm can speak of the Ascension of Jesus in taking his rightful place on his throne and establishing his rule over all the nations of the world.

I’m quite sure we have little grasp of the significance and triumph of Jesus’ enthronement. The heavenly beings rejoiced greatly at the return of Jesus and his being seated on his throne. Think about it. For all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelt in perfect unity. Then came creation with the making of angelic beings and heaven and earth, humans, and the universe. The Son of God remained with the Father and Spirit throughout the time of the First Testament dwelling with all the heavenly hosts. Then the Son became Incarnate and left heaven to dwell on earth for a period of time. At the Ascension the Son returned to assume his rightful place and all heaven rejoiced. The work of redemption was complete! No wonder there was such joy! With the heavenly hosts we join those words. 

God has ascended with a mighty shout. The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises!

For God is the King over all the earth. 

When you are tempted to worry about this world, remember the truth of this psalm. Christ is going to descend to earth one more time followed by the grandest ascension of all, one in which we also ascend to the mighty blast of the trumpet, and all in the twinkling of an eye. It is so important to keep God’s biggest picture in mind.

Music: “O Clap Your Hands All Ye People”   by John Rutter  The Cambridge Singers

Bonus: “O Clap Your Hands”    Orlando Gibbons     Voces8

Prayer:

O Lord, I must confess that the truth of a king and a throne seems kind of remote and hard to relate to. Yet there were many kings throughout the First Testament and your disciples asked over and over when you were going to set up your kingdom. Revelation puts forth your everlasting reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. So I’m looking forward to a wonderful rule I’ve never known or experienced though I have no concept of what it will be like. Never has there been a King like you. No jealousy, no evil plots, no corruption, no rivals, just a glorious Lord to whom we sing praises! Thank you Lord for adopting us into your kingdom as citizens and heirs. Sing praise, sing praises unto our king! Amen.                    ―Daniel Sharp

Ascension Day, Thursday, May 13

Reader: “But you will receive power”

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

Scripture: Acts 1:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The significance of Ascension Day is largely lost in the practice of the Christian faith. Though recognized in most liturgical churches, it is seldom acknowledged in  non-liturgical churches. Yet it is an important part of the whole gospel story. Practically speaking, if there had been no ascension, Jesus would still be walking around on earth somewhere with his mission not yet 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 that he did not appear to people who had rejected him. 

At the end of the forty days, his earthly mission completed, he returned to heaven with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to take his place as a presence among his people. Rather than believers being limited by the physical presence of Jesus being in one place at one time, the Spirit would indwell all believers everywhere. John’s baptism began Jesus’ public ministry. Now, the baptism of the Holy Spirit began the disciples’ public ministry.You would think God had this all planned out! 

It is also interesting that, even after the resurrection, the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up the earthly kingdom of God (Israel) in which he would rule as King. That was still their perception of the Kingdom of God in spite of all that Jesus had taught them through the parables. Rather, God’s plan was that Israel and the whole world would be restored and engrafted into God’s Kingdom of heaven. 

The Ascension and Christ’s return to earth at some point in the future was the last thing 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. He 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 and ten days later 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. 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:  “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”     Chet Valley Churches

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 12

Reader: “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly” 

Response: “to these words of mine.”

Scripture:  Deuteronomy 11:18-21

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

If you are familiar with the book of Deuteronomy, you will recognize this passage as a restating of the Shema first given in chapter six. Shema is the Hebrew word for “hear,” the beginning of the creedal statement, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” The earlier statement goes on to include “you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. You’ll recall that those were the words Jesus uttered when asked what was the greatest commandment, though he changed the word “strength” to loving God with all your “mind.” Let’s take a closer look at these powerful words from Moses to his people.

These words are a challenge to you and me as well. They begin with “commit yourself wholeheartedly” to embracing these actions. The Shema is not a ten-week study for spiritual growth nor is it a program to make you a better Christian. Put as simply as possible, it is the way to live your life until you die. It is nothing less than wholeheartedly loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. That’s the starting point. Moses goes on to explain how this commitment plays out.

Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead. What is the “them?” In the chapter prior to the first giving of the Shema, Moses had given the people what we call the Ten Commandments. Orthodox Jews took this literally by placing a copy of the law in a little box which they wore on their forehead to remind them to love God with all their mind. The left arm was wrapped with a leather strap forming three Hebrew letters for the name of God, Shaddai. In that practice the person is reminded what they do with their hands, they do in the strength of God.

You are to teach your children about God’s law when you go to bed and when you get up in the morning. In fact, the first passage in Deuteronomy says repeat them again and again to your children. The actual Hebrew word connotes repeating them again and again and again and again . . .! They are to be a part of your conversation when you are at home and when you are away from home. Your life is to be saturated with God’s law, God’s heart, God’s mind, God’s soul, and the relentless character of God’s strength. You put them on the doorpost of your house so you see them everytime you go in or out. Jewish homes take this instruction literally and affix a mezuzah on the doorpost. It is a little box containing two scriptural passages Deut. 6:4-9 and Deut.11:13-21. The mezuzah is a reminder that inside the home or outside our lives are to be wholeheartedly committed to loving God and living according to his commands. Devout Jews will touch the mezuzah going in or out of the doorway. By putting them on your gates you are reminded to conduct your affairs in ways that bring honor to your God. You do this so that you may flourish and bring honor to God.

As you think through the above directives from Moses, you realize there is never a time when God’s call on your life is not in effect. Simply put, it’s from the time you wholeheartedly commit to the Lord until you die. The Lord asks everything from you and me all the time. The result is eternal blessing.

The Israelites were facing great obstacles as they entered the Promised Land. The culture was hostile and wicked. They needed encouragement and a reminder of where their strength lay. Their way to prepare and combat what lay ahead was to live the Shema. Not bad advice for us as well. Thank you, Moses.

Music:  “Shema Israel”   Azi Schwartz cantor

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, May 11

Reader: “Be careful.” 

Response: “Don’t let your heart be deceived.”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 11:1-17 

“You must love the Lord your God and always obey his requirements, decrees, regulations, and commands. Keep in mind that I am not talking now to your children, who have never experienced the discipline of the Lord your God or seen his greatness and his strong hand and powerful arm. They didn’t see the miraculous signs and wonders he performed in Egypt against Pharaoh and all his land. They didn’t see what the Lord did to the armies of Egypt and to their horses and chariots—how he drowned them in the Red Sea as they were chasing you. He destroyed them, and they have not recovered to this very day!

“Your children didn’t see how the Lord cared for you in the wilderness until you arrived here. They didn’t see what he did to Dathan and Abiram (the sons of Eliab, a descendant of Reuben) when the earth opened its mouth in the Israelite camp and swallowed them, along with their households and tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes!

“Therefore, be careful to obey every command I am giving you today, so you may have strength to go in and take over the land you are about to enter. If you obey, you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and to you, their descendants—a land flowing with milk and honey! For the land you are about to enter and take over is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you planted your seed and made irrigation ditches with your foot as in a vegetable garden. Rather, the land you will soon take over is a land of hills and valleys with plenty of rain— a land that the Lord your God cares for. He watches over it through each season of the year!

“If you carefully obey the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God and serve him with all your heart and soul, then he will send the rains in their proper seasons—the early and late rains—so you can bring in your harvests of grain, new wine, and olive oil. He will give you lush pastureland for your livestock, and you yourselves will have all you want to eat.

“But be careful. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and worship other gods. If you do, the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut up the sky and hold back the rain, and the ground will fail to produce its harvests. Then you will quickly die in that good land the Lord is giving you.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

I find this passage quite interesting and instructive, particularly for our days and some of the things with which our societies are dealing. This is another part of Moses’ speech to the Israelites as they stand on the east side of the Jordan River preparing to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. As a nation, they are nearing the end of a forty year discipline. As Moses gets ready to leave this earth, he is giving a parting word, the book of Deuteronomy! 

This section begins with his thesis statement: love God and obey all that he has said. Then what repeated phrase did you notice as you read as he speaks to the parents? Why would he use variants of the phrase “Your children didn’t see?” five times! He explains all the past history their children did not experience or see.  They weren’t born when you crossed the Red Sea. So their view of God, his care, his discipline, and miraculous powers are not part of their life. 

Then Moses makes a great pivot with these words. “But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes!” While your children may be somewhat hesitant due to their limited encounters with God, you have no excuse for not obeying God. You have seen what he has done with your own eyes. Trust God and obey and it will go well with you. Moses goes on. To help you people understand the enjoyment and benefits of obeying God, I’ll describe where you are going. In a nutshell, it’s like nothing you’ve experienced in the past. God is the gardener of where you are headed! He’s the owner of the land and your provider. You are the tenants.

Your part in this whole thing is to love, obey, and serve him with all your heart, soul, and mind. He wants your undivided heart. He’ll take care of the rest. Just a word of warning. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you think you have a better way. You don’t. If you do decide to chase another way, rest assured, it won’t go well and the Lord will discipline you and it won’t be pleasant. Can’t you just see an old 120 year old Moses talking to the people. His eyesight was sharp and he was as strong as ever. How do we have all this information? God told him to write it down, remember Moses was educated in the palace of Egypt. He was a learned man. 

So are there some things here we can glean? It is most important to know all of the past history, the good and the bad. The good enables us to learn and celebrate the noble and see the benefits of following godliness whether as a people or a nation in this case. Knowing the bad enables us to not repeat it and to see the consequences of wrong actions. Covering up either the good or the bad warps and distorts the present. Ignoring, “cleansing,” or rewriting history is both dishonest and foolish. 

Apparently the parents to which Moses was talking got the message. Under Joshua’s leadership and the elders who outlived him, Israel served the Lord. These were those who experienced all the Lord did for them as they gradually conquered the land of Canaan. Then a sad thing happened. Another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord. In other words, they lost their identity as God’s people and joined in the pagan culture. Disaster followed. Godly leadership, good parenting, and learning from past history seem to be key in this passage. Parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, and neighbors and friends telling the children what God has done in the past is powerful as evidenced by the lives of Moses and Joshua. Children love true stories. Take the opportunity!

Music: “I Love to Tell the Story”    Chris Rupp      Quartet

Bonus: “I Love to Tell the Story”   Alan Jackson     Country Classic, beautiful!

Prayer:                                   

Lord Jesus, help us to look for opportunities to tell the next generation of your working in our lives both when we followed you and when we followed ourselves. Give us the courage to be honest and transparent. Help us to model what it means to follow you in the midst of a very secular world. May we live and speak boldly and truthfully in the days you have given us. These things we ask in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.             ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, May 10

Reader: ““The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!”

Response: “it was simply that the Lord loves you.”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:1-11      

 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today. 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

Lest we ever think that God chose us because of something inherently wonderful or good about us, this passage serves to clarify things! Beginning with Abram, God promised that he would give land to Abram’s people, his descendants. About 600 years later [Have you ever noticed that God does not seem to be in a rush?] the Israelites, now a nation, are on the doorstep of entering this God-given Promised Land. The problem is that the land is occupied by several other nations that are much larger and stronger than God’s people. The peoples of these lands lived in what is modern day Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. God’s original land gift was to extend from the Mediterrean Sea to the Euphrates River. The Israelites never did fully conquer all the land.

Did you notice as you read that as Moses is talking to his people he makes very clear that God is the one who will drive out each of these nations? God’s word is that the Israelites are to completely destroy the people (they didn’t), make no treaties (they did), show no mercy (they did), do not intermarry (they did), do not worship their gods (they did), and cut down their idols (they didn’t)! How is that for obedience? And we wonder why God was angry with his people. 

God’s word to his people as to how to treat these nations may seem a bit harsh to us. What we may not realize is that these nations actively sacrificed their children to the gods, burning them on bronze altars. They were involved in all kinds of sexual deviancy and in all forms of incest and beastiality. These people were immorally corrupt in every way. Over time the Israelites succumbed to the pagan culture resulting in the severe judgment of God. (When you read in Leviticus about all the sexual taboos for the Israelites, God didn’t make those up out of the blue, those were the practices going on among the pagan nations the Israelites were to drive out.)

God endeavored to set his people apart to be a holy people. Holy means “to set apart.” God’s people were and are to be different from the people of this world. They are to be citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Then comes the most beautiful picture of God’s heart of love. We hear these lovely words to the Israelites.“Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations . . . rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you and kept his promise, his covenant with Abram.”  God in his covenant vowed to protect and care for you Israelites. 

Moses is putting the charge as simply as possible. God chose us because he loves us. There is nothing inherently worthy about us. God will care, protect, and provide for us in every way. Our responsibility is to love God and we do that by obeying what he has told us so clearly. If we do that, God’s blessing will rest on us. Love and obey. That’s it! And that is the struggle throughout the First Testament, the New Testament, and every century since. 

What is so very humbling is that God chose you and me for the same reason he chose Israel to be his set apart people, his children. There is nothing inherent in us that would in any way make us worthy of being chosen. It is simply that God loves us and asks of us the same things he asked of the Israelites in 1400 BC; love him and obey what he has said in his Book, which is why we spend time with it each day. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in John 15:5, “For apart from me you can do nothing.” There’s that word again. We are the result of God’s grace and faithfulness. It’s good to gain the true perspective for we tend to forget that only Jesus is worthy.

Music:  “The Love of God”      Gaither Vocal Band

Bonus: “God’s Love”    Corrie Ten Boom       (41:19) If you have extra time!

Prayer:

Lord God, how grateful I am that your love never ends. It never stops, never gives up, never quits. It is relentless. Likewise, your kindnesses are not spent and they never run out. You never get tired or bored. Every morning, of every day, of every month, of every year, of every decade, of every century, of every millenia, from the dawn of creation your love and kindnesses are new! The greatness of your faithfulness is truly more that I can comprehend. Lord, you are my portion, my ultimate destiny, my Savior. You are abundantly good to me and my complete trust is in you. You are the one I seek for in you is the fullness of life and joy. My loving Lord, I wait quietly for you and your ultimate salvation. Your never-failing love is my resting place. I pray this in the name of Jesus my Lord. Amen.   

                                            ―Daniel Sharp, based on Lam. 3:22-25  

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9

Reader: “Loving God means”

Response: “keeping his commandments.”

Scripture: I John 5:1-6     

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

The John who wrote this epistle is the same Apostle John who wrote the gospel. It is believed this letter was written near the end of the first century after the Christians had been driven out of Jerusalem in the 70’s. John was an old man at this point as hinted at by his continual use of “my children.” The style is much like his gospel―straight forward, things are black or white, no shades of gray! John defines Christians as those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But in John’s writing, belief must be tied to action growing out of love.  

John wrote a great deal about loving and obeying God. I remember some time ago wondering exactly, “How do you express love to God?” Loving another human being is easy. You can tell them. You can hug them. You can give them a gift. You can show kindness. You can help them. There are all kinds of things you can do. But with God, you can say the words, but he doesn’t say anything in return. You can’t hug him because he is an invisible spirit. I suppose you can give an offering. How do you show kindness to God whom you cannot see? Moreover, he doesn’t need your help for anything. Is there a more tangible way? Yes! And John comes to our rescue!

Loving God means keeping his commandments! You show love to God by obedience to his commands. Think about it. That family member or friend did something for you that you didn’t expect. They showed their love for you by what they did. When our boys were little we would sometimes hear, “I did what you told me daddy because I love you!” Such a comment made dad’s heart burst with joy! Obedience was and is the perfect expression and demonstration of love to God.

We live in a fallen world totally and eternally in rebellion toward God. We show love for God when we defeat evil by being obedient to our Lord. John writes “we achieve this victory through faith.” Interestingly, this is the only time John uses the word “faith” in all of his New Testament writings! We show love to God when our faith is placed in Christ, the only one who can win the battle against the evil of this world. How can you love God today? When confronted today by some aspect of this world that would draw you away, in the power of the Holy Spirit, reject the pull and obey God. Express your love for God!

John touches on one other concept in this passage where he says that Jesus was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross. The Holy Spirit confirms this truth. What is the significance of saying this you may wonder? The heresy circulating among the Gnostics as John wrote this letter, was that Jesus was merely a man. In their erroneous teaching, the spirit of Christ came upon the man Jesus at his baptism and left him just prior to his crucifixion. Jesus died as a normal man and there was no resurrection according to their view. God couldn’t die. John is making clear that Jesus was indeed the divine Son of God who died. 

John’s reference to the water and the blood is a confirmation of his Incarnation as God’s Son. While John states that the water refers to his baptism and the blood to the cross, in Orthodox circles, this reference can also be tied to the blood and the water that poured from Jesus’ side when the soldier stabbed him with his spear as he hung on the cross. In his gospel, John makes a point of saying that when Jesus was stabbed in the side, out came blood and water (in that order). At death the red blood cells separate from the clear serum which is mostly water. Since those cells  are denser, they sink to the bottom. John was inadvertently confirming that the Son of God was truly dead. Something else to think about is that the shed blood of Christ (the atoning sacrifice) brought new life (the breaking of water that always indicates a new birth).

Today’s devotional is as practical as it can be. One word: obedience. Each day of our lives we have multiple opportunities to be obedient to the Lord. It’s the way we demonstrate our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have observed in past months some of my brothers and sisters in Christ could have done a better job of loving each other, particularly when expressing political perspectives. Ouch! 

They will know we are Christians by our love. Let’s show it!

Music:  “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”       Forest Home

Bonus: “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”   Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir             This video is a visual affirmation of the text!

Prayer:

O God, the Father of the forsaken, the help of the weak, the supplier of the needy; you teach us that love towards the race of man is the bond of perfectness, and the imitation of your blessed self. Open and touch our hearts that we may see and be obedient to what we have seen, both for this world and that which is to come, the things that belong to our peace. Strengthen us in the work which we have undertaken; give us wisdom, resolve, obedience, perseverance, faith, and zeal, and in your own time and according to your pleasure prosper the issue; for the love of your Son Jesus Christ.                     ―Lord Shaftesbury, 1801-1885, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.72

Saturday, May 8

Reader: “These instructions are not empty words—”

Response: “they are your life!”

Scripture:  Deuteronomy 32:44-47     

So Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and recited all the words of this song to the people.

When Moses had finished reciting all these words to the people of Israel, he added: “Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy to treat older men with respect as you would treat your own father (I Tim. 5:1). Part of respect is listening to advice of elders borne out of the wisdom of years of experience. At the same time, those persons nearing the end of their days on earth have a heartfelt desire to leave a legacy that carries on generation after generation. Such is the case with our passage and Moses’ desire.

The book of Deuteronomy is a farewell address to this next generation of Israelites and a reminder of the terms of God’s covenant made with their parents. Their redeemer, Moses, had led the million plus Israelites out of slavery, received the Law directly from God, and shepherded a somewhat fickle nation for forty years. Having passed his leadership on to Joshua, he is very near the end of his life. And so Moses has some parting words to God’s people. His words come in the form of a song to be learned and sung by the people. Moses has just finished this song of challenge to the people when we come to today’s pericope.

The words of Israel’s greatest prophet are apropos to us as well. Note the action words beginning with “take to heart all the words of warning.” It appears Moses is not giving these children of their rebellious parents an option! In other words, do not dismiss what I have sung. This is to be a “Billboard No. 1 song” the rest of your life! Not only are these words to permeate your life, you are to pass them along to your own children and grandchildren which means you have to know them inside and out. Again, they are not optional for your children to consider either, they are a command. The point is obedience, something that your parents did not quite master! Moses goes on. Obeying the words of the song I sang are your very life! I tell you this because I want you to enjoy a long life when you enter the Promised Land. 

In a broader look at Moses’ words here, there is a strong admonition to us as well.

“Take to heart all the words . . .” is one of the main reasons for us to spend time in the Scriptures each day. You can’t take something into your heart if you don’t give your heart a chance to spend time with “all the words.” There is no other way they can penetrate your heart! If taking the words into your heart is “life,” then failure to do so leads to death. One of the main purposes of these daily devotionals is to help satisfy this very reason. 

You have undoubtedly noticed there is a second very active command; “pass them on . . . to your children.” One of the great joys any parent has is to know that their children have embraced the Lord and walk in his paths. Perhaps Moses is so strong in this regard because the parents of the children he is addressing were poor models of “taking to heart” the words of the Lord. As a result of this great failure, God’s judgment fell on them and they all died without ever reaching the Promised Land and the enjoyment of a long life. 

While the words are words of guidance, the point is obedience. This obedience leads to enjoyment and contentment. How rare is that today! Taking the words to heart leads to encountering the Lord. Obedience is the key that leads to enjoyment.  Such is not a magic formula, simply the truth. Have you ever noticed that when you are finally obedient to something you were dragging your spiritual feet on, you have joy? You feel pleased . . . happy? Then, some other times you don’t feel one way or the other. Nevertheless, you did the obedient thing. God notices. When you cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, you will have joy. God promises! You  might even ask Moses to sing a little of this song for you!

Music:  “Find Us Faithful”    Steve Green        A classic from the past.

Prayer:    (This would be a great prayer to end every day.)

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.        ―John Henry Newman, 1801-1890, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.70

Friday, May 7

Reader: “You will be a light to guide the nations.”

Response: “You will open the eyes of the blind.”

Scripture: Isaiah 42:5-9 

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

    He created the earth and everything in it.

He gives breath to everyone,

    life to everyone who walks the earth.

And it is he who says,

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

    I will take you by the hand and guard you,

and I will give you to my people, Israel,

    as a symbol of my covenant with them.

And you will be a light to guide the nations.

    You will open the eyes of the blind.

You will free the captives from prison,

    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!

    I will not give my glory to anyone else,

    nor share my praise with carved idols.

Everything I prophesied has come true,

    and now I will prophesy again.

I will tell you the future before it happens.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:       

In light of the events of yesterday’s passage, Isaiah’s words are particularly interesting. In this section, Isaiah is referring to a servant even greater than Moses. Since Moses was the greatest, this reference to a greater one yet must be the Messiah, God’s servant. The earlier part of the psalm establishes this identity. This part of Isaiah’s message appeals to the very beginning of time: God, the creator of all that is in existence, the vastness of the heavens, the wonder of earth’s creation, and the gift of breath and life to all peoples. This same covenant making God has given his servant to guard and guide his chosen people, Israel. Now to the connection with yesterday’s passage.

Israel needed to see that their God of the Covenant was to be revealed to the rest of the nations [Gentiles]. They were to recognize and follow God’s servant as he shone the light of God to the rest of the whole world. He would open the eyes of the spiritually blind and free those spiritually imprisoned by sin. God offered redemption through this servant. The glorious God was sovereign!

What is interesting to me is that Peter and the other disciples and the other first Jewish believers missed this. The First Testament clearly teaches that the God of Israel was to be a God for all the nations. For example Psalm 67 couldn’t be clearer. “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, O God.” 

The great truth escaped their minds because the thinking was one needed to become a Jew first before following Christ. Circumcision, following the law both the dietary and ceremonial were necessary precursors to embracing Messiah in the Hebrew mind. Discussions, meetings, and councils dealing with this question took place in the book of Acts (21). The Cornelius/Peter encounter was part of the evidence in the discussions as the Jewish leadership began to grasp the growing dynamic understanding of the mission of God’s kingdom on earth. 

And once again we ask the question, where does this passage fit into your life today? I have to wonder in what way are we like the first Jewish Christians in that we fail to see the full impact of the scope of the kingdom of God. What parts of the Christian faith do we misunderstand? Are there certain kinds of people or groups of individuals we ignore because their values or life-style are repulsive to us? Without trying to lay guilt on us, I wonder who the “Romans” or “Samaritans” are in our lives. I’m not saying we have them; I am saying it would be remarkable if we had a perfect perspective on who our neighbors are. Our faith was never meant to be static. The Lord continues to nudge his children off center throughout the Scriptures. That hasn’t changed. Where are you being nudged?

Music:  “Psalm 67”  by Charles Ives       BBC Singers   A little unusual!

This psalm is known as the “missionary” psalm. In this musical setting, the women are singing in the key of C major and the men are in the key of g minor at the same time! In my mind, this is a musical expression to convey the breadth of God’s calling of all the nations of the world to embrace his everlasting kingdom.

Prayer:

Gracious Lord, all too often I am captive to my own perceptions of you. I’ve walked with you for years and find it easy to slip into a spiritual “neutral.” Truthfully, I’m not sure how often I actually listen for your voice. May I not become a stubborn or dull “Israelite.” Whether I have a vision or not, Lord, let me be ever tender to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Please keep me off center and trusting in you. The times we live in these past months have certainly shaken things up. Open my heart to see more clearly as you see. And give to me the courage to do what you show me to do. Draw me close Father, and may I learn to be very content in uncertainty, knowing you live in me. These things I pray in the name of Jesus, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.         ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, May 6

Reader: “What could the vision mean?”   

Response: “God shows no favoritism.”

Scripture: Acts 10:1-34  

In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said.

Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel.

And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.”

As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.

The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”

“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, 18 they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there.

Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.”

So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?”

They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

At first glance this may seem like a simple story of Peter preaching a sermon to a Roman centurion. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a pivotal chapter in the New Testament and in the history of the early Christian church and apart from Pentecost, the most revolutionary chapter in all of Acts. Here’s why. To understand more fully, we have to put ourselves back in Peter’s day with the mindset of the first followers of Christ. 

Virtually all the first Christians were Jews. Jesus was a Jewsih rabbi and the twelve disciples were all Jewish. Jesus preached to the Jews primarily. In our passage we begin with Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman centurion, clearly someone who was not a Jew but a Gentile, who was living in Caesarea. In fact everyone in his household was God-fearing. He gave alms to the poor as Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.6:3). You also noticed that he prayed daily at 3 PM in the afternoon, one of the regular hours of prayer for an observant Jew. (Hours of prayer were 9 AM, 12 noon, and 3 PM.) 

During his time of prayer, an angel came with a message to call for Peter. Note the details of this whole account. Cornelius acted immediately by calling two of his servants at the conclusion of the vision to go and summon Peter. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Caesarea was about thirty miles north of Joppa, where Peter was staying with Simon the tanner. Since it was already late afternoon, the men left right away and stayed overnight somewhere in between is my guess. It was probably a ten hour walk at least. At any rate, they arrived at noon the following day, the hour of prayer, which is what Peter was doing when his vision appeared.

It appears Peter was grappling with the broader scope of the gospel prior to this time. Why say that? Peter was staying at the home of Simon the tanner. Simon had become a believer. But for the orthodox Jew, tanners were unclean since they dealt with dead animals. In fact, their houses had to be located at least 75 ft. outside of the village. And Peter was staying with such an “unclean” man! The vision appeared to Peter three times, an indication of power, significance, and urgency. Peter was wrestling with the meaning of what he had seen in the vision when the messengers from Cornelius arrived. Note the timing of God’s plan. When Peter heard their reason for coming, he had his answer for the meaning of his vision! Another Jewish cultural earthquake happened. Since it was again late in the day for the thirty mile trek north to Caesarea, Peter invited these unclean Roman Gentiles to stay overnight in the same house and even eat together! God was in the process of changing Peter’s and the first Christian’s understanding of the scope of the gospel.

They left the next morning and travelled all day to arrive at Caesarea late afternoon. Cornelius had already assembled family, relatives, and friends all of whom were earnestly seeking to know more about the God to whom they were praying. Never did Peter have a more receptive group of people to hear the gospel. Even while Peter was preaching, the Holy Spirit fell upon all the Roman Gentiles and they began to speak in tongues praising God. The Spirit did not even wait for Peter to finish his message, reminding us again, that the “wind of the Spirit blows when and where it wills.” The six Jews of the circumcision who had come with Peter on this journey, were astonished, astounded, and amazed at what had happened to the Gentiles! This action did not fit with their understanding, yet God was enlarging their vision as well! Cornelius and his whole clan were baptized on the spot in the name of Jesus Christ. From this point on, the gospel began to be preached to all peoples, and not just the Jews.

There are some basic lessons in this account of note. 1) Did you notice how quickly both Cornelius and Peter responded in action after hearing God’s word? When we hear a word from the Lord, most often an opportunity to act comes shortly afterward. When God says something to you, don’t sit on it, do it! 2) Cornelius and his family and friends had “partial light” in terms of loving and responding to God. Principle: when there is a genuine attempt to live in the light one has, more light will be given. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened unto you.” 3) Cornelius’ earnestness of seeking was attested to by his response to the vision and his family and friends’ immediate response to the gospel. 4) God used an ordinary man to communicate the gospel to other people, not angels or other angelic beings. This includes you and me. Listen for God’s voice today.

We may be tempted to underestimate the significance of this whole encounter. Remember the hatred between the Samaritans and Jews? Recall the account of Jesus and the “woman at the well.” (I recommend you check out Episode 1 of Season two of “The Chosen” to get a better idea of the depth of the outright hatred flowing both ways.) The despising of the Romans by the Jews was no less intense. To touch a Roman was to be defiled. The Roman customs were pagan and abhorrent. The Roman religion with its multiple gods was blasphemy. Eating with a Roman was an abomination. Peter was doing all of these things in response to the Lord’s directive! Think of a group of people today that you cannot imagine spending time with, whose values and interests, language, and so forth are nothing you approve of. Now, go and dwell among them. Come to think of it, that’s what we’ve been called to do. Jesus’ call is to go to those in need of a doctor. You can even make house calls, Peter did.

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

(I know you heard this in Advent, but it’s appropriate here as well and a terrific, joyous setting.)  

Prayer:

O Lord, let me not live to be useless!                      ―Bishop Stratford, d.1707, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.113

Wednesday, May 5

Reader: “Since I live,”    

Response: “you also will live.”

Scripture: John 14:18-31   

No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?”

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Once again, there is so much that could be said concerning these verses. Jesus is having this conversation with his disciples on Maundy Thursday merely hours before his crucifixion. The disciples are picking up that Jesus is going to leave them and they are afraid. Thomas had just asked where Jesus was going and Jesus had responded with, “I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .”  Remember, these men had been living and traveling with Jesus for three years and now they would be left  alone. He was their security.

Jesus assured the men that they would not be abandoned but that he would come to them. It appears clearly that he was telling them that he would come to them again after the resurrection. They were still trying to process that he would be killed. It is also very obvious that they were not expecting his resurrection. We listen as they struggle to grasp what is happening. There are gaps they are unable to fill.

There is an insightful section where Jesus talks about his being “in the Father and you are in me and I am in you.” Jesus is endeavoring to help them (and us) understand a basic and most significant truth. What is he saying? All persons who believe in Jesus are indwelt by the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On becoming a Christian, one receives the indwelling Trinity. In the First Testament, God’s presence with his people was between the cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle. Later on when the Temple replaced the Tabernacle, God continued to reside above the Ark in the Holy of Holies. People travelled to Jerusalem to be near the presence of God (cf. Psalm 84). Now Jesus is explaining that God’s dwelling place is in the hearts of people! To those who love and obey God, Jesus will reveal himself. How is your love and obedience going? How is Jesus revealing himself to you? This truth didn’t end at the end of chapter fourteen of John!

The disciples are thinking this conversation applies just to them so one of them asks a question. Why will the Messiah only be manifested to them and not everyone else?

Jesus’ response is that the manifestation is spiritual, therefore, it is available to everyone. Obedience is at the heart. Obedience is not a matter of keeping the rules, but obedience to what Christ has said. Obedience is a demonstration of love. To this point, the disciples had demonstrated their love for Jesus by leaving all behind and following him for a few years. But now he is physically leaving them. 

In Jesus’ absence, the Father is sending the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whose role will be different. He comes as a teacher to remind the disciples what Jesus has said. Prior to Pentecost, which was still in the future at this point fifty-some days away, the Holy Spirit had come upon people for specific events or tasks, but was not continually indwelling. But with the events of Easter and Pentecost, the dwelling place of God, moved from the Temple to the human heart of the believer. The Holy Spirit was the everpresent guardian, teacher, encourager, guide, and comforter. 

Jesus then gave his disciples and us the most wonderful gift―peace of mind and heart. This was a kind of peace not found anywhere in this world. Nothing known to man can produce it, not power, wealth, love, time, patience, strength, looks, or health. Nothing. This is complete peace with God. And it comes from him as a gift. In the disciples’ anxiety and fear of being left alone, Jesus told them ahead of time what would happen to him in order to give them peace. And his peace came from the assurance of the presence of God in their lives. They would not be alone.

Our passage concludes in a very matter-of-fact manner; it almost sounds like the end of a phone call! “I don’t have much more time to talk. My appointment with death has arrived.” Notice Jesus’ calmness and peace throughout this whole conversation. We see firsthand the presence of God functioning in a dreadful crisis. The Father, Son, and Spirit are one, functioning in perfect harmony. That same perfect functioning community is available to every believer every moment of every day, today included! Such is the peace of God beyond understanding.

Music: “Peace I Leave with You”   Kantorei of Kansas City

Prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following

your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road 

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

                             ―The Road Ahead – Thomas Merton 

Tuesday, May 4

Reader: “Even if the forest should be destroyed and the city torn down,”

Response: “the Lord will greatly bless his people.”

Scripture:   Isaiah 32:9-20

Listen, you women who lie around in ease.

    Listen to me, you who are so smug.

In a short time—just a little more than a year—

    you careless ones will suddenly begin to care.

For your fruit crops will fail,

    and the harvest will never take place.

Tremble, you women of ease;

    throw off your complacency.

Strip off your pretty clothes,

    and put on burlap to show your grief.

Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms

    and your fruitful grapevines.

For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers.

    Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone.

The palace and the city will be deserted,

    and busy towns will be empty.

Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze

    in the empty forts and watchtowers

until at last the Spirit is poured out

    on us from heaven.

Then the wilderness will become a fertile field,

    and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.

Justice will rule in the wilderness

    and righteousness in the fertile field.

And this righteousness will bring peace.

    Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever.

My people will live in safety, quietly at home.

    They will be at rest.

Even if the forest should be destroyed

    and the city torn down,

the Lord will greatly bless his people.

    Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up.

    Their cattle and donkeys will graze freely.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

In this passage we have the deceptive nature of reality. All of us naturally live in a way expecting tomorrow to be generally like today and the next day the same. Once in a while there is a day of greater significance like a day for a wedding, graduation, surgery, or the beginning of a new job. But most days are pretty ordinary. When things are going well, it’s easy to relax and assume peace and tranquility will prevail. 

Our world was in a kind of relative calm like that until the last year or so. Now things are a little off center. The truth is, we live in uncertainty all the time. So how do we function? We can worry, we can become apathetic, or we can put ourselves in control. The people of Isaiah’s day were a combination of the last two; they were complacent and they put their trust in the Egyptians to protect them. It would seem in our day, our cultures adopt all three. There are those people who worry and are fearful of the world situation. Other people are more inclined to live in their own bubble and distance themselves from the problem. And then there are those that put their trust in humankind’s ability to solve the problems. (So far history has demonstrated very limited success with the latter!)

The prophet Isaiah wrote his words giving the people a warning that within a year things would change drastically. Israel had rejected God yet again and was trusting in the power and might of Egypt to protect her from Assyria. Israel was smug. She thought all her bases were covered as it were. She didn’t need God. Isaiah urged Israel to repent in sackcloth and to turn from her complacency. His forecast for God’s people was one of doom. One conjunction changed the direction for Israel and offered a word of hope. 

“Until” is a very powerful chronological conjunction. It is a measure of time marking a stopping or starting point. It marks a change in course. It would mark the intervention  of God.  At last the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon the nation and restoration would happen. The Messiah would bring healing, peace, and safety forever. There would be true blessing for God’s people, even in the midst of turmoil. 

Our world today exhibits many of the same characteristics of Israel in Isaiah’s day. Our need for repentance is no less true. It is important to remember that God is one in charge of the “until.” All of time is in his hands. He is still sovereign in the midst of the world’s turmoil. I have no idea what is transpiring in the world today, but I encourage us to heed the words of Isaiah. Let us not be like “the careless ones who will suddenly begin to care.” Let us care now, today, and seek the blessing of the Spirit. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Music: “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”     John Rutter

Conducted by John Rutter

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, February 17, 2008

The Mark Thallander Foundation Choir Festival  

Prayer:

O Lord, Thy hands have formed us, and Thou hast sent us into this world, that we may walk in the way that leads to heaven and Thyself, and may find a lasting rest in Thee who art the Source and Center of our souls. Look in pity on us poor pilgrims in the narrow way; let us not go astray, but reach at last our true home where our Father dwells. Guide and govern us from day to day, and bestow on us food and strength for body and soul, that we may journey on in peace. Forgive us for having hitherto so often wavered or looked back and let us henceforward march straight on in the way of Thy laws, and may our last step be a safe and peaceful passage to the arms of Thy love, and the blessed fellowship of the saints in light. Hear us, O Lord, and glorify Thy name in us that we may glorify Thee for ever and ever. Amen.  

           ―Gerhard Tersteegen  1697-1769, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.100

Monday, May 3

Reader: “Turn us again to yourself, O God.”

Response: “Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.”

Scripture:  Psalm 80       

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,

    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.

O God, enthroned above the cherubim,

    display your radiant glory

    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.

Show us your mighty power.

    Come to rescue us!

Turn us again to yourself, O God.

    Make your face shine down upon us.

    Only then will we be saved.

O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,

    how long will you be angry with our prayers?

You have fed us with sorrow

    and made us drink tears by the bucketful.

You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations.

    Our enemies treat us as a joke.

Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.

    Make your face shine down upon us.

    Only then will we be saved.

You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;

    you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.

You cleared the ground for us,

    and we took root and filled the land.

Our shade covered the mountains;

    our branches covered the mighty cedars.

We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;

    our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River.

But now, why have you broken down our walls

    so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?

The wild boar from the forest devours it,

    and the wild animals feed on it.

Come back, we beg you, O God of Heaven’s Armies.

    Look down from heaven and see our plight.

Take care of this grapevine

    that you yourself have planted,

    this son you have raised for yourself.

For we are chopped up and burned by our enemies.

    May they perish at the sight of your frown.

Strengthen the man you love,

    the son of your choice.

Then we will never abandon you again.

    Revive us so we can call on your name once more.

Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.

    Make your face shine down upon us.

    Only then will we be saved.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

One of the themes we’ve mentioned often is the great continuity between the two Testaments. Sometimes we may be inclined to think of the First Testament as being unnecessary since Christ came and fulfilled all the prophecies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Afterall, all of Scripture is the inspired, infallible word of God. Also, have you noticed how often Jesus quotes the Hebrew Bible? Yesterday, we looked at John 15, Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches. If you missed yesterday, go back and read it and it will make today’s passage even more significant. The whole basis for Jesus’ discussion on the vine and the branches comes directly out of today’s Psalm 80. The people listening to Jesus would know this centuries old Psalm which made Jesus’ words even more powerful. 

This psalm of lament is a sung prayer. The Shepherd of Israel is a reference to God. Israel had just experienced another crushing loss in battle. The reference to Ephraim and Manasseh probably indicates a northern kingdom defeat. In the psalmist’s longing, there is a thrice repeated plea for God to turn his face and shine on his people and rescue them. These appear in bold toward the beginning, then again in the middle, and at the close of today’s passage. 

The lament in this first part focuses on God’s anger toward the people. In the middle portion we have the reference to Israel being a grapevine transplanted from Egypt into Canaan, the Promised Land. God, the gardener, drove out the pagan nations, prepared the soil, and planted his grapevine in the land. The transplanted vine grew with the branches covering the mountains and stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River. The vine was flourishing! The people forgot the source of their blessing and God worked for their defeat. Now, a wild boar (pagan nations) devours them. Then comes the plea again, “Come back God of Heaven’s Armies and take care of your grapevine that you yourself have planted, this son (Israel) you have raised for yourself.” The psalm concludes with Israel once again pledging to be loyal to God and to not turn away. This psalm describes a major pruning and the “pruning lament!” You can see why Jesus makes so very clear the necessity of remaining attached to the vine. Can you begin to see the surprise and shocking impact of Jesus’ metaphor with his disciples in John 15?

Believers, we the church are branches of the true vine. Your job today? Abide.

Music:  “Psalm 80: The Vineyard of the Lord”   The Orchard Enterprises

Prayer:

Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Lord, we are an arrogant and proud people. Though made in your image, we have sought to reshape our image after our own fashion. There is an unrepentant part of us that always seeks rebellion against you and your word. We have rejected you with pride and bear the consequences of our foolishness. We tell ourselves nothing bad will happen when we act selfishly. The difficult stories in the Bible are what happened to those disobedient people, but will not happen to us. The truth is, you love and care for your people and at times bring judgment upon those you love. Forgive us as a people, Lord. Forgive me, Lord, for the many times I have rejected you when I knew perfectly well what was right. Grant that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who indwell me may so shape me through discipline and love, that I may conform more and more to one who is being made in your image, and as a result bring glory and honor to you, my Creator and Redeemer. This I pray through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.      ―Daniel Sharp

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2

Reader: “I am the vine;”

Response: “you are the branches.”

Scripture: John 15:1-8    

 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

As Jesus so often does, he describes a theological concept with a picture from everyday life, often an agrarian example. While the metaphor is familiar, I’d like us to look a little deeper at a few of the unique phrases. 

Jesus’ opening words present a new concept to the Jews when he declares that he is the true grapevine. Throughout the First Testament a grapevine or a vineyard traditionally represented God’s people, Israel. This vine had been planted and tended by God. Jeremiah proclaims God’s word to Israel, “But I was the one who  planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock―the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine?” (Jer. 2:21; also Is. 5:1-5) God the Father was the  gardener who tended and cared for his vine including the pruning. And God did a fair amount of pruning of Israel!

Pruning is essential for producing fruit. After three years of nothing, our avocado tree finally produced a crop last year, about 45 avocados. During the dormant time of the year, I crawled up into the tree and I cut off suckers, weak branches, and thinned things out. I put some fertilizer all around on the ground. This year so far I’ve counted 45 avocados while standing in one place. There are well over 100 on this tree. Pruning helps produce fruit. As I was cutting off branches, I could almost hear the tree saying to me, “Ouch! What are you doing to me? It hurts. Stop it!” Why should we ever think when the Lord prunes us it won’t have some pain. But, Oh, the joy of fruitfulness!

I’m sure you noticed one word being repeated several times in this passage, actually seven times, the perfect number. Five times the phrase “remain in me” appears and two other times from Jesus’ perspective “I will remain in you” and “my words remain in you.” The word menō was a favorite of Jesus. It is often translated “remain,” “stay,” “continual,” or “abide.” It describes an intimate, enduring, and deep relationship. Nothing about the word is theoretical. The idea is that Jesus’ word permeates and forms the person.

One of the reasons for these daily devotionals is to help us “remain” in him and his word. Daily encounters with Jesus builds intimacy and produces fruit for the kingdom. We learn elsewhere in John that we are indwelt by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Jn.14:10-11; Jn.14:26; Jn.17:21). God is our source of nourishment.

Jesus is the vine and his followers are the branches drawing life-blood from their attachment to the vine. But there is more. As the branch remains in the vine, the vine remains in the branch! The idea is to produce fruit. Apart from the vine, the branch can produce nothing on its own. That seems obvious! Yet how many Christians try to be spiritual through their own efforts? Jesus’ words couldn’t be more clear, “Apart from me you can do nothing!” Remaining in the vine is the key. The longer a branch remains attached to the vine, the more it begins to look like the vine itself. The branches of a 200 year old oak tree look like the trunk of the tree itself. The longer a person remains in Christ, the more they resemble Christ in speech, actions, love, and character. Jesus lives his life through us. When we are praying in the will of God, our prayers will always be answered. Believers through whom fruit is produced bring joy to the Father. Jesus gives a new meaning to “hang in there!”

Music: “Abide with Me”   Sam Robson    You CANNOT miss this!

Bonus: “Abide with Me”   Audrey Assad

Prayer:  

I adore you, Lord Jesus, living within my heart. As I remain in you and you in me, may my life reflect the quietness of your power, the perfection of all your ways, the brightness of your presence, the holiness of your Spirit, that I may know the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of your love, and trample down within me all the power of evil, in the might of your Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.           ―adapted, Daniel Sharp, from In the Presence of My Father, p.161

Saturday, May 1

Reader: “How can I describe the Kingdom of God?”

Response: “It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground.”

Scripture: Mark 4:30-32    

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:     

I have a question. What is the best way to describe something whose depth and ramifications are indescribable? Jesus gives us some help in answering that question in this passage. His followers had their idea of what the Kingdom of God should look like. That much was clear from the people’s response at the crucifixion: in their minds God’s kingdom would be an earthly rule that would overthrow the Roman occupation. It is clear that the people did not understand Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, not even the disciples grasped his message. Part of the purpose of this method of teaching was to separate those with unbelieving hearts from perceiving the truth. Also, the idea of a Kingdom of God would clearly be a threat to the Roman occupation, hence his speaking in parables and explaining to his disciples in private. Let’s look a little closer at his words.

Without a doubt there was in Jesus’ own words, mystery in regard to the Kingdom of God (Mk. 4:11). Jesus’ solution to describe the indescribable was to tell a story. He did it often and turns out to be a wonderful way to teach. The point of a parable was to give added insight to those who perceived. Imagine yourself to be one of the disciples as Jesus is explaining the meaning of the Kingdom of God and he turns to you and asks you what do you think are the key words in his parable. What would you say? Seed, planted, ground, smallest seed, grows? What do the birds have to do with anything? What can we learn?

God’s Kingdom was deceptively small. When you consider the population of the world then and now, twelve people is a miniscule foundation, a tiny group, the “smallest of all seeds.” Think of it: one God-man gave his life to solve the world’s alienation from God. One man, one death, one resurrection from the dead, an ascension into heaven. These singular acts by one unique person changed all of creation. In some ways a mustard seed. This gospel story is planted in the hearts of a few men and women and grows throughout all parts of the world over centuries of time and continues to this day! The birds building nests in the shade of the tree represent all peoples and nations finding rest and safety in the Kingdom of God. 

The surprise is that it started so small and became so large. Note Jesus’ choice of using the superlative contrasting words “smallest” and “largest.” The Kingdom of God is not what you thought or expected. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God had come in his own person and ministry to invade the kingdom of this world. Jesus’ rule will ultimately overcome all hostile powers finally destroying the kingdom of this world currently under the power of the devil. The fulfillment of the Kingdom of God with Christ as ruler is yet to come as set forth in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Do we perceive the Kingdom of God at work among us now? Are we part of that work? Where do you see evidence?

Music: “Rejoice the Lord Is King”   arr. Forrest   Covenant Combined Choirs 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9Ec28lwVEg     Youth still sing!

Bonus: “Rejoice the Lord Is King”    great arrangement well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGqzzIEV6JU    Hour of Power Choir

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, we identify with the disciples on grasping the mystery of your Kingdom. We get the main part but there are still unknowns, things we can’t quite figure out. What is clear is that there are two kingdoms at war here on earth, the kingdom of the devil, which is hellbent on destroying your kingdom. And at times it looks like his  kingdom has the upper hand. But we know the outcome of its devastating, crushing defeat. This season of Eastertide confirms the certainty of such. Help us, Lord, to work diligently for the advancing of your glorious kingdom here on earth. May we be bold and outspoken in our allegiance to you and may the pusillanimous spirit be replaced with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our victorious King. Amen.                ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, April 30

Reader: “May your money be destroyed with you” 

Response: “for thinking God’s gift can be bought!”

Scripture:  Acts 8:9-25  

A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic.

But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!”

But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.”

“Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!”

After testifying and preaching the word of the Lord in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way to preach the Good News.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

Let’s stay with Philip another day and look at the passage that follows yesterday’s reading. Luke writes that Simon was a sorcerer. A sorcerer was a kind of flashy showman who was not quite above board. Magic, trickery, astrology, divination, fortune telling, and interpreting dreams were the fields of operation for such a person. And such was Simon. In addition, he had an exalted view of himself and a large and devoted following. His magical powers mesmerized the people who looked on him with awe. In a nutshell, Simon was all about Simon!

Then came Philip the Evangelist speaking the truth of God’s Kingdom, of Jesus Christ, and doing Holy Spirit-empowered genuine miracles. (You will notice that every miracle in the Bible, was never done for the effect or the “wow” factor, but rather to point to God’s power, God’s control, God’s Son, God’s provision, and so forth. It was never done for its own sake.)  Many people responded to Philip’s preaching and were baptized. It is interesting to me that Simon, who dealt in the false world of a charlatan, recognized the truth when he ran into it. It may have been as simply as “This guy is better than me. I’m going to follow him and see how he’s pulling this off.” At any rate, he went through with the baptism and tailed Philip wherever he went. In his view, Philip had raised the miracle standards and had to find out how he did this.

The next part of the passage tells us a little bit about the fledgling Christian church. The disciples in Jerusalem heard about Philip’s success in Samaria and so two of the top leaders, Peter and John, went to Samaria to see for themselves what was happening and to pray that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit. There is a most significant point being made here. Those people who had been baptized had been so in the name of the Lord Jesus―only. You’ll recall Jesus’ words at the end of the gospel of Matthew, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” ―one name, triune God. So Peter and John laid hands on the new converts who then received the Holy Spirit.

In seeing this happen before his eyes, Simon saw the source of the power that Philip had been exhibiting. Here was that same power again with Peter and John. He had finally found it! What would a person like Simon do? Offer money for the power. People give money for power, then and now. Simon, however, had run into Peter who spoke the truest words Simon had ever heard, “You are full of jealousy and are held captive by sin. Repent.” With careful reading it is not clear that Simon did in fact repent. He seemed more interested in avoiding the terrible consequences Peter had predicted than in changing his crooked ways. 

The unfolding, growing, fledgling church was moving into new territories. Whereas, the Samaritans were the much hated half-breed Jews, during Jesus’ time, his encounter with the woman at the well and now, Peter and John coming to Samaria and preaching in various villages, was an astounding turnaround! The gospel was extended to all peoples. We must never assume that people who live in very “un-Christian” worlds are not interested in the truth. All people are searching. We must not be shy in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

Music: “Children Go Where I Send Thee”   Spelman College Glee Club    WOW!

Prayer: 

God the Father, hidden in glory, we thank you that you have chosen to reveal yourself to us who, by ourselves, cannot find you. We thank you for Jesus Christ your Son, who came to reveal your love and to seek and to save the lost. Grant that we who have been found might with diligence speak forth your word to those who are still searching. May your love be evident in our demeanor, our words, and in our care and concern for others. We thank you for the work of the Holy Spirit, enabling your Church in all ages to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love and to worship you in the majesty of your being, one God in three Persons.                         Prayers for Sunday Services, p.108, adapted Daniel Sharp

Thursday, April 29

Reader: “But the believers who were scattered”

Response: “preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.”

Scripture: Acts 8:1b-8

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:      

The impact of the resurrection of Jesus was bringing great turmoil to the city of Jerusalem. There were those people who believed in Jesus whose lives were being transformed. Then there were others including Saul of Tarsus who were attempting by every means possible to stamp out what they considered blasphemy against the God of Israel. Following the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples proclaimed the gospel wherever they went. Under severe persecution, the fledgling church scattered from the city of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas of Judah and Samaria.

We are given in this passage the account of the disciple, Philip, and his evangelistic ministry as an example of what was happening. You’ll recall that before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told the disciples that with the coming of the Holy Spirit they would be empowered to do miracles and even greater things than he had done. Such was the case here with Philip.

Philip was called by Jesus to be one of his twelve disciples. Unlike some of the other disciples, Philip was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian. He spoke Greek. He was one of the first disciples to take the gospel to those outside Jerusalem as we read here. He, along with Stephen, was one of the first seven deacons. 

After the death of Stephen, Philip traveled north to Samaria, the region where Jesus had met the woman at Jacob’s well. There were already some believers in that region as the result of Jesus’ previous encounter with the woman. It was there that  Philip fulfilled Jesus’ words in performing many miracles, healing the lame, and casting out demons. On another occasion an angel directed him to travel southwest out of Jerusalem. While traveling down the road, he met an Ethiopian eunuch and explained to him how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53. The Ethiopian believed and Philip baptized him on the spot. Philip was then transported by the Holy Spirit to Azotus, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Philip preached his way north along the coastline eventually settling in the city of Caesarea. Years later, Paul stayed overnight in Philip’s home there on the coast. Due to his sharing of the gospel, he was known as Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8). Tradition records that he was martyred in 52 A.D. by crucifixion.

There are a couple of things to note from this passage. Philip, a Hellenistic Jew, helped communicate that the gospel was to extend far beyond the Jewish world to all peoples. Second, he lived in a tense world where the message of the gospel went directly against the culture of the day. But to Philip that was no hindrance as he ambitiously proclaimed the risen Lord and the transforming power of the gospel and as a result many believed. 

But the truth of one exclusive way to deal with sin and separation from God through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ was not popular among the secular masses. The presence and goodness of the truth of God exposed the darkness and depravity of the people and their culture’s values. As a result, those alienated from God sought to stamp out the Christians and the gospel message through all forms of persecution including martyrdom. Many of the early church fathers died painful deaths rather than recant their Christian faith in a failed attempt to exterminate Christianity. Philip serves us as an inspiration on how to live in our world with fearlessness and proclaim the gospel in the midst of, in Paul’s words, “a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Let us live the gospel with joy. You may be the clearest picture of Jesus people see today. Like Philip, live with abandon!

Music:  “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”      Jadon Lavik

Prayer:

Use me then, my Savior, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, you may require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with your grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with your love. Take my heart for your abode; my mouth to spread abroad the glory of your name; my love and all my powers, for the advancement of your believing people and never suffer the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate; so that at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, “Jesus needs me, and I am his.”   ―D.L. Moody, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.81

Wednesday, April 28

Reader: “For the Lord is a great God,”

Response: “a great King above all gods.”

Scripture:  Psalm 95

Come, let us sing to the Lord!

    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come to him with thanksgiving.

    Let us sing psalms of praise to him.

For the Lord is a great God,

    a great King above all gods.

He holds in his hands the depths of the earth

    and the mightiest mountains.

The sea belongs to him, for he made it.

    His hands formed the dry land, too.

Come, let us worship and bow down.

    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker 

    for he is our God.

We are the people he watches over,

    the flock under his care.

If only you would listen to his voice today!

The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,

    as they did at Massah in the wilderness

For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience,

    even though they saw everything I did.

For forty years I was angry with them, and I said,

‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me.

    They refuse to do what I tell them.’

So in my anger I took an oath:

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

In this season of Easter, it behooves us to grasp the significance beyond the stone rolled away and Jesus’ appearing to the disciples. The implications are infinite. This psalm helps to move us forward in understanding the ramifications of not only Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and evil, but the grand moving forward of God’s eternal plan from before time began. We see history and eternity welded together. This psalm is part of a group of psalms (Psalms 93-100) which anticipate the great coming kingdom and God’s dominion over all of creation.

It opens with a call for us to sing to the Lord. Music is eternal. Singing is the one thing we do both on earth and will do in heaven. There everyone will sing with great joy and thanksgiving. The psalmist alludes to Jesus as the “rock in the wilderness” from which the water of life came. Moses spoke to the rock and it brought forth water. That rock was a type of Christ. He was literally the Israelites’ Rock of Salvation providing life nourishing water in a barren desert. He remains our Rock of Salvation to this day.

The psalmist continues extolling the greatness of God as the God above all gods. Our God is massive, holding the foundation of the earth in his huge hands. All of the oceans are his because he made them! All the lands of the earth are his as well by virtue of the fact that he created them. His agents of creation were the Son and the Holy Spirit. Everything in this world belongs to the Creator, its maker. No one actually owns land, we are just leasing it from its rightful owner, God. For everything in creation was made for the Son. The sky, the clouds, the planets, the universe . . . it all belongs to Jesus by virtue of God’s grandest plan before the creation of the world, “everything was created through him and for him” (Col.1:16). And it is Jesus who holds everything together (Col. 1:17). In the grandest plan of God, we are temporary tenants.

With that, the writer continues calling worshipers to bow down and to kneel before their maker, their Shepherd. We are given a contrast in the last part of the psalm: we are reminded of Israel’s rebellion in the desert in spite of God’s miraculous provision time and again with the result of their experiencing forty years of God’s wrath. The sad result, as you know, was that those Israelites never did enter the Promised Land. 

We come again to the question, “What does this have to do with me today?” How would it affect you if you viewed the place where you are living now as not really yours? Your car isn’t yours. The food in your house was all given to you. The money you have was given to you. It’s not a loan but a gift. All of your clothes were a present to you. Special arrangements were made so you could have the family and friends you have. The work you do or the job you are looking for are all being worked out by God on your behalf. God specifically arranged to give you the unique brain that is yours alone. In addition, God has made you a promise to provide for you and protect you forever. What would you say to God? Psalm 95 is a start.

Music: “We Give Thee But Thine Own”    Morningstar Pub.

We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be,

For all we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord, from thee.

May we thy bounties thus as stewards true receive,

And gladly, as thou blessest us, to thee our first-fruits give.

To comfort and to bless, to find a balm for woe,

To tend the lone and fatherless is angels’ work below.

And we believe thy word, though dim our faith may be:

Whate’er for thine we do, O Lord, we do it unto thee.

Prayer:  

O Lord, our Savior, who hast warned us that thou wilt require much of those to whom much is given; grant that we whose lot is cast in so goodly a heritage may strive together the more abundantly by prayer, by almsgiving, by fasting, and by every other appointed means, to extend to others what we so richly enjoy; and as we have entered into the labors of other men, so to labor that in their turn other men may enter into ours, to the fulfilment of thy holy will, and our own everlasting salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.    ―The Oxford Book of Prayer, St. Augustine, 354-430 A.D. p.117

Tuesday, April 27

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.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

The book of the Revelation of John is probably the most widely interpreted book in all of Scripture. Its visionary nature, fantastic descriptions, mysterious creatures, and ever present symbolic numbers make for fascinating reading and theological awe. One thing to keep in mind is that John is describing the indescribable. He’s been given a true vision of a world we cannot imagine and yet he is limited to this world’s vocabulary to describe the reality of that world. A daunting task for him and for the reader. Yet under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we have God’s word to see what lies ahead.

The passage we are concerned with takes place in the throne room of heaven. 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 give up their distinctiveness; but their identity is in Christ rather than their distinctiveness. Would that our present world would understand this in the racial struggles in which we are engaged. Note, in fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, here is the vast crowd too great to number standing as one before the throne of God and before the Lamb.  

The people are dressed in white robes, symbolizing purity, the righteousness of Christ and the white of priestly garments, waving palm branches. (More on the robes in a bit.) 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 shaken as the Jews recited Ps.118:25 crying “O Lord, save us!” which in Hebrew is Hosanna! “Salvation from our God who sits on the throne” refers to deliverance which rests upon the sovereign will of God. The “and from the Lamb” refers to the redemptive act of Jesus, the Lamb of God. This explains the celebration occurring on Palm Sunday.

We then have another glorious angelic hymn framed by “Amen!” Seven is viewed as the perfect number and here we have seven words highlighting different aspects of worship each separated by the conjunction “and” again bringing heightened foci to each act. That John is very conscious is evidenced by his conversation with one of the twenty-four elders. This is an interactive vision! 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 explains the vast crowd are 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 Christ with which the crowd is clothed. The phrase “serve him day and night” is an expression meaning all the time. 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

Monday, April 26

Reader: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.”

Response: “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Scripture:  I Samuel 16:1-13 

Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”

But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” “Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say that you have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.”

So Samuel did as the Lord instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?” “Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too.

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.”

“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”

So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

Undoubtedly we have all heard the phrase of advice―“Just follow your heart.” It sounds wonderful. But how many bad romances started out that way?! There are other phrases dealing with the heart that are tender or touching: heart-felt or broken-hearted. The Scriptures often refer to the heart . . . “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”

We are probably very familiar with this passage and story of the anointing of the young boy, David, as king of Israel. Samuel who was the first prophet in Israel―after Moses―had anointed Israel’s first king, Saul. But Saul had usurped the priest’s role in offering sacrifices and as a result, God was sorry he ever made Saul king. So God instructed Samuel to anoint a new king. This message from God occurred just before the passage you just read. Samuel had been in mourning for Saul’s great failures in leading Israel, for Saul had not sought the LORD’s guidance and even consulted a medium, a witch.

Samuel was understandably nervous about anointing another person king while Saul was still in power. God gave him the excuse to give if questioned, for God had chosen another to rule his people Israel. When Samuel the prophet arrived in Bethlehem unannounced, it predictably stuck fear in the hearts of the people. For often prophets were God’s instruments for bringing divine judgment. In this case the word was circulated that he had come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord being sure to invite the family of Jesse.

Samuel’s thinking on seeing the first of Jesse’s sons would be the thought all of us would have is my guess. Eliab was apparently tall, handsome, and well-spoken. He would make a fine king. But it was not to be. Samuel worked his way through all the brothers without finding the king. Finally, the youngest son, David, appeared before Samuel and the LORD said this is the one. At that point the Holy Spirit came upon David in a powerful way from that day on. 

Here we are given the perspective of God as he spoke to Samuel. “Don’t judge by his appearance . . . The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” It was Jeremiah, some several hundred years later that said, “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can know it.” (Jer. 17:9) And therein lies the great danger in our phrase, “Just follow your heart.” Samuel’s first conclusion was based on his own heart’s observation. Our perspective shaped by our own heart is not always true. Be very careful when these words form when considering some action: “I just felt in my heart that I should . . .” We need God’s perspective. Ours can be flawed, not only flawed, but often deceptive as well. Rather than “following our heart” it would be much better to follow God’s heart, which means spending much time with God so that we might know his heart. 

Though a flawed king, David sought the LORD with a repentant heart. It was David who wrote in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” With a flawed heart David sought God’s heart. And it is from his lineage that the Messiah would come. It is not surprising that King David was later described in Scripture as “a man after God’s own heart” or “she was a woman after God’s own heart.” That would make a wonderful epitaph on a tombstone! 

Music: “Near to the Heart of God” Fountainview Academy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4-Jkb3vgSs        In case you were wondering, they were playing along with what they had recorded earlier. Having played a brass instrument, I can’t imagine how cold that mouth piece was, how cold the reeds were, or how hard to keep the strings in tune! But it was beautiful!

Prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Amen.    ―King David, from Psalm 51

Fourth Sunday in Easter, April 25

Reader: “I am the good shepherd;”

Response: “I know my own sheep.”

Scripture: John 10:1-18        

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

One of the things to keep in mind is that the first people to read John’s gospel were Middle Easterners, not Westerners, Asians, Africans, Latinos, nor any other culture. In this passage Jesus was speaking to Jews. The more we understand the culture of Jesus’ day, the more we will understand some of his expressions and illustrations.* 

Twenty years ago when we were in Israel, we saw shepherds walking along the side of the road with their flocks of sheep. No fences, just open pasture in the place where we were. Shepherds were their protector, provider, guide, and veterinarian. The sheep were totally dependent on their shepherd to lead them. They knew his voice and followed it. They trusted him completely. Sheep are near-sighted, pusillanimous, and defenseless. Their terrifying defense is stamping their feet! Often goats are put into a flock because goats will fight an intruder. As far as the sheep are concerned, their lives are in their shepherd’s hands.  

Throughout the First Testament, the Jewish people were very conscious of the idea of God being the Shepherd of Israel. After all, Psalm 23 was well known by every Jew. Even in Jesus’ day, the priests, the spiritual leaders of Israel were also considered shepherds of God’s people, God’s flock as it were.

What you read is Jesus speaking during the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah). During this particular festival there is a concerted focus on Ezekiel 34. In that passage, the first section describes bad shepherds who are concerned only with themselves which is followed by a section where God declares himself the good shepherd who cares for his sheep. Hanukkah was the yearly opportunity for the priests, as the “shepherds of Israel,” to examine their commitment to service in light of Ezekiel 34. This is the backdrop for Jesus’ message and the reason for the theme of shepherds.

When he begins with “I tell you the truth,” it’s a way of saying “Amen, amen,” in other words, “Listen up people, what I’m about to say is really important, so pay attention.”  

He begins comparing bad shepherds to thieves and robbers, as does Ezekiel 34. Everyone knew the content of that portion of the book.

Some helpful background: Sheep were kept in a pen at night and the shepherd slept in the single doorway, the only way to get into or out of the fold. Since the shepherd was the only door; the sheep were secure. Any enemy coming for the sheep had to deal with the shepherd first! The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep was personal. He knew every sheep and every sheep knew his voice. They followed by the sound of his voice, not by sight. You can drive cattle, not so with sheep. Sheep are followers. Often, several shepherds would go together putting their flocks in the same fold. When morning came, each shepherd would call his own sheep and the flocks would separate based on hearing their master’s voice. The challenge was not only to the shepherds of the flocks, but also for the sheep to learn their master’s voice so they would know whom to follow.  

Jesus was alluding to the fact that the people (the sheep) didn’t recognize his voice, but were following bad shepherds (the priests). The people listening did not make this connection, so Jesus did another “Amen, amen!” We see in this portion a challenge to know his voice, to know Scripture, and to know the truth. They and we are not to be dumb sheep. The Good Shepherd loves his sheep to the point of his own death. Then he said plainly: I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep know my voice. I am the gate of the sheepfold. Then he identifies himself with the Father―God of the First Testament. He is the God of the second part of Ezekiel 34!

Rather than leadership in the first part of reading, the focus shifts here to the  commitment of the Shepherd. Jesus’ discourse here deals with two ways of viewing him, both having to do with salvation. He is the Door, the only way to salvation. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep with the power to take it up again.

I might make one additional comment about the sentence “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold.” Remember, throughout the early part of Christianity, the converted Jews struggled with the concept of accepting Gentile believers as equals before God. In this particular instance, Jesus is talking to Jewish leaders and Jewish people. A reasonable understanding is that Jesus’ comments refer to non-Jewish people who will come to faith as the gospel unfolds following Jesus’ death and resurrection. At this point in history and in this context is how I would   interpret these words.  

Finally, the last portion of this reading centers on the Lord taking things into his own hands and providing a true shepherd who will care for his sheep. Note how much similarity there is in this description to Psalm 23 written roughly 400 years earlier. God’s shepherd will search out the lost sheep. He will feed them and they will dwell in peace. He will bandage the wounded  and strengthen the weak. He will destroy the fat and powerful; he will bring justice. He will separate the sheep from the goats.   Let us sheep listen for our Shepherd’s voice today.

*Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, IVP Press  A helpful and interesting book giving a picture of Jewish and middle eastern culture in Jesus’ day.

Music:  “Shepherd Me Lord”    Arizona State University Concert Choir

Prayer:

O Shepherd of the sheep, who didst promise to carry lambs in Thine arms, and to

lead us by the still waters, help us to know the peace which passeth understanding. Give us to drink that heavenly draught which is life, the calm patience which is content to bear what God giveth. Have mercy upon us, and hear our prayers. Lead us gently when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Guide us, till at last, in the assembly of Thy saints, we may find rest forevermore. Amen.                                           ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.143

Saturday, April 24

Reader: “Bring [your sons] closer to me,” 

Response: “so I can bless them.”

Scripture:  Genesis 48:8-19  

Then Jacob looked over at the two boys. “Are these your sons?” he asked.

“Yes,” Joseph told him, “these are the sons God has given me here in Egypt.”

And Jacob said, “Bring them closer to me, so I can bless them.” Jacob was half blind because of his age and could hardly see. So Joseph brought the boys close to him, and Jacob kissed and embraced them. Then Jacob said to Joseph, “I never thought I would see your face again, but now God has let me see your children, too!”

Joseph moved the boys, who were at their grandfather’s knees, and he bowed with his face to the ground. Then he positioned the boys in front of Jacob. With his right hand he directed Ephraim toward Jacob’s left hand, and with his left hand he put Manasseh at Jacob’s right hand. But Jacob crossed his arms as he reached out to lay his hands on the boys’ heads. He put his right hand on the head of Ephraim, though he was the younger boy, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, though he was the firstborn. Then he blessed Joseph and said,

“May the God before whom my grandfather Abraham

    and my father, Isaac, walked—

the God who has been my shepherd

    all my life, to this very day,

the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm—

    may he bless these boys.

May they preserve my name

    and the names of Abraham and Isaac.

And may their descendants multiply greatly

    throughout the earth.”

But Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

You have often heard a “God bless you!” after a sneeze. Admittedly, such a response is a rather innocuous comment, but there is much more to it in Scripture as you have gathered in reading the above passage. There are some interesting dynamics transpiring here. You recall from yesterday that Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife and that Joseph was his favorite son. (Can we say dysfunctional family?) In Jacob’s act of “adopting” Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own, he assures them shares along with the other sons. As it turned out later, each of the sons became one of the tribes of Israel. As a priestly tribe, the Levites had no territory of their own and so with Joseph’s two sons being given land in Canaan, there were the twelve tribes plus the Levites settling in Canaan some 450 years later. 

In the blessing, normally the right hand, the hand of power, was placed on the head of the first son born. That oldest son received their birthright as the position of privilege and prominence. So when Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim, who was the younger son, Joseph sought to correct his father’s error. But in a prophetic word Jacob foretold that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh which centuries later proved to be true.

What is most interesting, this is the fourth consecutive time that pattern had been observed where the younger son was given the blessing rather than the older boy.

We have Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau, Joseph not Reuben, and now, Ephraim not Manasseh. In passing, it’s also interesting that both Isaac and Jacob had failing eyesight in these moments of blessing.

Barak is the Hebrew verb for blessing, a word occurring 330 times in the Bible. In verb form, it is used most often with God as the one doing the “blessing” as is apparent in this passage. The initiative of the blessing rests with God. The noun form, brakah, or blessing. “When expressed by men, a “ blessing” was a wish or prayer for a blessing that is to come in the future.”* Jacob’s blessing was also like this in that he blessed the boys near the end of his life and he also asked that God might bless them as well. 

We next look briefly at the text of Jacob’s blessing of his grandsons. In the first part he refers to the covenant making God of his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. He is reminding the boys of God’s faithfulness in their heritage. Second, he attests to his own faith in the same God who has been his personal Shepherd all the days of his life. Again a very powerful statement from a man who was himself a shepherd of sheep. What a beautiful image and picture from one who knew first hand the care of a shepherd meant to the sheep. Third, he refers to the Angel who redeemed him from harm. You’ll recall many years earlier Jacob had at different times several encounters with angels including an all-night encounter wrestling with an angel and also in his vision of seeing the stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending. In each case, Jacob was given deeper insight and greater faith in God. He then concludes his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh with the words, “may [God] bless these boys.” May they preserve and continue the family name and may they have many descendants. In biblical times large families were a sign of God’s blessing. Ephraim and Manasseh were among the largest of the twelve tribes of Israel. And Ephraim was the leader of the ten northern tribes.

A blessing is essential to a covenant relationship as it motivates, enhances, and enriches life. At the bottom line, a blessing acknowledges that all power and blessing stem from the Creator.

So how does all of this play out for you today? Seek God’s blessing daily. How does that happen? These are Jesus’ words, “Even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Lk.11:28) Obedience is the road to the blessing of God. You see, sneezing is really good for you!!

*W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, p.18

Music: “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord O My Soul)”    Matt Redman

Bonus: “Bless the Lord O My Soul”  from Rachmaninoff “Vespers”  Studio Piżmax 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfDreatXYeU     FANTASTIC!  From the Russian Orthodox Liturgy. Do not miss this! A reminder, Orthodox music is always a cappella.

Prayer:

‘May the Lord bless you

    and protect you.

May the Lord smile on you

    and be gracious to you.

May the Lord show you his favor

    and give you his peace.’

          ―Numbers 6:24-26

Friday, April 23

Reader: “Now I am ready to die,”

Response: “since I have seen your face.”

Scripture: Genesis 46:28-47:6   

As they neared their destination, Jacob sent Judah ahead to meet Joseph and get directions to the region of Goshen. And when they finally arrived there, Joseph prepared his chariot and traveled to Goshen to meet his father, Jacob. When Joseph arrived, he embraced his father and wept, holding him for a long time. Finally, Jacob said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen your face again and know you are still alive.” 

And Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s entire family, “I will go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘My brothers and my father’s entire family have come to me from the land of Canaan. These men are shepherds, and they raise livestock. They have brought with them their flocks and herds and everything they own.’” Then he said, “When Pharaoh calls for you and asks you about your occupation, you must tell him, ‘We, your servants, have raised livestock all our lives, as our ancestors have always done.’ When you tell him this, he will let you live here in the region of Goshen, for the Egyptians despise shepherds.”

Then Joseph went to see Pharaoh and told him, “My father and my brothers have arrived from the land of Canaan. They have come with all their flocks and herds and possessions, and they are now in the region of Goshen.” Joseph took five of his brothers with him and presented them to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?” They replied, “We, your servants, are shepherds, just like our ancestors. We have come to live here in Egypt for a while, for there is no pasture for our flocks in Canaan. The famine is very severe there. So please, we request permission to live in the region of Goshen.”

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have joined you here, choose any place in the entire land of Egypt for them to live. Give them the best land of Egypt. Let them live in the region of Goshen. And if any of them have special skills, put them in charge of my livestock, too.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Most of us are very familiar with this story on the surface. When we look at some of the background of the family dynamics, biographical history of Joseph and the typology portrayed, we discover some of the deeper richness of this account. 

You’ll recall that Joseph’s father, Jacob, had four wives, two sisters, Rachel and Leah, and two servants of the sisters, Bilhah and Zilpah. With these four women he had twelve sons. Rachel was the wife he loved the most and that deep love was not hidden from his other wives. Unfortunately, Rachel was unable to conceive which was not the case with the other women who bore him a total of ten sons.

Finally, God enabled Rachel to conceive and she bore him Joseph. Later, she tragically died giving birth to a second son, Benjamin. Known by everyone in the family, Joseph was the love of Jacob’s life. His brothers hated him, sold him at the age of seventeen into slavery, and cruelly told Jacob that he was dead. Thirteen years later, Joseph is second in command in all of Egypt. 

When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, his first question was, “Is my father alive?” The relationship between the two had been extremely close. Twenty-two years had passed since Jacob learned of Joseph’s supposed death. He now discovers this favored son is alive and well. So you can imagine the long embrace and tears when they first saw each other. Think what was going in the minds of the brothers! What did their father think of them now having told him this egregious lie? What would Joseph in his most powerful position do to them? 

As they settled in, Joseph told his brothers what to say to Pharaoh and, not surprisingly, they did exactly what he told them to do! Joseph was wise in that he knew it was important that God’s people not intermingle with foreign cultures. So he asked that the Hebrew family be kept to themselves in the land of Goshen since the Egyptians despise shepherds. 

Joseph is a type of Christ figure in some ways. He served as a redeemer for his family. When Jacob embraced Joseph his words were that he was now willing to die since he had seen that his son was alive. Similar words were spoken by Simeon as he held the Christ child in his arms (Lk. 2:29-30). Joseph was betrayed by his own and sold for pieces of silver as was Jesus. Jesus’ attitude toward the disciples who had all forsaken him was that of forgiveness. Joseph’s attitude toward his brothers who had sold him as a slave was that of forgiveness. Like Jesus, Joseph entrusted himself to God’s care in the midst of persecution. Both men resisted temptation. Like Jesus, Joseph did not seek power, but was given great power. 

On another note, Joseph was able to deal with past injustices without harboring bitterness or revenge. Joseph and Daniel are the only two people in the First Testament about whom nothing bad is said. They acted with honor and integrity in every circumstance. In them we’ve been given marvelous examples of how to live and act in the midst of a “foreign land.” Like the family of Jacob, we all are currently living in “Egypt.” This present world is not our home. Like the words of Joseph’s brothers in the passage that follows, when asked by Pharoah about their occupation, their response was, “We have come to live here in Egypt for a while . . .” Live like Joseph today, we’re only here for a while.

PS. As it turned out, the family of Jacob did not return to the land of Canaan after the famine but assimilated the Egyption gods and culture.  Jacob’s family of seventy grew to over a million over the next four hundred years. They became slaves to the Egyptians and would look to another redeemer in Moses. In the forty years of wilderness wanderings, the family became a nation and discovered the one true covenant making God.

Music: “Go Down Moses”         Sam Robson   Fantastic!

Prayer:

O God, though I am allowed to approach thee, I am not unmindful of my sin. I do not deny my guilt. I confess my wickedness, and earnestly plead forgiveness. May I with Joseph, Moses and Jesus choose affliction rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin. Help me to place myself always under thy guiding and guardian care and to take firmer hold of the sure covenant that binds me to Thee. Help me to feel more of the purifying, dignifying, softening influence of the faith I profess. Help me to have more compassion, love, pity, courtesy, and to deem it an honor to be employed by thee.  Help me to be an instrument in thy hands, ready to seize every opportunity of usefulness and willing to offer all my talents to Thy service. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.              ―adapted Daniel Sharp from The Valley of Vision, p. 105

Thursday, April 22

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

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

Scripture: Acts 3:17-26    

(Peter is preaching to several thousand people outside the Temple.)

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:      

You may recall from a few days ago our passage dealt with Peter and John healing a crippled man which created quite a stir. Peter then took the occasion to preach to a rather large Jewish crowd that had gathered. Today, we’re picking him up in the middle of his message.

Peter is explaining what happened concerning Jesus from God’s perspective. Peter has an interesting way to approach the people in telling them about Jesus. He doesn’t attack what they have done or believe, but he gives them the benefit of the doubt. He simply says that they were ignorant, they didn’t know or realize the truth of the situation and he will explain it to them. There is something to be commended in that approach. It is fair to say that most people in our day really are ignorant of who Jesus is. They may have specific ideas about him fashioned after their own thoughts, but are actually pretty ignorant of the Scriptures.

Peter appeals to the Torah and helps them understand that the words of Moses concerning the Prophet that was to come, actually refer to the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. Then comes his challenge to the people to repent of their sins, confess Jesus, and turn to God. The repentant heart will then experience a kind of refreshment from the Lord’s presence.

This is all pretty familiar territory as we read. We are reading about what happened back then in Peter’s day. I’d like to enlarge a bit on the next few sentences. There is the phrase “he will again send you Jesus your appointed Messiah.” In “Christianese” there are phrases we hear over and over such as “the already and not yet.” Our minds can easily slip into a kind of neutral gear and not give much more thought to the words. In truth, the phrase refers to the dynamic of the present moment. I’d like to dig a little deeper with this particular phrase because I believe it is apropos for these few sentences.

There is the immediate refreshment of having our sins forgiven. But there is the “already” reality that our Lord Jesus is in heaven, having ascended to the right hand of the Father. Then Peter gives us this timely sentence of perspective. “He must remain in heaven until the time of final restoration of all things as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” The hours of this day are in the “not yet” time frame. 

At some point in the time to come, there will be that moment when God says, “NOW!!!” and all will be restored forever. Those “now” moments are truly more than we can comprehend when the “not yet” becomes the “already!”

There was a moment at creation, when God said, “Let there be light.” And there was. 

There was the moment God shut the door of Noah’s Ark and said to the rain, “Now!” 

There was the moment God said to the Red Sea, “Part now.”

There was the moment God said to the Holy Spirit, conceive the Son of God in Mary “Now.”

There was the moment Jesus said to Lazarus, “Come forth,” now!

There was the moment at the crucifixion when God tore the Temple curtain in effect saying, “Now―the work of redemption is finished.”

And there will be a moment yet to come when God will say, “Now! It’s time for the redemption of all things and Jesus will return again.” 

These words of Peter are as relevant to us today as they were to the people who listened to him preach. We are in the same place they were as we look forward to the restoration of all things. Live today with the perspective that God’s “now” can happen anytime. Did you notice, while he gives warnings sometimes, he never says when for the “now.” Only the Father knows. Be ready!

Music: “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”   St. John Cathedral Choir

The King shall come when morning dawns,

And light triumphant breaks;

When beauty gilds the eastern hills,

And life to joy awakes.

Not as of old a little child

To bear, and fight, and die,

But crowned with glory like the sun

That lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns,

And earth’s dark night is past;

O haste the rising of that morn,

The day that aye shall last.

And let the endless bliss begin,

By weary saints foretold,

When right shall triumph over wrong,

And truth shall be extolled.

The King shall come when morning dawns,

And light and beauty brings:

Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray,

Come quickly, King of kings.

Bonus:

 “O When Shall I See Jesus”     Fountainview Academy

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, thy Word governs me. I have trusted thee and thou hast not betrayed my trust; waited for thee, and not waited in vain. Thou wilt come to raise my body from the dust, and reunite it to my soul, by a wonderful work of infinite power and love, greater than that which bounds the ocean’s waters, ebbs and flows the tides, keeps the stars in their courses, and gives life to all creatures This corruptible shall put on incorruption, this mortal, immortality, this natural body, a spiritual body, this dishonored body a glorious body, this weak body, a body of power. O God, keep me in this  faith, and ever looking for Christ’s return.   ―The Valley of Vision, p.27

Wednesday, April 21

Reader: “Go into all the world” 

Response: “and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Scripture: Mark 16:9-18   

After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened. But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.

Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them. Still later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead.

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:       

The passage of Scripture for today does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of Mark’s gospel. All of the oldest codices end at verse 8. Without going into great detail, biblical scholars believe today’s portion was composed and added in the first half of the second century by an anonymous writer in an effort to include the resurrection. Even in our translation the wording, tone and phrasing is different from Mark’s style of writing. You’ll notice there is an abrupt change in topic and tone from verse 8 to verse 9. It is also generally believed that Mark was the first gospel written in the 60’s with Luke and Matthew coming later and John’s being the last written around 90 A.D. The latter three include a full description of the resurrection. There are long and differing discussions concerning this passage which are beyond our purposes. Suffice it to say, the bottom line is that this portion of Mark’s gospel is accepted as part of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Now to the text.

As we have mentioned previously, the very first person to see the resurrected Lord was Mary Magdalene. In those days, women were not to be believed and were unable to act as a witness in court. So it is interesting that God chose a woman to be the first to encounter the risen Christ. True to the culture of the day, the disciples did not believe her testimony. Mark records an abbreviated mention of the Jesus encounter by the two men on the road to Emmaus. These men were not believed by the disciples either.  And finally, Jesus appeared to the eleven and reprimanded them for not believing Mary nor the two! Notice how Christ challenged the prevailing view of women in the culture as well as their unbelief in him.

The next section is interesting for a number of reasons. First we have a version of the Great Commission where Jesus calls all his followers to spread the gospel throughout the whole world. But then, some screwy interpretations have come from some of the following verses. “Any who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Some people have erroneously interpreted that baptism is a necessary part of salvation. In other words, if a person is not baptized they are not saved. That is not at all what is being said here. The purpose of baptism is entirely different from the process of salvation. (The thief on the cross was not baptized for example.) Baptism is a sign in the same manner as was circumcision in the First Testament (Col. 2:11-12). One of the essential things one must do when interpreting a passage is relate that pericope to the whole of Scripture. The Bible is the best commentary on itself.

Next there is reference to exorcism and speaking in new languages both of which happened with the disciples. Then there is the phrase about handling snakes. Again, there have been weird stories about people acting foolishly in regard to these verses. The New Testament does record Paul being bitten by a poisonous snake and suffering no ill effects (Acts 28:3-6). And finally, the disciples did heal people of various infirmities as we read a few days ago.

So what do we gain from this passage? In the biggest picture, whoever added this portion to Mark’s gospel wanted to be sure that whoever read it would know without a doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, appeared several times to various people, commissioned followers to spread the news of the gospel and ascended to heaven. What they wrote is very descriptive of the action and feelings involved. The writer wanted to make sure the reader knew that this was a real event and not a “spiritual experience” of some sort. It was flesh and blood reality. In this passage there is an inherent challenge to all that read it to spread the news of salvation in Jesus to everyone. Easter was not a one day “Hallelujah” for the early Christians. While it was a fifty day season leading up to Pentecost and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, spreading the gospel was their way of life. Their calling is our calling.

Music: “Ain’t a That Good News”  University Singers Univ. of Minn. Duluth  

Bonus: “Ain’t a That Good News”   Kathleen Battle  arr. Robert Sadin

Prayer: 

Our gracious and loving Father in heaven, forbid it that we should ever become familiar with the glorious account of the resurrection of our Lord. We’ve read the account in the Scriptures multiple times. We know the story, the characters, their actions and all that followed. But I’m afraid all too often we’ve inoculated ourselves to the wonder and current power of the truth. We read the resurrection story and move on to the next thing we have to do. For us, the astounding has become common, the miraculous has lost the mystery, the urgency of the gospel has been swallowed up in the repetitious mundane, and the sense of the daily presence of Jesus left us with his ascension to heaven. Our great God, grant that our spirits would be awakened again as we read your holy word. Crack the hardness of our hearts that we may get tender hearts and read, not with historical eyes, but with eyes of childlike astonishment and love for our Savior. Keep us ascending in faith, good Lord. Don’t let us get ancient and dull. This we pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

                                                                                         ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, April 20

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

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

Scripture: Hosea 5:15-6:6  

Then I will return to my place

    until they admit their guilt and turn to me.

For as soon as trouble comes,

    they will earnestly search for me.

“Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces;

    now he will heal us.

He has injured us;

    now he will bandage our wounds.

In just a short time he will restore us,

    so that we may live in his presence.

Oh, that we might know the Lord!

    Let us press on to know him.

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

    or the coming of rains in early spring.”

“O Israel and Judah,

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

“For your love vanishes like the morning mist

    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.

I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—

    to slaughter you with my words,

    with judgments as inescapable as light.

I want you to show love,

    not offer sacrifices.

I want you to know me

    more than I want burnt offerings.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 19

Reader: “We should love one another.”

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

Scripture: I John 3:10-16   

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “If Ye Love Me”    Tenebrae

Prayer:    (Two prayers today!)

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

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

Third Sunday of Easter, April 18

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

Response: “this man was healed.”

Scripture: Acts 3:12-19

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer: 

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

Saturday, April 17

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

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

Scripture:  Acts 3:1-10 

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Friday, April 16

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

Response: “for you have strengthened me.”

Scripture: Daniel 10:2-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:  

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

Thursday, April 15

Reader: “The Lord will answer” 

Response: “when I call to him.”

Scripture: Psalm 4

Answer me when I call to you,

    O God who declares me innocent.

Free me from my troubles.

    Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people ruin my reputation?

    How long will you make groundless accusations?

    How long will you continue your lies? 

Interlude

You can be sure of this:

    The Lord set apart the godly for himself.

    The Lord will answer when I call to him.

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.

    Think about it overnight and remain silent.

 Interlude

Offer sacrifices in the right spirit,

    and trust the Lord.

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

    Let your face smile on us, Lord.

You have given me greater joy

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

In peace I will lie down and sleep,

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music:  “O Lord, Hear My Prayer”    Xara

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

Wednesday, April 14

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

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

Scripture: Mark 12:18-27   

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, April 13

Reader: “He prayed three times a day,” 

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

Scripture: Daniel 6:1-28      

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peace and prosperity to you!

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

For he is the living God,

    and he will endure forever.

His kingdom will never be destroyed,

    and his rule will never end.

He rescues and saves his people;

    he performs miraculous signs and wonders

    in the heavens and on earth.

He has rescued Daniel

    from the power of the lions.”

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus: “Canticle of Daniel”   A contemporary setting.

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

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

Second Sunday of Easter, April 11

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

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

Scripture:  John 20:24-31 

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

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

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

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

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

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

Reader: “The powerful word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

Thomas, “Uh . . . umm . . .uh”

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”        Vigil

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

Saturday, April 10

Reader: “God is the greatest of gods,” 

Response: “the Lord over kings.”

Scripture: Daniel 2:24-49   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:     

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “O Breath of Life”     Emu Music

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

Friday, April 9

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

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

Scripture: Daniel 2:1-23       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,

    for he has all wisdom and power.

He controls the course of world events;

    he removes kings and sets up other kings.

He gives wisdom to the wise

    and knowledge to the scholars.

He reveals deep and mysterious things

    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,

    though he is surrounded by light.

I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors,

    for you have given me wisdom and strength.

You have told me what we asked of you

    and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 8

Reader: “Daniel was determined”

Response: “not to defile himself. ”

Scripture:  Daniel 1:1-21    

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

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

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

Daniel was called Belteshazzar.

Hananiah was called Shadrach.

Mishael was called Meshach.

Azariah was called Abednego.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

Prayer: (Reminds me of Daniel)

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

Wednesday, April 7

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

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

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8 

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

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, April 6

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

Response: “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:50-58     

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

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

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

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

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

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Monday, April 5

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

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

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Dan

© Daniel Sharp 2021

Monday, April 5

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

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

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:35-49  

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

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

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

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

Reader: “The Word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

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

Lenten Music 2021

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

Feb.18  “Psalm 51”    The Sons of Korah

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

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

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

Feb.22 “Out of the Depths” The Genevans

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

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

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

Bonuses: “Jesus Paid It All”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar.4 “Cornerstone”   Shawn Kirchner      Loma Linda Academy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar. 27  “Jesus Shall Reign”      Grace Community

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

Bonuses!

“Ride on King Jesus”  Jessye Norman

“Hosanna to the Song of David”    Cambridge Singers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

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

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

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

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

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

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

PRAYER BOOKS

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

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

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

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

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

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

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979

Guideposts Prayers for Easter, Julie Hogan,  Ideals

Prayers for Sunday Services, St. Andrews Press, Edinburgh

The Book of Uncommon Prayer, Word Publishing, Dallas

© Daniel Sharp 2021 

RESOURCE BOOKS

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

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

   Trust, London

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

    Publishers, Nashville

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

    Publishers, Nashville

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

     Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, MI

Erdman, Charles, Pastoral Epistles, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles, John, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles, Matthew, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles,  Romans, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles, I Corinthians, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

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

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

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

   Texts, Earthsongs, Corvallis, Oregon

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

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

    Chicago

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

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

     Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI

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

     Gloucester, MA

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

     Faith, Washington D.C.

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

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

     Rapids, MI

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

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

Easter Sunday, April 4

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

    O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

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

“I Know the My Redeemer Liveth”   Sylvia McNair      

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

Prayer:

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

                                ―Jude, the earthly half brother of Jesus

Friends,

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

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


The Lord be with you,

Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com

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

© Daniel Sharp 2021

Holy Saturday, April 3

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

Response: “they laid Jesus there.”

Scripture:  John 19:38-42

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

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God. ” 

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Good Friday, April 2

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

Reader: “He was pierced for our rebellion” 

Response: “crushed for our iniquity.”

Scripture: Isaiah 52:13-53:12        

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

See, my servant will prosper;

    he will be highly exalted.

But many were amazed when they saw him.

    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,

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

And he will startle many nations.

    Kings will stand speechless in his presence.

For they will see what they had not been told;

    they will understand what they had not heard about.

Who has believed our message?

    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?

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

    like a root in dry ground.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,

    nothing to attract us to him.

He was despised and rejected—

    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

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

    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

    a punishment for his own sins!

But he was pierced for our rebellion,

    crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

    He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

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

Yet the Lord laid on him

    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,

    yet he never said a word.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,

    he did not open his mouth.

Unjustly condemned,

    he was led away.

No one cared that he died without descendants,

    that his life was cut short in midstream.

But he was struck down

    for the rebellion of my people.

He had done no wrong

    and had never deceived anyone.

But he was buried like a criminal;

    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

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

    and cause him grief.

Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,

    he will have many descendants.

He will enjoy a long life,

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

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,

    he will be satisfied.

And because of his experience,

    my righteous servant will make it possible

for many to be counted righteous,

    for he will bear all their sins.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,

    because he exposed himself to death.

He was counted among the rebels.

    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Reader: “The Lamb of God” 

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

                                            “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”

                                  Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

O sacred head, now wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down,

now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, thine only crown,

O sacred head, what glory,

what bliss till now was thine,

yet, though despised and gory,

I joy to call thee mine.

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

was all for sinners’ gain,

mine, mine was the transgression,

but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor,

and grant to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow

to thank thee, dearest friend,

for this thy dying sorrow,

Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever,

and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

outlive my love to thee.

Prayer:

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

Maundy Thursday, April 1

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

Reader: “A new commandment I give you”

Response: “love one another.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lest you think no young composers are writing beautiful music!

                                   Ubi Caritas-author unknown

                        ancient text specifically written for Maundy Thursday

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us

into one.

Let us rejoice and be glad in Him.

Let us fear, and love the living God.

And may we love each other

with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

As we are gathered into one body,

Beware, lest we be divided in mind.

Let evil impulses stop,

let controversy cease,

And may Christ our God

be in our midst.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

And may we with the saints also,

See Thy face in glory,

O Christ our God:

The joy that is immense and good,

Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Prayer:

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

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

Wednesday, March 31

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

Response: “determined to do his will.”

Scripture:      Isaiah 50:4-9a 

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,

    so that I know how to comfort the weary.

Morning by morning he wakens me

    and opens my understanding to his will.

The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,

    and I have listened.

    I have not rebelled or turned away.

I offered my back to those who beat me

    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.

I did not hide my face

    from mockery and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,

    I will not be disgraced.

Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,

    determined to do his will.

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

He who gives me justice is near.

    Who will dare to bring charges against me now?

Where are my accusers?

    Let them appear!

See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side!

    Who will declare me guilty? 

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

Response: “Lord, have mercy.” 

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                         -Appalachian folk hymn

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul, O my soul

What wondrous love is this, O my soul,

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

to bear the dreadful curse

for my soul, for my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, March 30

Reader: “Now the time has come” 

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

Scripture: John 12:20-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 29, Monday of Holy Week

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

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

Scripture:  Isaiah 42:1-9

“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.

    He is my chosen one, who pleases me.

I have put my Spirit upon him.

    He will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout

    or raise his voice in public.

He will not crush the weakest reed

    or put out a flickering candle.

    He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.

He will not falter or lose heart

    until justice prevails throughout the earth.

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

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

    He created the earth and everything in it.

He gives breath to everyone,

    life to everyone who walks the earth.

And it is he who says,

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

    I will take you by the hand and guard you,

and I will give you to my people, Israel,

    as a symbol of my covenant with them.

And you will be a light to guide the nations.

    You will open the eyes of the blind.

You will free the captives from prison,

    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.

“I am the LORD; that is my name!

    I will not give my glory to anyone else,

    nor share my praise with carved idols.

Everything I prophesied has come true,

    and now I will prophesy again.

I will tell you the future before it happens.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer: 

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

Palm Sunday, March 28

Reader: “Blessings on the one who comes” 

Response: “in the name of the Lord!”

Scripture: John 12: 1,2,12-16 

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

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

“Praise God!

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

Hail to the King of Israel!”

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

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

    riding on a donkey’s colt.”

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

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music:  “Ride On King Jesus”  Moses Hogan Singers

Bonuses!

“Ride on King Jesus”  Jessye Norman

“Hosanna to the Song of David”    Cambridge Singers

Prayer:

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

Saturday, March 27 (Lazarus Saturday)

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

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

Scripture: John 12:1-11    

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “Jesus Shall Reign”      Grace Community

Prayer:

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

Friday, March 26

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

Reader: “Though he was God,”   

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

Scripture:  Philippians 2:5-11

Though he was God,                                 or     Though he was God,

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

    as something to cling to.                                   as something to cling to

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

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

    and was born as a human being.           Or        

                                                                              And was born as a human being

              when he appeared in human form.

When he appeared in human form,                     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

                                                                                           That at the name of Jesus                                                                      

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

                                                                                              and every tongue confess

                                                                                              that Jesus is Lord, to the

                                                                                              glory of God the Father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quod     est     super    omne      nomen.

Which   is       above    every      name.

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

Thursday, March 25

Reader: “You must have the same attitude” 

Response: “that Christ Jesus had. “

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11 

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

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

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

    he humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

    and gave him the name above all other names,

    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 24

Reader: “For when you see me,” 

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

Scripture:  John 12:34-50     

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

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

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

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

“Lord, who has believed our message?

    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

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

“The Lord has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their hearts—

so that their eyes cannot see,

    and their hearts cannot understand,

and they cannot turn to me

    and have me heal them.”

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:   

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

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

Tuesday, March 23

Reader: Listen carefully,” 

Response: “all of you.” 

Scripture: Acts 2:14-24

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

‘In the last days,’ God says,

    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your young men will see visions,

    and your old men will dream dreams.

In those days I will pour out my Spirit

    even on my servants—men and women alike—

    and they will prophesy.

And I will cause wonders in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below—

    blood and fire and clouds of smoke.

The sun will become dark,

    and the moon will turn blood red

    before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.

But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord

    will be saved.’

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Father, our King, graciously our petitions.

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

though we can plead no merit,

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

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

Monday, March 22

Reader: “You are my servant”

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

Scripture: Isaiah 43:8-13   

Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind,

    who have ears but are deaf.

Gather the nations together!

    Assemble the peoples of the world!

Which of their idols has ever foretold such things?

    Which can predict what will happen tomorrow?

Where are the witnesses of such predictions?

    Who can verify that they spoke the truth?

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

    “You are my servant.

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

    and understand that I alone am God.

There is no other God—

    there never has been, and there never will be.

I, yes I, am the Lord,

    and there is no other Savior.

First I predicted your rescue,

    then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.

No foreign god has ever done this.

    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”

    says the Lord.

“From eternity to eternity I am God.

    No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.

    No one can undo what I have done.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is God who sits above the circle of the earth

       who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

       and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

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

         says the Holy One. 

Lift up your eyes and see: who created these 

        and numbers them, calling them all by name? 

Not one is missing. 

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

     the Creator of the ends of the earth,

     who does not faint or grow weary;

     whose understanding is unsearchable.

God gives power to the faint,

     and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

     and the young will fall exhausted.

 But those who wait for the Lord

     shall renew their strength,

     they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

     they shall run and not be weary,

     they shall walk and not faint.

Have you not heard? Have you not known?

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

Bonus: from “The Chosen”   Jesus and Mary Magdalene

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

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

Prayer:  

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

Sunday, March 21, Fifth Sunday in Lent

Reader: “God heard his prayers” 

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

Scripture:     Hebrews 5:5-10

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

“You are my Son.

    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

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

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

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Saturday, March 20

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

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

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

Scripture: John 11:1-57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 19

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

Response: “yet he did not sin.” 

Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:4   

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:  

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

                                                             ―The Valley of Vision,p.35

Thursday, March 18

Reader: “Today when you hear his voice,”

Response: “don’t harden your hearts.”  

Scripture:  Hebrews 4:1-13    

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

“In my anger I took an oath:

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

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

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

“Today when you hear his voice,

    don’t harden your hearts.”

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 17

Reader: “At the right time,” 

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

Scripture:  Isaiah 60:15-22

“Though you were once despised and hated,

    with no one traveling through you,

I will make you beautiful forever,

    a joy to all generations.

Powerful kings and mighty nations

    will satisfy your every need,

as though you were a child

    nursing at the breast of a queen.

You will know at last that I, the Lord,

    am your Savior and your Redeemer,

    the Mighty One of Israel.

I will exchange your bronze for gold,

    your iron for silver,

your wood for bronze,

    and your stones for iron.

I will make peace your leader

    and righteousness your ruler.

Violence will disappear from your land;

    the desolation and destruction of war will end.

Salvation will surround you like city walls,

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

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

    nor the moon to give its light by night,

for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light,

    and your God will be your glory.

Your sun will never set;

    your moon will not go down.

For the Lord will be your everlasting light.

    Your days of mourning will come to an end.

 All your people will be righteous.

    They will possess their land forever,

for I will plant them there with my own hands

    in order to bring myself glory.

The smallest family will become a thousand people,

and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation.

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 16

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

Response: “be careful not to fall.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 10:1-13  

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

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 15

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

Response: “And we are God’s house.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 3:1-6 

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 14, Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 3:14-21

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

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

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

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:  

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

Saturday, March 13

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

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

Scripture:  John 3:1-13  

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

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

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

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

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

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 12

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

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

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

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14   

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

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

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

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

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

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 11

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

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

Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17

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

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

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

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer: 

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

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

Wednesday, March 10

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

Response: “for all nations.”

Scripture: Mark 11:15-19

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

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

That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,

    O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

 I long, yes, I faint with longing

    to enter the courts of the Lord.

With my whole being, body and soul,

    I will shout joyfully to the living God.

 Even the sparrow finds a home,

    and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young

at a place near your altar,

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

What joy for those who can live in your house,

    always singing your praises.        Interlude 

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,

    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

 When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,

    it will become a place of refreshing springs.

    The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.

They will continue to grow stronger,

    and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

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

    Listen, O God of Jacob.     Interlude

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

    Show favor to the one you have anointed.

A single day in your courts

    is better than a thousand anywhere else!

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

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

For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.

    He gives us grace and glory.

The Lord will withhold no good thing

    from those who do what is right.

O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,

    what joy for those who trust in you.

2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 16-19 

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

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

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

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

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

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 8

Reader: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God” 

Response: “and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”

Scripture: I Corinthians 3:10-23 

Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise

    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;

    he knows they are worthless.”

So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you— whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

While this is a rather familiar passage of Scripture, it brings to light some sobering, pertinent truths. Let’s look at the context. Paul is writing from Ephesus. He had previously written a letter (which is lost) and so this is his second letter to the Corinthians. The church at Corinth was multi-ethnic and quite immature with many new Christians from all walks of life. Everyone was a first generation Christian. None of the people in the church had grown up with believing parents. The Christian faith was that new (!), consequently, they didn’t know very much. Just prior to what you read today, there was a discussion on Apollos groupies versus Paul groupies versus Peter groupies! Paul straightened them out using the analogy of growing plants and building a building, the point being the builder is immaterial. It’s the building that matters! He continues pointing out the important thing above all is that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the building. He is the foundation and starting point in the “building” that’s going on in you. The significance is in what God does in a person that matters, not who the teacher is.

We live in a world where there is a temptation among Christians to latch on to a particular, popular pastor and their teaching. Many of the famous pastors put out their own “study Bibles” containing their notes on Scripture. While such Bibles can be most helpful, commentaries on Scripture are not Scripture. Paul was combating a little bit of that mindset on the part of the people. There is great encouragement to build on the foundation of Christ. Anyone can do it and it is important that we be active in the building of the Kingdom. 

Did you notice the list of building materials in the passage? He starts with the most expensive (gold) and digresses to the cheapest (straw). We come now to the sobering truth to which we earlier referred. All of your work and mine for the Kingdom will be subject to the fire of judgment day. Our God is a consuming fire. He spoke to Moses from the fire of a burning bush. He spoke to the Israelites from a fiery cloud on Mt. Sinai. The fire of judgment came from heaven on several occasions, E.g. Nadab and Abihu, Elijah and the priests of Baal, Sodom and Gomorrah. The materials you and I are building with are significant. Straw burns to ashes. Are you at the “job site” watching or are you part of the construction team and what are your building materials?

You and I are this temple of God with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. As you read this, you may be saying, “I sure don’t feel like I’m a temple of God, nor do I feel very holy.” Think or feel? We need to think like God, that is, like Christ who indwells us. The work that he does in and through us will withstand the fires of judgment to the glory of God. At the “job site,” you and I are to “work out” what God in his grace has “worked in” us as we work as a part of his kingdom. All of us working together make up the temple of God. This truth is one of the reasons why it is so important that God’s people gather together physically in worship, to remind ourselves of this great truth. The church is not made up of people checking in remotely, but rather, people gathering and working in community . . . “Where two or three are gathered.” 

Music: “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”      BuPyeong Methodist Church, The 74th Anniversary Service Immanuel Symphony Orchestra United Choir

Prayer:

Lord God, your claims are absolute; we must accept them without bargaining. You are always right. Your demands are so full of blessings! I thank you for your severity as Redeemer, I thank You for never having allowed us to mingle the odor of death with Your perfume of eternity. I shall go towards You as towards my state of rest and my eternal life. In Your two hands You hold my being; and You are my reward, because the perfection of my being lies in You. Grant that I may love more and more of this life of faith, wholly irradiated by hope; grant that I may love this desert-place where You have put my soul, this immense plain with You in the center, where I stand always before You and someday soon, by Your Grace, by Your side. Amen.                                                                                                 ―Florence Allshorn, from The Quiet Corner, p.93

Sunday, March 7, Third Sunday in Lent

Reader: “I am the Lord your God,” 

Response: “You must not have any other god but me.”

Scripture:   Ex.20:1-17

Then God gave the people all these instructions:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You must not murder.

“You must not commit adultery.

“You must not steal.

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

Reader: “The written Word of the Lord in his own hand.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

With the backdrop of yesterday’s appearance of God on Mt. Sinai, we have today’s pericope. The Ten Commandments, or in Hebrew, the “ten words,” provide the only document we have in God’s own handwriting! These words are the beginnings of the 

suzerain covenant God made with his people. It is laid out in the usual form of such a covenant. First, God names himself as the one offering the covenant (v.1). Second, the historical circumstances that led to the covenant are articulated (v.2).  God is demonstrating he is intimately interested in his people and how they are to live in relation to himself. He is not a creator who abandoned his handiwork to let the people fend for themselves. Third, the stipulations of and terms of the covenant are delineated (v.3-17). These Commandments are unique in all the world. No god has ever interacted personally with people save YHWH. (In the world religions, there is nothing personal in relation to Allah, Buddah, Krishna, Vishnu, or Taoism.) The “Ten Words” give instructions on how to live in relation to the One making the covenant, but also, how to live in relation to other people. 

Left to themselves, humans choose truth to be relative. In fact, our culture  wants to make the rules and make up its own truth. Consider the current views of family, marriage, gender, sexuality, law, power, freedom, abortion . . . Can you doubt me? God gave the Israelites absolutes, timeless absolutes that apply not only to the Jews, but to all people of the world. One of the challenges facing not only the United States, but world-wide as well, is the abandonment of absolute truth as given by God. Like our first parents, our secular world doubts what God has said, even doubts that God exists. The serpent’s question to Eve was, “Did God say?” Our world has responded to that query with an “I’ll decide what God said or meant . . . or simply god who? I have put myself in God’s place and have become my own god.” One of my humanistic friends even makes reference to discovering the “god within you.” It is both interesting and sad to watch people throughout the world seek to discover meaning and a “homebase” during this global health problem. People are off center. The search includes everything and everywhere except God and redemption in Jesus Christ. Any absolute is off the table . . . and we see the mess we are in.

I would guess there are more Christians than we might imagine who could not recite the Ten Commandments. We seldom, if ever, recite them in worship. In fact, I would also not be surprised that another portion of the Christian population is uncertain if they still apply to today. Lent is a season of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross, his great passion to bring redemption to a fallen world. The “Ten Words” stand against all of us in that we have broken every single one of the ten. There is One who has never broken a single one, yet he paid the penalty on behalf of all the “breakers” of the law. Praise to our living gracious Lord!

Music: “And Can It Be?”   Brits hymn sing

Prayer: 

Forgive them all, O Lord: our sins of omission and our sins of commission; the sins of our youth and the sins of our riper years; the sins of our souls and the sins of our bodies; our secret and our more open sins; our sins of ignorance and surprise, and our more deliberate and presumptuous sin; the sins we have done to please ourselves and the sins we have done to please others; the sins we know and remember, and the sins we have forgotten; the sins we have striven to hide from others and the sins by which we have made others offend; forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all for his sake, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, and now stands at thy right hand to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                    ―John Wesley, The Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.62

Saturday, March 6

Reader: “Mark off a boundary all around the mountain” 

Response: “to set it apart as holy.”

Scripture:   Exodus 19:16-25  

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.

Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”

“But Lord,” Moses protested, “the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.’”

But the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back up with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people break through to approach the Lord, or he will break out and destroy them.”

So Moses went down to the people and told them what the Lord had said. 

Reader: “This is God’s word as recorded by Moses.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God for these powerful words.”

Some thoughts:

Have you ever been very, very close to a lightning strike? Close enough to hear the “fry” and smell the ozone? And the thunder crack . . . it’s terrifying. Living in the supposed “lightning capital of the US,” I can vouch for some possibility of truth. A lightning bolt hit between our house and our neighbor’s and blew out an electrical box in Nancy’s closet and melted a circuit board in the pool pump. We smelled the air! The whole house shook! And we’ve experienced several earthquakes both in California and in Washington where the whole house “rolled” like a wave at sea! Then there was the California fires stopping a block from our house. It was not calming! The force of nature is frightening. 

Now, put yourself in the Israelites’ place. You know that this is the day you are going to meet the Lord. You are at Mt. Sinai in the morning, ready for the encounter, but you are not sure what is going to happen. Then you hear the rumble of thunder which grows louder and louder . . . and you are not sure how loud it is going to be . . . but it keeps increasing. In the midst of the ever increasing roar, lightning flashes everywhere and you watch a dense cloud descending on the mountain top. In addition to all you hear and see, comes a very loud, long blast from a trumpet. Then Moses says, “Come on, we’re going to meet YHWH!” Underneath you are saying, “And I’m going to die!” You all stop at the foot of the mountain―remembering the part about not crossing the boundary. Smoke billows from the top of the mountain like the smoke from a brick kiln, reminding you of your former days of brick making in Egypt. Then the whole mountain begins to shake violently while the blast from the horn grows still louder and louder, showing you that even nature is subservient and trembles before God. 

Such was the encounter where the Israelites learned first hand of the mysterious, covenant-making, fearsome, totally separate, independent, and sovereign God over all his creation.  As the people stood shaking in terror, God called Moses to join him at the top of the mountain. And you are thinking, “We’ll never see Moses again!” In his conversation with God, Moses was told to go back down the mountain and remind the people to stay put, the priests to purify themselves, and to come back bringing Aaron with him. God knew his people’s curiosity would tempt them to get a closer look at this rarest of events, hence the second warning from Moses. 

Fear is not an uncommon response when God does something miraculous in overcoming natural law. Recall the story of Jesus casting the demons into the herd of pigs. When the townspeople heard the news from the man who had been healed by Jesus, what was their response? They were afraid and asked Jesus to leave! Remember when Jesus walked on the water, the disciples were terrified. 

In the case of the Israelites, shortly after this frightening encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, they received the Ten Commandments written in God’s own hand. The Lord of heaven and earth was showing them who it was that was making a covenant with them. God wanted them to begin to get a grasp of the one with whom they were dealing. Is it possible during these days of Lent, we may have too casual an attitude toward God? How might such slackness reveal itself? Perhaps in a casual attitude toward our own sin, our worship attendance, treating absolutes as relatives, thinking that God doesn’t really care that much about little things . . .  I’m sure you can come up with others!

Music: “Behold, God the Lord Passed By”     from  Elijah     St. Olaf Chapel Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omqpFDmK6VQ

This is the place in the oratorio where, on Mt. Sinai, Elijah encounters the Lord who gives him a word of encouragement. Elijah learns he is not alone in proclaiming the truth. Like the Israelites, he also gains a much bigger picture of the awesome power of his God.

Behold, God the Lord passed by, and a mighty wind

Rent the mountains around, break in pieces the rocks

Break them before the Lord.

But yet the Lord was not in the tempest.

Behold, God the Lord passed by!

And the sea was upheaved, and the earth was shaken

But yet, the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And after the earthquake there came a fire

But yet, the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire there came a still small voice.

And in that still small voice onward came the Lord.

Prayer: O hidden Source of life, let me now meditate upon the great and gracious plan by which Thou hast brought it to pass that a mortal man like me should look up to Thee and call Thee Father. In the beginning Thou, the Uncreated, making all things out of nothing: Space and time and material substance: all things that creep and fly, the beasts of the forest, the fowls of the air, the fish of the sea: and at last man, in Thine own image, to have fellowship with Thyself: then when, in the corruption and disobedience of his heart, that image had been defaced: a gracious design for its restoration through the gift of Thine only-begotten Son: new life in Him, and a new access to Thy holy presence. O hidden love of God, whose will it is that all created spirits should live everlastingly in pure and perfect fellowship with Thyself, grant that in my life today I may do nothing to defeat this Thy most gracious purpose. Let me keep in mind how Thy whole creation groans and travails, waiting for the perfect appearing of the sons of God; and let me welcome every influence of Thy Spirit upon my own that may the more speedily make for that end.     ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.57

Friday, March 5

Reader: “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses,” 

Response: “so the people themselves can hear me.”

Scripture: Exodus 19:9b-15 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you.”

Moses told the Lord what the people had said. Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death.’ However, when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, then the people may go up on the mountain.”

So Moses went down to the people. He consecrated them for worship, and they washed their clothes. He told them, “Get ready for the third day, and until then abstain from having sexual intercourse.”

Reader: “The Word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

I want you for a moment to pretend you know nothing of God, virtually nothing. Think about it. What did the Israelites know about God up to this point? A million plus people heard something about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their sacrifices on piles of stones as they worshiped God. But this group of people, who had just escaped 400 years, the last many years in horrible slavery in a very pagan Egypt, had memories of cobras, charms, divination, magic and multitudes of Egyptian gods. There were no synagogues, tabernacles or temples for Jewish worship. They were a persecuted people. They were in the process of learning more about their God, now that they were a free people, away from Egyptian influence. They experienced God’s power in their crossing the Red Sea, bringing water from a rock and providing daily manna. 

At this point they are about to enter into a suzerain-vassal treaty with God. (This is a treaty made between a great king and a conquered people. “In such a treaty, the conquered people would declare their absolute loyalty to the king and obedience to his demands. The king, for his part, would promise to care for the conquered people and protect them from any enemies who might attack them.”―NLT Study Bible notes, p.157) This meeting is to be the people’s first direct encounter with God and they are going to learn more about this God firsthand! God is going to speak in a cloud, though they will not see him. They will only hear him. Though not appearing in a physical form, the people conclude God is very much alive! He tells the people to “stay pure” for the next three days. 

The Israelite’s clothes were to be clean for the occasion of hearing the Lord speak. Why did God want them to wash their clothes? Seems like an odd request to us. What difference does it make? In the words of Dennis Prager, “The clothing people wear reflects their level of respect for the situation and the people involved.” (Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible, Exodus, p.214) Think about it. Do you dress up in your best when you go to a wedding? You don’t show up in your backyard work clothes. (President Reagan never took off his coat and tie when he was in the Oval Office, even when he was alone out of respect for the Office of President.) 

God is impressing upon his people that they are meeting with their Creator. When I was growing up, we had our Sunday clothes and Sunday shoes. They were our best clothes,  wearing them only on Sunday. We were going to meet with the Lord. In general, our clothes often reflect our attitude toward any given situation. Is it possible that our lack of concern regarding our dress at worship is more an indication of our theology of God? Just asking!  Apparently, God does care. Along the same lines, the Israelites were to refrain from having sexual intercourse in the days leading up to their worship of God. Why? Again, their minds and hearts were to be focused on their encounter with the living God. Back to our passage. Remember, the Israelites are learning for the firsthand about their God and what he requires of them. Maybe we can pick up some pointers too.

Why did crossing the boundary on the mountain mean certain death? God was impressing “holiness” upon his people. The people were learning first hand that “holiness” was a very serious matter from God’s perspective and YHWH was not someone to be toyed with. Notice, enforcing death upon the offender does not involve touching them in bringing about their death. In effect, holiness has killed them. In that sense the victim is sacred, a kind of burnt sacrifice. In this passage, God’s children were learning about their heavenly Father and we are as well. Remember, the New Testament interprets the First Testament, but it does not invalidate it. We live in a world, including a Christian world, that is very “me and my comfort” oriented, all too often  including our approach to worship. Some things to think about.

Music:  “Holy, Holy, Holy is God the Lord”  No. 35 from  Elijah Oratorio  Mendelssohn

“Holy, holy, holy is God the Lord,

The Lord God of Sabaoth!

Now his glory has filled all the earth.”

Prayer:

Almighty God, forgive my doubt, my anger, my complaining, my pride, my greed, my selfishness, my sinful thoughts, my impatience, my laziness . . . my, my, my, my . . . Lord, I’m so full of me. I am a self-absorbed sinner through and through. Lord Jesus, I am realizing how little I pursue you to know you beyond my own perception of you.  By your grace and nourishment I will endeavor to pursue you through the desert of this world until I cross the Jordan into the Promised Land and see your glorious face where no sin abounds and where all is perfectly holy. In the name of the One who was, is, and is to come, even Jesus, my Savior. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, March 4

Reader: “And you are living stones”

Response: “that God is building into his spiritual temple.”

Scripture: I Peter 2:4-10 

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,

    chosen for great honor,

and anyone who trusts in him

    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected

    has now become the cornerstone.”

And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,

    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;

    now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy;

    now you have received God’s mercy. 

Reader: “These are God’s words to us.” 

Response: “Thank you Lord.”

Some thoughts:

Going back a bit in the Jewish history in the First Testament will help give us a greater grasp on the passage you just read. You’ll recall the very specific directions God gave to Moses in setting up the Tabernacle during the years of desert wandering. Exact details were given as regards to the priestly garb. There was no doubt as to which people would be eligible to become priests, only those men from the tribe of Levi who were also from the family of Aaron were eligible. They functioned as mediators between YHWH and the people. 

Moving ahead 400 years to the time of the early kings, David was again given a very detailed plan as to the building of the great Temple in Jerusalem under the leadership of King Solomon. The Temple in Jerusalem was tremendously important as it was the place where God met his people in worship. The Ark of the Covenant dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the earthly abode of YHWH. Centuries later with the arrival of the Messiah, the Jews heard these startling words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  “When Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body.” (John 2:19,21) 

We come now to our passage with Peter helping people grasp the fulfillment of Jesus’ words as well as showing them their new role in relation to the true Temple. Though rejected by his own, Jesus became the chief cornerstone of the spiritual Temple, one not made with hands. God declares through Peter that believers in Christ are living stones being built into this spiritual Temple of God. Not only are we living stones currently, we are also holy priests . . . and we are not Jewish, not Levites, nor from the line of Aaron! How is this possible? Our status is real because of the mediation of Jesus Christ. Our priestly worship accesses the Father through our High Priest, who lives forever. In addition we carry on the priestly ministry of Christ, the singular Light to our darkened world. Once we were part of that lost people, orphans wandering in hopelessness, but now we have been adopted as God’s own children. What is more, we are actually heirs in God’s family and living stones in his holy, invisible Temple which exists right now in your very heart.

Here is a clip from Episode 8 of “The Chosen” in which Jesus meets the woman at the well to help her see where the true Temple is located.  It’s a little over 8 minutes in length and worth every second. Don’t skip this clip!

Music: “Cornerstone”   Shawn Kirchner      Loma Linda Academy

Prayer:

My God, I feel it is heaven to please thee, and to be what thou wouldst have me be. O that I were holy as thou art holy, pure as Christ is pure, perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!

These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book, and shall I break them? Must I break them? Am I under such a necessity as long as I live here? Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner, that I grieve this blessed God, who is infinite in goodness and grace! O, if he would punish me for my sins, it would not wound my heart so deep to offend him; but though I sin continually, he continually repeats his kindness to me. At times I feel I could bear any suffering, but how can I dishonor this glorious God? What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings? But, alas, I cannot live and not sin. O may angels glorify him incessantly, and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower before the blessed king of heaven! I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise; but when I have done all I can to eternity I shall not be able to offer more than a small fraction of the homage that the glorious God deserves. Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.     ―The Valley of Vision, p.128

Wednesday, March 3

Reader: “Put your trust in the light”

Response: “while there is still time.”

Scripture: John 12:36-43

“Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

“Lord, who has believed our message?

    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

“The Lord has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their hearts—

so that their eyes cannot see,

    and their hearts cannot understand,

and they cannot turn to me

    and have me heal them.”

Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

What is it about human beings that makes us so stubborn? God called the Israelites, his chosen people, “stiff-necked.” In one of the times I heard him speak, Dr. Walter Kaiser, a marvelous Old Testament scholar, commented something like, “Whenever you read about the stubbornness and stupidity of the Israelites, think of yourself! You are them!” I have to agree. Jesus’ words here are that we are to trust the light while there is still time. It surely applied then as the people were in his presence, but it also applies to now. 

Jesus had done miraculous things while the people stood and watched it happen! (Think of several of the episodes of “The Chosen.” ―check out on YouTube if you haven’t) The purpose of the miracles is to establish the identity of God’s Son, that people might recognize the Light of the world. Some believed and some were stubborn and hardened their hearts. As a result, the Son “set” and the Light was gone. The time of the light had passed. It is dangerous to reject the truth of the light when it is present. We are inclined to think that the Son won’t “set” and that there will always be a second or third chance to respond to the Lord.  After all, we live in the world of “do-overs,” as anyone knows who has ever played a board game with a four year old!

Then there were those silent, pusillanimous (learned a new word!), timid people who did respond, even some of the Jewish leaders believed, but they didn’t want anyone to know because they did not want to lose their social and religious status. How silent of a follower of Christ are you? Though the time is long past by now, I’m remembering how very vocal some Christians were during the election cycle on expressing their political points of view, oftentimes with a fair amount of omniscience! I had to wonder during those days, if their zeal for the gospel was as heartfelt as their political persuasion. We are to live for the praise of God our Father in heaven, hallowed be his name. The Son will set. Let us be diligent about our Father’s business sharing the news of the Light and not be pusillanimous! But oh . . . oh, when that Son does rise again!! 

Music: “Phos Hilaron”     Owain Park          The Gesualdo Six

This is the earliest Christian hymn still in use. It is from the 3rd century. Here is an English translation of the Greek text, its original language.

Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,

Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest, 

Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,

The lights of evening round us shine,

We hymn the Father, Son and Holy Spirit divine.

Worthy are you at all times to be sung with undefiled tongue,

Son of our God, giver of life, alone:

Therefore in all the world your glories, Lord, they own.

Prayer:

Father in heaven, I’m afraid that we, as your children, are far too fickle in faithfulness. You give us light when the sun comes up each day, and after a period of time, the sun sets and it is dark. We assume that the sun will come up again tomorrow. It always has. Your word is clear that we need to act while we have the light because the sun does not come up forever. One day will be the last one and you’ll return to earth and nothing will be the same. Help us to speak out while we still have the Light and the eternal Son has not “set” bringing an end to this world as we know it. May the praise of God mean more than the praise and acceptance of man. In your grace, give to us a holy  abandonment in sharing the good news in a world filled with people stumbling,  searching and groping in their darkness. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, March 2

Reader: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for;” 

Response: “it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”

Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-3; 13-19 

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

Reader: “This is God’s word.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

When it comes to theology, if we have the idea that profound truths need complex words to plumb the depths of meaning, we need to read Hebrews 11:3 . . . “what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” A string of one syllable words, yet words that wilt the most brilliant of minds! There are three different examples in this pericope that I’d like to touch on, all having to do with faith and different aspects of seeing. 

To begin with, faith is a certainty whose key ingredient is invisibility! We trust things we can see and touch; little faith is required. Things change when we are asked to put faith in something that is invisible, silent and for all practical purposes non-existent! Such was the requirement of those living in the First Testament times in trusting what was yet to come. 

Now, we come to the BIG one, “the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” Spend a few minutes thinking through those few words. (I’m saying this again in case you missed it yesterday!) Going the speed of light, you would circle the earth at the equator seven times every second! You could travel to the Moon in a second and a half, eight minutes to the Sun, twelve and a half minutes to Mars. Universe distance is measured in light years, the distance light travels at the speed of light (187,000 miles per second!) for a whole year and I’m looking out the window this evening as I write this. The star I’m looking at is 140 light years away! All God did was say, “Let there be” and there was! 

The more amazing thing is that the atoms and molecules to create the universe came from “nothing.” God didn’t go to a store to get materials to make things, there was no “store!” Even time didn’t exist. Believing these words requires faith. In the words of the late Stephen Hawking in speaking of the creation of the universe, “We have finally found something that does not have a cause because [before the Big Bang] there was no time for a cause to exist in . . . because there was no time for a creator to have existed. When people ask me if a god created the universe, I tell them that the question makes no sense. Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” (A Brief History of Time) Unfortunately for Mr. Hawking, he thought like a human, failing to realize that God has always existed outside time; God is the only uncreated Being who has never not existed. Everything seen and unseen is a direct result of God’s action and will. 

The second idea emerging in relation to faith, is people who grasp what Hawking never did. They realize this world is not their home, their final resting place. They understand, in fact, they are made for another world. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. We are all foreigners, nomads on this planet. Like people of old, we take the unseen by faith. As of yet, we can’t clearly see the world for which we were made. 

Finally, we have the example of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham saw descendents yet unborn and obeyed God in what for all practical purposes seemed like the end of his earthly line with Isaac’s death.  But Abraham didn’t see it that way. Let’s pretend to follow Abraham’s thinking. “Isaac is the specific promised covenant child given to Sarah and to me by God. He is the one God chose to bless, not Ishmael. It is through Isaac  that our family will grow. If I kill him as God has asked me to do, it means that God will bring him back to life in order for God to keep his promise to me. God doesn’t ever lie, so I’ll obey him and slay Isaac and God will raise him from the dead.” Abraham acted in faith because he was so committed to God . . . and in effect, God raised Isaac from the dead [in Abraham’s thought process.] The question is simple, “Do you have faith in God?” The answer requires neither complex nor profound words. A simple “yes” or “no” will do. 

Music: “Benedictus”    Karl Jenkins      7:40 minutes

This piece comes from a larger work, decrying the futility of war. My purpose in picking this is entirely different. We’ve been writing about the wonder of putting faith in God who in creation simply “said” and it was. This gives us a chance to see beyond our world into the distant reaches of the universe. Part of the way through the music, we hear the glorious words (in Latin) “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” Though the very end of the clip shows the destruction of this world, I have only to think of Jesus’ glorious words, “I will make all things new!” What a glorious loving God who gave himself to redeem his fallen creation by giving himself to bring restoration to everything.

Prayer:Go forth into the world in peace, be of good courage, hold fast to that which is good, render to no one evil for evil, strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all people, love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you and remain with you now and always. Amen.       ―1928 Book of Common Prayer

Monday, March 1

Reader: “Your throne, O God,” 

Response: “endures forever and ever.”

Scripture: Hebrews 1:8-12  

But to the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

    You rule with a scepter of justice.

You love justice and hate evil.

    Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,

    pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”

He also says to the Son,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth

    and made the heavens with your hands.

They will perish, but you remain forever.

    They will wear out like old clothing.

You will fold them up like a cloak

    and discard them like old clothing.

But you are always the same;

    you will live forever.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

During this season of Lent, we turn attention to Jesus’ journey to the cross bringing about redemption for the whole created order, that is, not only the salvation of people, but also the restoration of a fallen creation. It is always important to view any aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry in the larger context than a single event. In our passage in Hebrews, we read of this fuller picture. Let’s take in a closer look at the structure. 

In contrasting the superiority of Jesus over the angels, who were held in highest esteem by the Jews, the writer of Hebrews harkens to two of the Psalms, 45 and 102. He addresses three roles Jesus plays, that of ruler, creator and ultimate judge of all creation. Jesus is addressed as God and reigns from an everlasting throne. Jesus is our divine, eternal Ruler. He rules with perfect justice which he loves. Because of our limitations, it doesn’t always look that way. We do know he hates evil. But again, from our finite perspective, it seems that evil often escapes justice. 

Of Christ, the psalmist writes that God the Father has anointed you, remembering that Messiah means “the anointed one.” Throughout the Scriptures, oil often represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Not only is Jesus the Ruler, he is Creator as this middle portion of our text declares. This material is taken from Psalm 102. The earth and all the heavens are the handiwork of the Son of God. 

Think of everything you see as you go through today as belonging to Jesus. I often go for walks at night and wonder at the vastness and beauty of the sky. I saw Mars so clearly last night. It’s 140 million miles away. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take about 12 ½  minutes to get there! It takes a second and a half to get to the moon! The speed of light is circling the earth at the equator seven times per second! Astronomy measures distances in light “years,” the distance light travels in a year at the speed of light! Our Jesus spoke the universe into being! Sometimes I think the purpose of the vastness of the universe is to give finite people a sense of the magnitude of our God. Think of the sheer difference in size of one person compared to the scope of the cosmos! This creation will perish but he is eternal. He is our God! To help us out in every way, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

Finally, our Savior is also Judge and will bring creation to an end. He folds it up like a piece of clothing. There are some fascinating mathematical principles here in regards to “folding up the skies,” but are too complicated to explain in this forum and are outside our purposes. We have to leave it that our God is beyond what we can grasp, yet simple enough that a child can understand the gospel. 

Our pericope closes with the foundational “you are always the same forever,” harkening to the later passage in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb.13:8) The word “forever” occurs three times in this passage; forever Ruling, forever beyond creation, forever Savior. In all the swirl of whatever is going on in the world today, Jesus is the same solid, eternal Rock beyond the ages. We can trust him as our ruler, creator and judge. We’re in good hands!

Music:  “The Omnipotence”    Schubert       Hour of Power Choir

Prayer:

You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; you are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might; Heaven and earth are full of your glory. The glorious company of apostles praise you; the noble fellowship of prophets praise you; the white-robed army of martyrs praise you. Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, Father of majesty unbounded, your true and only Son worthy of all worship, and the Holy Spirit advocate and guide. To you eternal God, three in one we give you praise. Amen.-Te Deum, 4th century

Sunday, February 28 Second Sunday in Lent

Reader: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view,”

Response: “not from God’s.”

Scripture:  Mark 8:31-38

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.

Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

Visualize this text in your mind. Put yourself as one of the disciples walking along with Jesus. You are on the road to Caesarea Philippi, which is northeast about half way between the Sea of Galilee and the city of Damascus. As you and the other disciples move down the road in conversation, Jesus asks all of you, “Who do you say I am?” Keep in mind you were there when Jesus had fed the 4,000 and walked on water. You had seen him do miracles first hand. Now in kind of an embarrassingly blunt conversation he tells you that the Son of Man (how he always referred to himself) is going to suffer great physical harm, the Jewish leadership is going to reject him, they are going to kill him, and three days later he will rise from the dead. Try processing that. It is quite a conversation! 

Peter, who had moments before declared Jesus to be the Messiah, stepped off the road, taking Jesus with him and reprimanded him for saying such things. Afterall, Jesus was in the process of bringing in the kingdom of God! Jesus getting killed was not part of Peter’s idea of how things should go. From the side of the road, Jesus turned and looked at all the disciples and gained their attention. Then he turned directly to Peter with very strong words. “Get behind me, Satan!” The devil was seeking once more to destroy Jesus’ mission as he had via King Herod’s decree in Bethlehem and at his temptation.

Remember, the story of Jesus’ temptation ended with the devil departing “for a more opportune time.” This moment was one of those times. Be clear, Peter was not possessed by the devil as was Judas. However, Jesus recognized the biggest picture of what was happening. 

Once again, Jesus challenged his disciples (and us) to view things from God’s perspective, (which is why we spend time in his word daily so we would increasingly grow in grasping the mind and heart of our God.) Jesus’ conversation with his disciples expanded to include the gathering crowd as he returned to the implications of his earlier words with his disciples concerning what lay ahead for him, namely suffering, death, and resurrection. He made clear to all of his disciples that they were to lay aside self and selfish ambition, and like Simon of Cyrene, pick up the cross of the Savior and carry it to their personal Golgotha. 

A soul, your soul is worth more than this world or anything in it. Stand firm, friend, as his disciple, for he’s coming back and establishing his kingdom of God here on earth. In the words of the martyr Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

Music: “I’d Rather Have Jesus”     Alison Krauss

Prayer:

Lord, bless to me this season of Lent. Let me fast most truly and profitably, by feeding in prayer on thy Spirit: reveal me to myself in light of thy holiness. Suffer me never to think that I have knowledge enough to need no teaching, wisdom enough to need no correction, talents enough to need no grace, goodness enough to need no progress, humility enough to need no repentance, devotion enough to need no quickening, strength sufficient without thy Spirit; lest, standing still, I fall back for evermore. Show me the desires that should be disciplined, and sloths to be slain. Show me the omissions to be made up and the habits to be mended. And behind these, weaken, humble and annihilate in me self-will, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, self-assertion, vainglory. May my whole effort be to return to thee; O make it serious and sincere persevering and fruitful in result, by the help of thy Holy Spirit and to thy glory, my Lord and my God. Amen.                                                      ―from Prayers for the Christian Year, p.80

Saturday, February 27

Reader: “The moment you began praying,”

Response: “a command was given.”

Scripture: Genesis 16:7-15  

The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.

So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. 

Reader: “This is the word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

This portion of Scripture is interesting and fascinating when we go a little below the surface. Hagar, you’ll recall, was the servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. You know the story. Sarai was unable to have children so she suggested, as was the custom in such situations, that she have children through her servant girl. At this point in the story, Hagar is pregnant by Abram and has become very arrogant and disrespectful toward Sarai. In response, Sarai treated Hagar harshly, so harshly that she ran away. Then the above passage occurs. 

The opening phrase, “the angel of the Lord,” was the Lord himself, a theophany or a manifestation of God speaking with the authority of God. (There are several such occurrences in the Old Testament.  E.g. Gen.21:17; Ex.3:2; Judg.6:11) The words from the angel (Lord) told Hagar to return to Sarai and submit to her authority with the promise that she would have many, many descendents. This is the same promise given to Abram. 

The next sentence has an interesting parallel in the New Testament. Do these words ring a bell? “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him . . .” and then a description of what he will do and be. Right! Those words are remarkably similar to the words of Gabriel in announcing to Mary the birth of Jesus. (Lk. 1:31-32) 

The name given Hagar’s son was Ishmael meaning “God hears.” Then come the words describing the nature of Ishmael which has sadly proven to be true through the centuries. Hagar was an Egyptian and Ishmael married an Egyptian. True to the prophetic word, Ismael raised up a wild and hostile nation living in the desert with continual warring with all his relatives, including the offspring of Isaac, the nation of Israel. Even after the death of Ishmael, his descendents continue to fight among themselves (Gen.25:18). (The Muslim world traces its roots to Ishmael and Abraham.) 

After this encounter, Hagar referred to the Lord with the name of “The God who sees me” and named the well where this encounter occurred “Beer-lahai-roi” which means “well of the Living One who sees me.” So once again, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with Lent?” 1) God has a master plan of redemption that is not tied to days, months, or years. Abram and Sarai’s interpretation was tied to earthly time. “We’ve waited on God eleven years, now we need to move ahead.” Bad idea. Ishmael and 4,000 years of Arab/Israeli conflict! 2) We have a God who hears and sees into the details of your life right now. 3) It is best not to improvise on God’s design for your life. It doesn’t work out so well! 4) Hagar encountered the Lord when she submitted and returned to her mistress. 5) There was Hagar’s confrontation with reality in her comment, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” It is essential that we are honest in our dealings with the Lord and not pretend we encounter him or our image of him. The Lenten season is about repenting and reflecting on the Lord with complete transparency. 

Music: “The God of Abraham Praise”      Grace Community Church Congregation

Prayer:  

Gracious and compassionate Father, we confess that too often we have been impatient and acted in frustration rather than waiting for you. We have not heeded David’s words of “Let all that I am wait quietly before God.” (Ps.62:5) And in moving ahead of you, we have messed things up. I’m afraid we haven’t actually believed you see and hear in earthly time. Too often we just say words, wait a while and then go ahead and do what we think best and assume that’s what you have in mind. Good Lord, help us to slow down! Help us to submit to you, to lay aside our urgency, our impatience, our twitchiness to do something, anything. May we learn to be quiet, hold still, and wait. It is one of the godly qualities in all of Scripture. Every single “great” of the Bible had long periods of waiting for you. The impatient ones were always in trouble. Lord Jesus, give me the grace to wait that I might truly encounter your life-giving Spirit. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit is one God, world without end. Amen. 

                                                                                          ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, February 26

Reader: “Abraham believed God,”

Response: “and God counted him as righteous.”

Scripture: Romans 4:1-12 

Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:

“Oh, what joy for those

    whose disobedience is forgiven,

    whose sins are put out of sight.

Yes, what joy for those

    whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”

Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised!

Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

I remember when I was a little kid, we’d take four hour trips to Grandpa and Grandma Lantz’s house in Winona Lake, Indiana. On the way we three kids would play the alphabet game which was finding the letters of the alphabet in order off of billboards. It was a “silent” game in which you only talked when you hit the “z!” (After 65 years, I only recently discovered the reason for that rule!) Anyway, the sign on the side of the road that said “Get right with God” was a valuable find because of “igh.” In this passage, we read of “being right with God.” How foundational is that? 

Every person you see today and every person in existence is not, nor ever has been, naturally “right with God.” Adam and Eve were initially “right with God.” Then came the problem that put us all in the “unright” stage. Paul’s words make it clear that it is not possible for us humans to put ourselves into a right position with God by any effort we make. That is why this passage is profound. Abraham was able to find himself in a right position with God, not by his own efforts, but by believing God’s effort on his behalf. 

In looking at David’s words above, I’m wondering if you and I actually experience the joy of having our sins forgiven or do we just say the words and move on? Do we grasp the significance and abhorrence of our sin in God’s eyes? I confess, I find that too often my own sin isn’t that big of deal in my own eyes revealing the deadness of my spirit. Perhaps I’d be more joyful if I had a more realistic understanding of what God has done on my behalf and horrid my sin is. Something to think about.

The last part of this pericope has to do with the sign of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, circumcision. Part of the question at the time of the writing of Romans was, “Do Gentile believers have to be circumcised to become believers? I.e. Do they have to keep Jewish law?” Paul points out that Abraham believed God and was viewed as righteous by God even before he was circumcised. In other words, righteousness before God depends on faith alone. That faith is a gift as a result of God’s grace. There is nothing of human effort involved in this transaction. Let that sink in. Your relationship to God is the direct and sole result of God’s free gracious gift to you. As we reflect on our relationship to the Lord this Lenten season, don’t hurry past this singular, magnificent and eternal truth.

Music: “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”  Kristin and Keith Getty

Prayer:  O Lord, perfect, we beseech Thee, the faith of us who believe, and sow the good seed of faith in their hearts who as yet lack it; that we all may look steadfastly unto Thee, and run with patience the race that is set before us. Give us grace to show our faith by our works; teach us to walk by faith having respect unto the promises: which of Thy mercy make good to us in Thine own good time, O our most Gracious Lord God and Savior. Amen.  ―Christina Rossetti, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.70

Thursday, February 25

Reader: “ We are made right with God . . .”  

Response: “by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.”

Scripture: Romans 3:21-31  

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Where do you begin with a passage like this? Volumes and volumes of commentaries and dozens of books have been written on the theological concepts addressed in these few sentences. The season of Lent is a time to reflect on the journey of Christ as his death approached. It is also a time to evaluate where we are as individuals in relation to this journey with Jesus. I’d like us to look at these words in that light. Keeping the law of Moses perfectly was the way to God. But the law actually convicted us because it demonstrated that it is impossible for us to obey it perfectly. What it did was to show us our sin and our sin nature. Bottom line, we know we cannot keep the law. We are damned. Realizing that truth is progress! 

Enter Romans 3. God initiated the solution. He provided a way for us to be made right with him without having to do what is impossible for us, that of keeping the law perfectly. We are to place our faith in Jesus Christ. This proposition from God applies to anyone in the world. By doing so, God graciously declares us righteous, that is, he views us in the light of the righteousness of his sinless Son, Jesus, who, more than keeping the law fulfilled the law perfectly! There is a penalty for breaking the law, which we have done innumerable times. Unfortunately, that price is death. But, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, dying in our place. He took upon himself all the sins of all the people of the world and gave his life blood in their place. His death and resurrection means that all our sins, past, present and future are paid for by Jesus. 

For example, people in the past who sinned in the First Testament, did not receive the  ultimate punishment for their sins, since God “held back” that punishment in looking forward to the coming of Christ’s sacrifice. The sins of people who lived after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, have their sins covered as well, including people who have yet to be born! God’s time is on an eternal clock rather than a 24/7 clock. (“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”) As one commentator put it, “Believers are totally justified, just not yet.” (Moellering, Concordia Commentary on I TImothy, p.39)

Believing in Jesus is an act that functions in the time frame of the eternal clock. We are acquitted from our sins solely by our faith. Nothing we do makes any contribution to our being made right with God. There is a very popular and widely held view that upon death, God weighs the good and bad and that if the good deeds outweigh the bad actions, then that person receives eternal life in heaven. TOTAL LIE! This view was actually expressed by a current political leader who announced that he would walk right into heaven and they’d be glad to see him because he had done so much good! The bottom line is that when we exercise faith in what Christ has done on our behalf, we are actually fulfilling the law, the very words of Jesus. “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Mt.5:17) Be mindful that Jesus’ journey to the cross resulting in his death was and is our journey as well. Remember, we are not simply living on a 24/7 clock, but dwelling in God’s eternal time.

Music: “Jesus Paid It All”   Fernando Ortega    Beautiful arrangement of this tune.

Bonuses: “Jesus Paid It All”   Celtic Worship

“Jesus Paid It All”    Choral Arrangement

Prayer: My Father, I could never have sought my happiness in thy love, unless thou hadst first loved me. Thy spirit has encouraged me by grace to seek thee, has made known to me thy reconciliation in Jesus, has taught me to believe it, has helped me to take thee for my God and portion. May he grant me to grow in the knowledge and experience of thy love, and walk in it all the way to glory. Blessed forever be thy fatherly affection, which chose me to be one of thy children by faith in Jesus: I thank thee for giving me the desire to live as such. In Jesus, my brother, I have my new birth, every restraining power, every renewing grace. By the Spirit may I daily live to thee, rejoice in thy love, find it the same to me as to thy Son, and become rooted and grounded in it as a house on a rock. Magnify thy love to me according to its greatness, and not according to my deserts or prayers, and whatever increase thou givest, let it draw out greater love to thee. In my Savior’s name I pray. Amen.   ―The Valley of Vision, p.53

Wednesday, February 24

Reader: “Every word of God proves true.”

Response:  “He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.”  

Scripture:  Proverbs 30:1-9  

The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh contain this message.

I am weary, O God;

    I am weary and worn out, O God.

I am too stupid to be human,

    and I lack common sense.

I have not mastered human wisdom,

    nor do I know the Holy One.

Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?

    Who holds the wind in his fists?

Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?

    Who has created the whole wide world?

What is his name—and his son’s name?

    Tell me if you know!

Every word of God proves true.

    He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.

Do not add to his words,

    or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

O God, I beg two favors from you;

    let me have them before I die.

First, help me never to tell a lie.

    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!

    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.

For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”

    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever felt like the above opening sentences? I’m tired Lord. Worn out; no energy; tired thinking. I feel dumb and do dumb things. And Lord, I really don’t know you very well at all. Agur hit the nail on the head. If we are honest, we aren’t always up and have things in order and under control. Why is it that we continually wrestle life to control it? The interesting thing is, acknowledging the above is actually the beginning of gaining wisdom! The five questions Agur asks all have the same answer and it is “Jesus.” He contrasts his own ignorance with the wisdom and power of God. The Lord is his strength and protection. 

I’m struck with the single admonition not to add words to what God has said. Remember Eve in the Garden of Eden during her temptation? What did she do in answering the serpent’s challenge? She added words to what God had said. Jude says the same thing in the New Testament (v.3). I have to smile at his two favors from God before he dies. “Help me never tell a lie.” I greatly admire his transparency. If we are honest, we all lie; not always on purpose. But we do “slide from the whole truth” at times. His second request for a favor already shows how he is becoming wise and perhaps not as “stupid” as he earlier proclaimed! 

You’ve all heard various answers to the question, “How much money is enough money?” John D. Rockefeller’s answer was “just a little more.” At the time his net worth was 1% of the entire US economy making Bill Gates and Warren Buffett look like paupers. Perhaps that is why Jesus said it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is too easy to be wed to this world with the feeling “I don’t need the Lord. I’ve got plenty of money for everything I want” forgetting Jesus’ words, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Lk. 12:20) My guess is Rockefeller would answer that question very differently now that the reality of eternity has set in. 

Agur also makes an interesting connection between stealing and insulting God’s holy name. I must confess, I’m not always aware that I am representing God’s name. As a Christian, I am a member of God’s family. I am aware that I am a “Sharp” and represent my family and do not want to embarrass our family name. I have a heritage of a godly father, godly grandfathers, and some godly great grandfathers. I don’t want to be the one to “mess up” the family name. How much greater significance is representing God’s family name! When I do misrepresent my Lord, I am actually taking his name in vain. It seems to me that Agur was anything but “too stupid to be human!” Live today telling the truth, resting in the Lord and representing well both of your families’ names.

Music:  “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger”         Sam Robson         Gorgeous!  Eternal perspective.

Prayer:

Why is it, Lord, that we think trying to keep rules is enough? It’s so easy to be a Pharisee and feel good about ourselves that we haven’t done anything terrible, at least terrible in our eyes. We look at other people and we aren’t as rude as that driver, or as foul mouthed as that co-worker or as self-centered as our neighbor. We don’t talk about ourselves all the time when we are with others. We’re doing OK. But Lord, our hearts are deceptive and dull toward you. We read the Bible more from obligation rather than to converse with you. We pray once in a while or when we think of it, but we too seldom encounter you in our prayers. God of mercy, forgive our foolish ways. May our hearts burn for you. Don’t let us stay the same, please . . . please. In our Savior’s glorious name. Amen.  

                                                                                                           ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, February 23

Reader: “Search for peace,” 

Response:  “and work to maintain it.”

Scripture: 1 Peter 3:8-18a

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. For the Scriptures say,

“If you want to enjoy life

    and see many happy days,

keep your tongue from speaking evil

    and your lips from telling lies.

Turn away from evil and do good.

    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,

    and his ears are open to their prayers.

But the Lord turns his face

    against those who do evil.” 

Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.  

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:    

Peter, who was not a shy person, known for speaking before thinking at times, writes this very articulate portion of his letter in giving instructions regarding relationships to fellow believers as well as unbelievers. I have a feeling Peter learned this the hard way. Note the words he uses here. Be united in thought, sympathize, love, be tender-hearted, . . . keep a humble attitude. Are those words you normally associate with Peter? The Holy Spirit clearly transformed his life. 

Having been in a long period of very stressful months due to a troublesome disease and rancorous politics, we have observed plenty of occasions where brothers and sisters in the Lord have hardly reflected Peter’s words towards each other. Retaliation with insults have been far too frequent. Blessing those with different opinions has been all too rare. This model of self-righteous Christian interaction has frankly been embarrassing for our faith. Peter quotes David’s psalm (Ps. 34:12-16) for wise counsel. “Keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. . . Search for peace and work to maintain it.” 

It is all too easy for us to think of God as being far away looking after the universe and not actually watching individual people in real time . . . like now! Yet, Peter writes, “the eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” He watches those people too! 

In the Scriptures, the description of the “Lord turning his face toward you” is a sign of his favor, his blessing (Numbers 6:24-26). It’s the reverse of “turning your back on someone” as a sign of disfavor and abandonment. Remember Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with his face shining so bright? Same idea. Notice that Peter is very realistic. People are not always nice, even believers. So Peter’s words are to bear the abuse rather than striking back. God sees what happened and is pleased when you don’t retaliate. Worship the Lord as the Lord of your life. Your conduct can be a beautiful witness to God’s grace in your life. Be ready to bear witness to Christ with gentleness and respect to the other person. Suffering for doing good, if that is what God wants, is better than suffering for shooting off at your mouth and bearing the consequences of foolishness. Peter should know! It would be good if we could do some healing of our tongues in the coming months.

Music: “The Corinthian Song”     Sam Robson       Beautiful and remarkable!

Prayer:

O Everlasting God, let the light of Thine eternity now fall upon my passing days. O holy God, let the light of Thy perfect righteousness fall upon my sinful ways. O most merciful God, let the light of Thy life pierce to the most secret corners of my heart and overcome the darkness of sin within me.  Am I living as my conscience approves? Am I demanding of others a higher standard of conduct than I demand of myself? Am I taking a less charitable view of the failings of my neighbor than I am of my own? Am I standing in public for principles which I do not practise in private? Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God. Do I ever allow the thought of my own gain to take precedence over the interests of the community? To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear? Is the sympathy I show to others who are in trouble commensurate with the pity I would expend on myself if the same things happened to me? Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.                                            ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.99

Monday, February 22

Reader: “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Response:  “But then I recall all you have done, O Lord.”

Scripture:  Psalm 77 

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

    Oh, that God would listen to me!

When I was in deep trouble,

    I searched for the Lord.

All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

    but my soul was not comforted.

I think of God, and I moan,

    overwhelmed with longing for his help. 

                          Interlude

You don’t let me sleep.

    I am too distressed even to pray!

I think of the good old days,

    long since ended,

when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

    I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

Has the Lord rejected me forever?

    Will he never again be kind to me?

Is his unfailing love gone forever?

    Have his promises permanently failed?

Has God forgotten to be gracious?

    Has he slammed the door on his compassion? 

                      Interlude

And I said, “This is my fate;

    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

They are constantly in my thoughts.

    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

O God, your ways are holy.

    Is there any god as mighty as you?

You are the God of great wonders!

    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.   

                      Interlude

When the Red Sea saw you, O God,

    its waters looked and trembled!

    The sea quaked to its very depths.

The clouds poured down rain;

    the thunder rumbled in the sky.

    Your arrows of lightning flashed.

Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;

    the lightning lit up the world!

    The earth trembled and shook.

Your road led through the sea,

    your pathway through the mighty waters—

    a pathway no one knew was there!

You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,

    with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

How often has this psalm been your prayer? One cannot but help notice the progression of emotions from the opening cry to the closing thoughts. There is a lesson for us here. The first section is completely internally focused. There are seven “I’s,” a “me” and a “my,” and God is referred to in the third person five times. What is clear is a frustrated passion wanting soul comfort. In our encounters with the Lord, we often begin the same way, starting with ourselves, our perspective, our feelings. “God, where are you?” I certainly have prayed this prayer more than once! I don’t know how significant the “Interlude” is, but it almost seems to say, “time out, get your thoughts together.” 

Apparently the “time out” didn’t change much of anything. In this next section there are still seven references to I, me, and my with seven references to the Lord in the third person with only one reference in the second person where God is addressed directly. (I mention this only to point out the progression of the prayer.) 

Several years ago I had a difficult upcoming meeting with the senior pastor. I truly didn’t know what to pray. I couldn’t formulate a thought or a word to offer to God so I just said, “Lord, you’ll have to do this. I don’t have a clue about anything!” He was faithful in the meeting and brought great clarity! 

Asaph, the one praying begins to harken back to the good old days while wondering what has happened. Notice then the verbs associated with God’s relationship to Asaph as Asaph perceives―rejected, never again, gone forever, permanently failed, forgotten, slammed the door, and turned his hand against. Notice when we are down and self-focused how we turn to absolute negatives to express our feelings . . . never, forever, permanently. Then comes the four word perspective . . . “But then I recall.” God is no longer addressed in the third person, but in the second person. There are twenty-one references addressing God directly in the rest of the psalm. There is only one direct reference to the Lord in the first ten verses. There are but three “I’s” and one “my” in the last 10 verses as opposed to eighteen in the first ten. These later “I’s” have the verbs “recall, remember, cannot stop thinking” in contrast to the negative responses in the early part of the psalm. 

In the end of the psalm, Asaph turns his attention to what God has done in the past. He looks to the Lord’s history of caring for his people to regain perspective. Then there is one quiet line that is so powerful. “Your pathway through the mighty waters―a pathway no one knew was there! That is our great God! The next time you or I feel ourselves falling into the first part of this psalm, be sure to read the last half. The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, even when there are no paths we can see! Reminder―we’re not God!

Music: “Out of the Depths”    The Genevans

Optional Bonus:

“My Lord Knows the Way through the Wilderness”   (Old childrens’ song, cute)          

 A dad and his children sing this song. Note the little girl when dad is talking at the end!

Prayer: Don’t talk today in prayer, listen to the Lord’s words of truth spoken to you for this day.

Let nothing disturb you; let nothing dismay you; all things pass: I never change. Patience attains all it strives for. The one who has me finds they lack nothing: I alone suffice. 

           ―adapted from Teresa of Avila, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.51

Sunday, February 21 First Sunday in Lent

Reader: “Christ suffered for our sins” 

Response: “once for all time.”

Scripture: I Peter 3:18-22

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts: 

In this first epistle of Peter, he gives to us a unique passage in all of the Bible. But let’s start at the beginning. This opening sentence reminds us of a very similar passage in Hebrews (9:26,28). His one-time suffering and death made possible our pathway home to God. Think about it. That “one time” is sufficient for all people forever! Peter goes on to say that in the physical death, Jesus’ body died on Friday but his spirit was raised to life. (On the third day, the physical body was raised to life.) At Jesus’ death, his body went into the grave, his spirit went to the Father (“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands”), and his soul went to paradise ―the bosom of Abraham― (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk. 23:43.  Hades is the place of the dead. One part is called paradise, the place of the righteous dead in the presence of Jesus, and the other part of hades is the gloomy place of the unrighteous dead who await final judgment. A chasm separates the two). 

When Peter writes that Jesus was raised to life, the word refers to life as God has it. It is the life of God the Father himself which he gave to his Incarnate Son which is the life passed on to us in Christ Jesus. The Greek word is zoe (life), from which we get the word zoology and zoo. This kind of life of God is the very life from which we’ve been alienated as a result of the Fall. It is a life which has moral associations which are inseparable from holiness and righteousness. It is life we are called to live. 

The next section is one of the more difficult ones to understand in Scripture. It has been interpreted several ways through the centuries. Without going into a long discussion, I’ll briefly summarize some of the basic views (there are more). 1) Christ goes to those who have been disobedient to God and preaches the Good News to them. The idea that people have a second chance after death to receive the gospel is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. In fact, Hebrews 9:27 makes very clear that “it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this the judgment.” Clearly, there is no second chance. 2) Another interpretation reads that Christ preached through Noah’s voice urging people to repent in Noah’s day. Those people are now in death’s prison. 3) A third view is that the ‘spirits in prison’ are evil spiritual beings (fallen angels) and Christ proclaimed to them his victory over death. (There is an important principle involved here. No doctrine should be based on a singular ambiguous passage. Difficult passages should be interpreted by those that are clear, not the other way around.) Peter then refers to Noah and his response of faith in God. In a way, Noah and his family were resurrected from certain death through the “baptismal” waters of the Flood. 

He then concludes this portion stating Christ is now in heaven, seated at God’s right hand with all the spirit world in submission to him. What does all this mean for us this day? It tells us that there was a great master plan from the beginning to bring restoration to a fallen creation and that Christ’s work on earth is completed. He is currently, as you read this, seated at the Father’s right hand in his glorified human body interceding on our behalf according to Scripture. This is not simply a theological idea, but reality. Finally, we are reminded that we are citizens of heaven even while here on earth as we await the Lord’s return. Tune your heart heavenward today.

Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This”   St. Olaf Choir

Prayer:

Bless us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen.                                             ―John Donne, A Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.52

Saturday, February 20th

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t. Also, pastors and music ministers, feel free to encourage your congregations and musicians to subscribe as part of our corporate preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Reader: “Be encouraged, my child!” 

Response: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Scripture: Matthew 9:2-13

Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

We have a little addition to our pattern today. I’d like you to watch this clip before reading the commentary. It is portraying what you have just read. Matthew is one of the guys sitting on the roof with the children taking notes! 

Film Clip: Jesus heals the paralytic from “The Chosen”

Some thoughts:  

There are some profound things going on in this passage. The first encounter with Jesus clearly demonstrates a recurring pattern in all of Jesus’ miracles. The second account helps us understand the implication of the first incident. One of the consistent truths of Jesus’ miracles is that he always did them for a single purpose, regardless of the miracle itself and an example of such is clearly demonstrated here. The certain point of the miracle is always to establish his identity as the Son of God. There is one line Jesus says in the clip that makes things so clear. Something like, “anyone can say words about cleansing sin, but you don’t really know if the sin was cleansed. Humanly, there is no way to tell. So, rather than say ‘your sins are cleansed,’ I’ll do something miraculous so you can see I have the authority to forgive sins as the Son of God.” 

Most of the religious leaders rejected what they saw with their own eyes and sought to kill Jesus. Now as then, people in our day simply dismiss Jesus as a moral teacher from ages past, nothing more, effectively killing him again. As we reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross during these days of the Lenten season, let us remember that moral teachers cannot forgive sin. All sin is against God. So, he alone is in a position to forgive and also because he is the only One who could pay the penalty. 

We look next at the second part of this passage. Since Jesus’ mission on earth was to save sinners, he went to people who knew they were sinners, a model for us. How much time do we spend with people who need the Lord? Maybe we could make a point of trying to spend more time with those in need of the Savior during these special days. Showing mercy to others is the mark of a life honored and affirmed by God. Jesus went after Matthew. He was among the most hated persons of his day . . . a crooked Jew who had sold out his own people to the occupying Romans. Tax collectors were very wealthy and very dishonest. Jesus befriended and embraced the despised man and called him to become one of his disciples! Matthew knew he needed a savior and he followed. The result was a transformed life. All of us have Matthews all around us. Let’s call them to follow the Master. With things as fractured as they are in the world, now is a time to be bold.

Music: “Lord, I Want to Be Like Jesus”             Fernando Ortega

Prayer: 

O God, our ever-living Refuge, with grateful hearts we lay at Thy feet the folded hours when Thou knowest us but we know not Thee; and with joy receive from Thy hand once more our open task and conscious communion with Thy life and thoughts. Day by day liken us more to the spirits of the departed wise and good; and fit us in our generation to carry on their work below till we are ready for more perfect union with them above. And if ever we faint under any appointed cross and say, “It is too hard to bear,” may we look to the steps of the Man of Sorrows toiling on to Calvary, and pass freely into Thy hand, and become one with Him and Thee. Dedicate us to the joyful service of Thy will; and own us as Thy children in time and in eternity. Amen.                                        ―James Martineau, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.139

Friday, February 19

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t. Also, pastors and music ministers, feel free to encourage your congregations and musicians to subscribe as part of our corporate preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Reader: “O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act!”

Response: “For your own sake, do not delay.”

Scripture: Daniel 9:15-25a  

“O Lord our God, you brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Egypt in a great display of power. But we have sinned and are full of wickedness. In view of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn your furious anger away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain. All the neighboring nations mock Jerusalem and your people because of our sins and the sins of our ancestors.

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary.

“O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.

“O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name.”

I went on praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people, pleading with the Lord my God for Jerusalem, his holy mountain. As I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice. He explained to me, “Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God. Listen carefully so that you can understand the meaning of your vision.

“A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Now listen and understand!

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

There is an interesting aspect to Daniel’s prayer which is something I have seldom heard, if ever, when someone is praying. His words . . . “for your name’s sake, smile on your people again.” In other words, he’s appealing to the Lord’s reputation as viewed by  the surrounding unbelieving peoples. The nations are laughing at “the children of God,” which in an indirect way, is laughing at God. Note the second commandment here, that we are not to take God’s name in vain. Put simply, the Israelites are representing God in vain; they are  poor ambassadors of their LORD. Jerusalem, the city of God, the city they are to care for and about, lies in ruins as a result of their rebellion. In a nutshell, they are a disgrace as the people of God. Hence, Daniel’s fervent prayer of confession. 

Confession comes from the Greek word homologeo, meaning “same word, to speak the same thing.” Confession means simply, “we agree with what God has said, we agree with his opinion, his word of judgment.” We abandon our assessment and conclusion and embrace his word on the situation, realizing his unfailing love is perfect, which means his view is also absolutely perfect. 

Daniel’s words are simple and straightforward. “Lord, you are in the right,” which also says that “we are in the wrong.” Thankfully, we have a God who is, in Daniel’s words, “merciful and forgiving.” What is true of Israel in Daniel’s day is true of all of our nations in our day as well, (realizing many of you reading this are not from the USA). Daniel speaks of the consequences of sin and rebellion against God, who is true to his word in judgment as well as in blessing. In his plea, Daniel prays three-fold, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord listen and act . . . Not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.” Isn’t that the heart of all of our prayers? When we think of national repentance, notice that Daniel starts with confessing his own sin first and then the sins of his people. 

There is one other interesting thing that occurs here. “The moment you began praying , a command was given.” Sometimes we may think that our prayers don’t result in immediate action, that God files our prayers in the “get to it later” box. Not so. Daniel’s  prayer had an immediate effect. Realize God acts through your prayer. The prayer itself doesn’t change things. It is through prayer that God changes things, including the one doing the praying! Through prayer, we can be involved directly in what God is doing.

Music: ““Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8      One of the finest choral groups singing today.      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc

Prayer:O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate world. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your world—the creation that you made—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your whole created order, forgive our determined rebellion and repeated rejection of you. We have greatly sinned and repent of our evil ways. We have not loved as we ought; we have not valued babies waiting to be born; we have failed to care for the poor as we should; we have twisted the clear truth of your word to satisfy our own bent desires in living our lives. We have become, no, we are arrogant. O Lord, hear, O Lord forgive. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    ―adapted from Daniel 9. Daniel Sharp

Thursday, February 18

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t. Also, pastors and music ministers, feel free to encourage your congregations and musicians to subscribe as part of our corporate preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Reader: “I prayed to the Lord my God . . .” 

Response: “and confessed.”  

Scripture: Daniel 9:1-14

It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians. During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants, the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are in the right; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, including the people of Judah and Jerusalem and all Israel, scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you. O Lord, we and our kings, princes, and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. We have not obeyed the Lord our God, for we have not followed the instructions he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has disobeyed your instruction and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice.

“So now the solemn curses and judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured down on us because of our sin. You have kept your word and done to us and our rulers exactly as you warned. Never has there been such a disaster as happened in Jerusalem. Every curse written against us in the Law of Moses has come true. Yet we have refused to seek mercy from the Lord our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth. Therefore, the Lord has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The Lord our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

Yesterday on Ash Wednesday, we said nothing about the imposition of ashes. In the passage you just read concerning Daniel, we find him fasting and praying in sackcloth and ashes, a common expression of repentance throughout the Scriptures. We offer a brief word about that practice. Sackcloth is a very coarse, uncomfortable material against the skin. If you think of wearing clothes made solely of burlap (hemp), you are on the right track. The uncomfortable, irritating sackcloth served as an outward sign of sorrow and repentance, the picture being the lack of outward physical comfort paralleling the lack of inner spiritual comfort. The ashes reflected equally sorrow, despair and death. They also reminded one of the shortness of life. Humans, having been made originally from dust, eventually return again to dust. These two actions were to reflect humility and a repentant heart. We turn now to Daniel’s remarkable prayer demonstrating these very qualities. Daniel had read Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Israel’s rebellion and the horrible consequences his people would experience as a result. 

With the difficult days we have experienced in our own world these past months, note the appropriateness of the content of his prayer. It is a powerful declaration of confession and repentance. What is the overall structure? In the opening section of this pericope, he begins with truth: you are a great and awesome God who always speaks truth and keeps your word. You love those who are obedient to your word. The trouble is us! Note the words used for our response to God’s truth. We have sinned, done wrong, rebelled, scorned, and refused to listen! Other than that, we’re good! Not really. God’s prophets spoke his word, the truth, and we turned a deaf ear. Who is the “we?” Our leaders, our teachers, our ancestors and ourselves. The problem? We had a better idea; we would decide what was true. We would sit in judgment of God, weighing the truth of God’s word against our knowledge as we decided where God was lacking. 

Like Thomas Jefferson, in our infinite wisdom, we would decide which parts to leave out and which to embrace. (Thomas Jefferson actually took a knife to the pages of Scripture and removed all the parts he didn’t agree with―everything having to do with the miraculous.) This passage ends with judgment and severe discipline from the Lord, just as he promised. When will we ever learn? God speaks truth and keeps his word. We live in a society throughout the world that fails again and again to realize there are consequences for rebelling against God’s word. Disobedience and failure to repent pays a rough wage. But they always pay in full. Sober words for these days. National repentance begins with you and me.

Film clip from “The Chosen”   Peter’s repentance       Powerful!!

Music:  Psalm 51 A Broken Spirit and Contrite Heart          The Sons of Korah

 “Holy, Holy, Holy”  Audrey Assad  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgHrNNM23p8

Prayer:

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in thy Word, of neglect to seek thee in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless thee that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor listings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but do thou rule over me in liberty and power. I thank thee that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have. I have prayed from lusts and been rejected. I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with thy patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to thy rule. I thank thee for thy wisdom and thy love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of thy grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in thee, then I shall bless thee, God of Jeshurun*, for helping me be upright. This I pray through your Son Jesus Christ. By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.         ―The Valley of Vision, p.77
*A poetic name for the Hebrew Scriptures.

February 17, Ash Wednesday

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t.

Reader: “Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.”

Response: “Tell my people of their sins.”

Scripture:  Isaiah 58:1-12

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.

    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.

Tell my people Israel of their sins!

    Yet they act so pious!

They come to the Temple every day

    and seem delighted to learn all about me.

They act like a righteous nation

    that would never abandon the laws of its God.

They ask me to take action on their behalf,

    pretending they want to be near me.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.

    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?

We have been very hard on ourselves,

    and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.

    “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.

Even while you fast,

    you keep oppressing your workers.

What good is fasting

    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?

This kind of fasting

    will never get you anywhere with me.

You humble yourselves

    by going through the motions of penance,

bowing your heads

    like reeds bending in the wind.

You dress in burlap

    and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting?

    Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;

    lighten the burden of those who work for you.

Let the oppressed go free,

    and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry,

    and give shelter to the homeless.

Give clothes to those who need them,

    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,

    and your wounds will quickly heal.

Your godliness will lead you forward,

    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer.

    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.

    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry,

    and help those in trouble.

Then your light will shine out from the darkness,

    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,

    giving you water when you are dry

    and restoring your strength.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like an ever-flowing spring.

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.

    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls

    and a restorer of homes.

Reader: The word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

As we live through the season of Lent this year, I am confident in saying that the things in the world and in our lives are much different than at this time last year. What is the same as last year is that God is sovereign and unchangeable. In this pericope, God instructs the prophet Isaiah to speak the truth to his people in no uncertain terms! The sins of Israel are not unlike our own as nation’s, no matter where you are living in the world. (There are subscribers from around the world.) We all can identify! I’m afraid there is a fair amount of “pretend,” feel good worship happening too often. How could we say such? Look at the results. Israel’s fasts were very self-focused. There were quarrels and failure to treat other people with respect. In other words Israelites, “Your conduct toward each other is awful. Your words and actions don’t jive. The heart of your relationship with God is false. You are not honest with God.” 

Fasting was a regular practice of the Israelites and frankly, ought to be in our lives today as well. After all, Jesus said, “When” you fast, not “if” you fast. With good health in mind, perhaps you may wish to fast in some way during this season in order to more deeply focus on your walk with God. 

The Israelites, however, were fasting to impress God, manipulate God into doing what they wanted. In a sense they were bargaining with the Creator. It was an outward show. God looks at what is done, not what is said. God is also very clear about what he expects. For example, if someone is wrongly imprisoned, what have you done to correct the situation? How have you helped people who are in need of food, shelter, or clothes? Or, are you all “intending to do?” Actions like these bring healing. These are good actions for a fractured society like ours. God is more specific yet. “Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!”  

We have certainly seen plenty of such. Let’s get specific in this Lenten season. Are there relatives in your family you could help in some way?  Rather than “giving up something for Lent,” is there something you could take on? Maybe fast a meal, or a day a week to pray specifically for something or someone instead of eating? Perhaps you make a covenant with the Lord to pray daily for that person who annoys you to death. You might even decide to use half the time you pray to be quiet and listen for God’s voice. If you are like me, I tend to spend my time of prayer mostly talking and doing little listening. God’s fasting is action. Read the passage again, noting God’s phrase, “This is the kind of fasting I want”. This Lenten season in 2021 only happens one time in all of eternity. Let’s live for eternity through these days.
  

Though Haddon Robinson preached one of the most memorable sermons I’ve heard in my 48 years in ministry, this sermon in 2012 relates specifically to today’s passage. There are two minutes of intro, then he preaches. Frankly from my perspective, he is one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard. He passed away in July 2017 at age 86.

Bonus: “Have You Heard The One About…The Case Study Of A Mugging?” – Haddon W. Robinson     28 minutes  (2 minutes intro)

Music: “With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh” St. Patrick Presbyterian Church 

With broken heart and contrite sigh,

A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry: 

Thy pard’ning grace is rich and free

 O God, be merciful to me.

I smite upon my troubled breast,

With deep and conscious guilt oppressed;

Christ and His cross my only plea:

  O God, be merciful to me.

Far off I stand with tearful eyes,

Nor dare uplift them to the skies;

But Thou dost all my anguish see,

  O God, be merciful to me.

Nor alms, or deeds that I have done,

Can for a single sin atone;

To Calvary alone I flee;

  O God, be merciful to me.

And when redeemed from sin and hell,

With all the ransomed throng I dwell,

My raptured song shall ever be,

  God has been merciful to me.

Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  ―BCP

The Preface

LENT – A Journey to the Cross 2021

How excited can you get about a season that starts by focusing on the certainty of death . . . yours specifically? Cheer up, you’re going to die sooner or later! As C.S. Lewis commented, “100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased!” Well, yes and no. You will die physically at some point, but that’s not the end. God has the last word and it is not death for those who die in Christ Jesus. A better word for Christians is “departure.” You depart this life for eternal life beyond death.

For many people being reminded about death and having to “give something up” are the primary thoughts regarding Lent. . .and are two good reasons to think about something else! The truth is, they are not really the point of Lent at all. The root of the word “lent” simply means “spring” new life, buds, blossoms, the end of the long winter. Sounds more like life than death to me. Though observing a season of fasting and prayer were practiced regularly during the first centuries of the church, the days prior to Easter were initially devoted to the final preparations for those being baptized into a new life in Christ.The primary time for baptisms was Easter Sunday. By the fourth century we began to see more widespread evidence of a six week period of preparation for Easter by the whole Christian community, with fasting, almsgiving, and prayer being key elements. You see then, Lent is not a Catholic thing as many people believe. Though it was at times subject to abuse in the Roman Catholic church. 

The heart of the Christian faith is our participation in the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as Lord. Those things affect us personally. While Advent is concerned with the final Judgment, the Incarnation, and the birth of Jesus, this season points us to the price paid for redemption bringing new life. It is our prayer that these days leading up to Easter Sunday will further shape us into the image of Christ as we reflect with repentant hearts what he has done to free us from the bondage of our sinful selves. 

A short word about the Scripture passages themselves. The Bible was written originally without chapters and verse numbers. With that in mind, I left out the verse numbers so that it reads a little differently. I find it easier to grasp the whole thought this way. I trust you will find the same. The translation I used is the New Living Translation. The music we have chosen comes from a wide variety of sources and ensembles simply reflecting the wonder and creativity of God’s handiwork. Nothing you hear or see is original, the composers have simply rearranged the notes God made!
One final word, feel free to pass the link along to family, friends, and co-workers around the country and the world who may benefit from these free devotionals. The link to subscribe is: sharpdevotional.com. You enter your name and email. It’s that simple and thank you for subscribing and passing the link along! Then they will receive the emails in their boxes each morning at 5:02 EST.  Of course subscribing is free.

Transfiguration Sunday, February 14

Reader: “This is my dearly loved Son.”    

Response: “Listen to him.”

Scripture: Mark 9:1-10

Jesus went on to say, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 

Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were 

gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.

As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

This particular passage provides us with a marvelous connection between the Old and the New Testaments, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. A little context may be helpful. Previously, Jesus and his disciples left the region of Galilee and headed northeast towards Caesarea Philippi. Their discussion on the way concerned Jesus’ identity. It was in this conversation that Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah. After telling the disciples to tell no one that he was in fact the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus  told them about his upcoming death and resurrection. 

About a week later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain to be alone. Scholars have not identified which mountain it was. The significance is not in the specific mountain, but that the event happened on a mountain carries great importance. The three disciples saw Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in conversation together. In a discouraging moment, Elijah travelled to Mt. Sinai where he heard the voice of God and saw his backside as God passed by. You’ll recall that Moses received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai. As he descended with the Law tablets, his face shone so brightly, he was veiled until it faded. Both men encountered God directly and now they speak with the Messiah face to face.

In the case of the Transfiguration, the three disciples got a fleeting glimpse of the brilliant, shining glorified Savior. When Jesus appeared in this state, Moses and Elijah were gone.  It was clear, neither Elijah or Moses was an equal with Jesus. At this point, the Old Covenant, the Law, was still in effect, but that was about to change. The discussion among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus was about this great change coming. The word used is Jesus’ “exodus!” from this world. Unlike the great Exodus led by Moses, this Redeemer set the entire world free from slavery to sin and death permanently. He would fulfill both the Law, (making it obsolete, Heb. 8:13 “When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete.”), and likewise, fulfill all the Old Testament prophetic writings. 

In Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writing of the prophets [Elijah et al]. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Mt.5:17) If you will, Jesus is closing the loop with Moses and Elijah on the mountain! Have you ever noticed how many significant events took place on mountains? The unity of Scripture is never more apparent than in this passage. Like at his baptism, God the Father, affirms the upcoming work of his Son with his voice from the cloud. 

As we have mentioned often previously, in the Bible, the cloud represents the physical presence of God. (Cloud of fire in the desert, cloud over the Ark of the Covenant, cloud at the Ascension, etc.) Here, like later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and John fell asleep and failed to grasp the significance of the moment. God’s words to the three were so clear, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” Interestingly, Moses used that very phrase, “listen to him” (Deut.18:15) in speaking of the great Prophet to come (Messiah). Those words ought to ring daily in our ears. These disciples had trouble understanding what “rising from the dead” meant. Hindsight is easy, but we are called to faith which is why we need to “listen to him.”

We begin the Lenten “Journey with Jesus” this coming Wednesday! You’ll receive your first email Wednesday morning.

Music: “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak” 

Jesus on the mountain peak, 

stands alone in glory blazing. 

Let us, if we dare to speak, 

join the saints and angels praising. 

Hallelujah!

Trembling at his feet we saw 

Moses and Elijah speaking. 

All the prophets and the law 

shout through them their joyful greeting. 

Hallelujah!

Swift the cloud of glory came, 

God proclaiming in its thunder 

Jesus as the Son by name! 

Nations, cry aloud in wonder! 

Hallelujah!

This is God’s beloved Son! 

Law and prophets sing before him; 

first and last and only One. 

All creation shall adore him! 

Hallelujah!

Prayer: 

Father, at the transfiguration in glory of your only-begotten Son, you confirmed the mysteries of faith when the prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. You foreshadowed what we shall be when you bring your sonship to its perfection. Grant that by listening to the voice of Jesus we may become heirs with him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. O Christ, you led Peter, James and John down from the mountain and into the suffering world: when our hearts crave permanence, may we know the permanence of your love as you take us with you on your way. O Christ, you will transfigure our poor earthly bodies and conform them to your glorious body; we pray to you for our brothers and sisters who are dying: that they may be changed into your likeness, from glory to glory. Amen.                                                                ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.83