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For November 28, 2021

November 28th is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is a four-week long season in the church year.  It marks the beginning of the church year  (Happy New Year!)  It is a season of preparation and reflection, as we wait for the Christ Child to arrive on Christmas morning.  What’s that you say?  Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago?  Well, I guess you’re right on that fact.  But we sort of intentionally forget about that fact for a few weeks, and pretend. We will attempt to recreate that first Christmas, by pretending to be like Israel, waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  (Advent means “coming”.)  In addition to celebrating the historic event, we will also do a little pretend celebration of his arrival this Christmas.  Finally, we will study some of the scriptural passages that look forward to his return.  This is the third “coming” of Jesus that we consider during this season.  In summary, there are three Advents. 

  • The coming of the Messiah on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago.
  • The coming of the Christ Child on December 25, 2021.
  • The coming of Jesus, when he returns again.

I think we’re going to have our hands full these next four weeks!


Some of the themes of Advent are 1) Wait, 2) Watch, 3) Hope, and 4) Prepare.  We wait and watch for the coming of the Messiah.  We hope that he will come to save us. We prepare our hearts and mind for his arrival this Christmas.  (We already know he’s coming, but don’t tell anybody!)


We’re sort of “hard core” about Advent at our house. We use these activities as a way to resist the commercialism of the season. 

  1. We might prepare a batch or two of Christmas cookies during Advent, but we wait until Christmas to eat them. 
  2. We try not to listen to Christmas carols until very near Christmas.  Would you expect people to sing “Happy Birthday” to you a month or more before your birthday?  We try to wait to put up the Christmas tree for the same reason, waiting until just a week or so before Christmas.  Once Christmas comes, however, we will celebrate the full 12 Days of Christmas, all the way to January 6th.  Only then, the tree comes down.
  3. Some ways to prepare for Jesus’ coming are to write Christmas cards, shop for gifts for loved ones, do the baking (but not the eating), and get all the Christmas decorations ready.  (But don’t put them up!)
  4. Special daily Advent devotions are good to do.  When the kids were small, we would light candles in a Yule log or in an Advent wreath, and read bible devotions before dinner.  This is how we prepare our hearts for the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas day.  My “kids” still talk about this on occasion.

The result of doing all this stuff is that we redirect our attention to the “reason for the season”, Jesus.  In recent years we have gone a little soft on some this.  The tree and a few decorations go up mid-December. But the message is still clear—Christmas should be more about Jesus than going to Walmart!  These might seem strict, but they keep our hearts focused on the true meaning of the season.


JEREMIAH 33:14-16


As you may recall, chapters 30-33 of Jeremiah are called the “consolation chapters” of his great work.  The rest of Jeremiah is full of turmoil.  But this section of his prophecy offers a glimmer of hope; a little relief from all that tension and strife. 

God’s people have been behaving badly.  They now find themselves in exile in Babylon.  It seems doubtful that they will ever return to the Promised Land.  But here is a message of hope from God.


  • God makes a promise that He still intends to keep—He will fulfill his earlier promise that the Davidic line would  last forever.  (vv. 12-15a)
  • The new king will not be like those old, wicked kings that came after Solomon. This new king will be fair to all and do what is right in God’s eyes.  That’s justice and righteousness.  (vv. 15b-16)


Isaiah 11:1 states that “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.“  In today’s passage, Jeremiah basically gives the same message.  The seemingly dead royal line of David will sprout a new and righteous branch. 

As Christians, we know that Jesus is the fulfillment of this scripture.



Paul was in Athens, preaching the Gospel message to the Greeks there.  With him, of course were his helpers Silas and Timothy.  Paul became concerned about the wellbeing of the church in Thessalonica, and sent Timothy there.  When Timothy returned, he had some good news and some bad news.  They were rich in faith and love, but they lacked the hope in the resurrection.  Paul writes this letter to help correct the problem.


  • Paul is full of joy and thanksgiving for them.  He longs to see them face to face, so that he can works on the areas that are lacking in their faith.  (vv. 9-11)
  • The remaining verses in today’s passage are a blessing and prayer of hope to the Thessalonians, that they might “abound in love for one another and for all”, and strengthen their hearts.  It ends with a reminder of Jesus’ return, which is intended to be the incentive for the encouragement for holiness.  He has already discussed Jesus’ return in chapter 2.  In these verses, he includes a prayer that they remain strong and blameless as they wait for Jesus’ return.  (vv. 12-13)


The church in Thessalonica was full of love and faith. They expected Jesus’ return to be at any moment.  When it did not happen as soon as expected, they became concerned and discouraged. Paul encourages us to grow in faith as we keep waiting and watching, not losing hope for his return. 

LUKE 21:25-36


Two weeks ago, we looked at a passage from Mark, in which Jesus was talking about the “end times”.  We called it “Mark’s Apocalypse”.  As you may recall, apocalyptic writing is a distinctive writing style that is found in many places in our bible.  The Roman Catholic bible contains some additional Old Testament writings.  In fact, there are many other writings from this time that were written in this apocalyptic style.  These are not part of our bible, but they do exist.  All of these are that same writing style, which are a lot like our book of Revelation.  The symbolism is confusing at times, but the message is always the same—  we should keep the faith, because God is in control.  Today’s gospel lesson has Jesus speaks in the apocalyptic style.  He’s talking about the end times; about the time when he will return.  It’s a good Advent message. 


  • Jesus tells us that there will be signs in the heavens that indicate that the end is near.  There will be confusion, fear, and foreboding.  We Christians should not be afraid, but stand up and raise our hands in praise, because our redemption is about to occur.  (vv. 25-28)
  • Next, he gives us a parable which is intended to give us some sort of sign that the end is near.  Throughout the generations, many theologians have interpreted this parable to fit their time, and were wrong.  Surprisingly, Jesus even states that that the current generation would not pass away before the end took place.  We all know that this did not occur.  In Mark 13:32 Jesus states that only the Father knows the timing, not even Jesus knows. (vv. 29-32)
  • One thing is certain—predictions may come and go, but Jesus’ words stand.  (v. 33)
  • In conclusion, Jesus gives us some Advent advice.  We should be on our toes, spiritually speaking.  We are to wait, watch, and be prepared for his return.  It will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  (vv. 34-36)


So, let us cleanse and prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Day. 


For November 21, 2021


This Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year.  It is on this day that we turn our thoughts and minds to the concept of Jesus being our King.  Today’s readings will cause us to reflect on different aspects of this idea.  Combined, they help us to envision and understand the full meaning of this concept.


DANIEL 7:9-10, 13-14


Up to this point, the book of Daniel has been about stories of men who were strong in their faith. The book takes a turn in the seventh chapter.  It takes the apocalyptic form.  This is a dramatic, highly symbolic style of writing.  Some of the symbolic references we understand, and others are lost in antiquity.  But the message is clear, as we will see below.


  • Daniel is experiencing a vision or heavenly dream.  He is allowed a glimpse of God, the “Ancient One”, on his heavenly throne. When you see something that is indescribable, you try to explain it using things that you are familiar with. God’s clothing was “white as snow”. This is remarkable back then, because they did not have chlorine bleach.  Pure white clothing was either rare or non-existent.  His hair was white, “like pure wool”.  Since the average age back then was about 40 years old, I wonder how many white-haired people there were.  His throne was on wheels, and appeared to be on fire.  Fire was issuing forth from His presence!  Revelation 4 gives us a similar description.  (vv. 9-10a)
  • There were “a thousand-thousand” serving Him, and even more attending Him.  You can do the math, if you like.  Those serving total a million, and the attendants equal 100 million.  But I don’t think Daniel counted them all, or was given an attendance report.  He’s just trying to explain that there were a lot of people there!  (vv. 10b-11a)
  • Now we come to the “why are we here?” statement.  This is a court of law, and the books were opened.  (v. 11b)
  • Next, Daniel sees someone “like a human being” descend from the clouds, and go before the Ancient One.  Some translations use “Son of Man” for “human being”.  In the Old Testament, they are interchangeable terms.  In the New Testament, the Son of Man is very specific. (v. 13)
  • The Ancient One gives the human being “dominion and glory and kingship” over all peoples and for all time.  (v. 14)


Have you ever been to a large sports stadium or concert hall that was packed with people?  Some of the newer baseball stadiums can hold about 100,000 people. Imagine ten times that amount of people.  That’s the amount of people in the first group of Daniel’s vision. Yet, this is only a fraction of the number of Christians who are living in this world today, let alone those who passed before us.  No, Daniel was not exaggerating.  If anything, he was understating the number of people before God’s throne. 

What did this vision mean to the people of Daniel’s day?  It gave them the hope and reassurance that God was their king.  God was in control, even though at the time it seemed like God was nowhere in sight.  Their hope was that God was still involved, and would restore the promised kingdom of David. 

What should this vision say to us?  We should hear the same message of hope and reassurance.  In spite of global warming, nations fighting nations, world hunger and poverty, and scary or inept world leaders, God is in control.  God is not only on his divine, fiery throne, but He has given us His son, to be our king forever.  God’s got this!



These are some of the beginning lines of John’s revelation; the message from God to comfort and strengthen the believers under John’s care in Asia Minor.  They are called the “seven churches” here.  There may have been more then seven, but they are grouped together for the sake of John’s writing.  Instead of doing the detail verse-by-verse, I’m going to approach it phrase-by-phrase.


  • Jesus is “the one who is and who is to come”.  He is living now, and will come again.
  • Jesus is “the faithful witness”.  He was sent from heaven to preach, teach, and die for us. He was faithful to his duty.
  • Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead”.  He was the first human to have eternal life.  Now, because of him, we too, receive this special gift.
  • He “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood” on the cross.
  • Jesus “made us to be a kingdom, priests” to serve him and the Father”.  Yes, we are all priests.  We’re just going to have to own that, and live up to it. 
  • We all proclaim “to him be the glory and dominion forever and ever”.  We praise him and claim him as our king, when we say these words.
  • Hey, “Look! He is coming with the clouds”.  Look at verse 13 from our reading in Daniel. 
  • Every eye will see” this, even those who killed him.  No wonder that “all of the earth  will wail.”  When Jesus takes his judgement seat, heads are gonna roll! 
  • So it is to be!”  You can’t change it!
  • Jesus is the “Alpha and Omega”; the beginning and the end (of the Greek alphabet).  He was there at the beginning, and he’ll see this through to the end. 


The word “dominion” has popped up both here and in the first reading from Daniel.  The word has two meanings.  First, it is the power and authority that a ruler has over his people. But it also refers to the country or land he has power over.  So, a king has dominion over the people of his dominion. 

Jesus has been given the power to be our king, and his dominion is the whole world.  Thanks be to God!

JOHN 18:33-37


In today’s gospel, we find ourselves with Jesus before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate was a prefect, or governor of the province of Judea.  He was the Roman Emperor Tiberias’ representative in Judea.  His main tasks were to collect taxes and keep the peace.  The Jews have brought Jesus before Pilate, with accusations of claiming to be a rival king.  They are inciting a riot, which is why Pilate is forced to intervene.


  • Pilate gets right to the point—“Are you the King of the Jews? (v.33)
  • Jesus is not at all intimidated by the power that Pilate has.  He is a little “mouthy”, and asks “Is this your idea, or someone else’s?” (v. 34)
  • Pilate doesn’t take it as insubordination, but dishes it right back.  It’s not really his fight, because he’s not Jewish.  He asks Jesus what he has done.  (v. 35)
  • Jesus ignores this question, and answers the first one.  His kingdom “is not of this world”.  (v. 36)
  • Pilate says/asks “So, you are king?”  You could say that he has declared Jesus a king with his own lips.  (v. 37) 
  • That’s how Jesus takes it!  In effect, Jesus says “so you say!”  Then comes the jewel of this passage.  “For this I was born… to testify to the truth.”  (v. 38a)
  • This sentence is for us—“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  In other words, if we listen to his message, we are part of his kingdom.  (v. 38b)


Much of Jesus’ teachings were to help us understand the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is a community without borders or barriers. It is everyone who loves God, and shows it by loving one another.  This is the kingdom that Jesus is the king of.  You and I are part of this kingdom!


We are blessed to live in a land that has never been ruled by a king.  (At least if you don’t count our colonial years.)  So, for nearly 250 years, we have not had any experience with answering to a king.  This is a good thing, of course, but it hinders our understanding the full meaning of the kingship of Jesus.  Here are a few points to consider about kings:

  1. They rule for life. 
  2. You never get to choose your king; they are given that position by birthright.
  3. A king’s decrees are absolute.  There’s no debate.  What he says, goes!
  4. When you are called to fight in the army, you fight for king and country (in that order).
  5. If the king passes by, even if you’re working in the field, you stop and bow to the king.
  6. One of the king’s duties is to act as the supreme court.  When he sits on the throne, he hears cases, and passes judgement. No appeals may be considered.

Nowadays, we like to think of Jesus as our brother.  We sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.  We sing beautiful songs about walking alone in a garden, and “Jesus walks with us, and talks with us”.  This is all very good, of course.  But we must also remind ourselves that Jesus is all powerful. He will come to judge the living and the dead.  Since we are part of his kingdom, we are expected to dutifully obey his commandments without question.  You know. The commandments he gave us, like:

  1. Do not judge others, and you won’t be judged.  (That’s his job, not ours!)
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.  (And everyone is your neighbor.)
  3. Love your enemies.
  4. “Feed my lambs.”
  5. Forgive one another, just like God has forgiven us.
  6. Share from your abundance.  (“If you have two coats…”, remember?)

Yes, Jesus is most certainly our friend and brother.  But he is also our mighty king, sitting at God the Father’s right side.  Let us not only love, honor, and praise him; but let us also remember to respect, glorify and obey him as our king.

For November 14, 2021


For liturgical churches such as ours, the church year begins four Sundays before Christmas.  This year, the new church year will begin on November 28th.  There are only two Sundays between now and then!  Since we’re coming to the end of the church calendar, it is fitting for us to consider eschatological matters.  (That’s a fancy word meaning the “end times”.)  This week, I will answer all your “end time” questions exactly the way that Jesus did in today’s Gospel lesson.  But first, let’s look at the other readings.


DANIEL 12:1-3


Contemporary theologians date the time of this writing around 198-164 BC, rather than at the time of the historical prophet Daniel existed. During this time, the Greeks had conquered Palestine.  Under their ruler, Antiochus III Epiphanes, there was intense pressure for the Jews to abandon their faith and culture, and embrace all things Greek.  Most Jews resisted, and underwent much oppression, including torture and death.  God always speaks to his people in need, and this time was no exception.  God sends a much-needed message of hope to the faithful.  We join the narrative towards the end of the story.


  • After the period of strife just described in the previous chapters, the archangel Michael rises up to take control.  The archangel Michael was considered to be the guardian angel of the Jews.  Here, he is given the title of “prince”, to indicate that he will lead God’s people to victory over their oppressors. (v. 1a)
  • Daniel says that it is not going to be easy.  But in the end, they shall be delivered—at least those written in “the book”. We’ll talk about the book in the takeaway. (v. 1b&c)
  • The passage then turns to a resurrection scene.  “Many” will rise from the dead and be judged.  Some to eternal life, and some to eternal death. No details are given, except for the next verse.  (v. 2)
  • The focus here is on “those who are wise”.  Those who are faithful to God in the face of religious persecution.  It will be a happy ending for those wise in faithfulness to God.  (v. 3) 


The father of a friend of mine was a Chief Petty Officer in the navy.  He carried a little notebook.  If he wrote your name down in that book, it was not a good thing.  This story from the book of Daniel tells us that God also keeps a book of names.  But His book contains the names of the faithful.  This book is mentioned many times in Revelation, especially in chapters 2 & 3.  If you love Jesus, your name is most certainly in this book.

The overall message of this passage is clear.  Bad times come and go. Remain faithful to God. Make sure that your name is in His book, and you will be saved! 



HEBREWS 10:11-14, 19-25


As we have studied in previous weeks, the book of Hebrews was written for Jewish Christians.  It explained how Jesus qualified to be our high priest, how he fits into the divine realm & plan, and what this means for those who believe in him. All this is explained in terms of Jewish terms and practices, since it was written for the Hebrews.  Today’s passage summarizes this whole subject. The book continues on for only three more chapters after this.


The passage can be divided into two parts, as indicated by the two paragraphs.  The first is a summary of what God has done for us through Jesus.  The second is a summary of what we should do in response of what God has first done for us.

  • We’re talking here about the high priests before Jesus, who presented blood offerings to God for the sins of the people. (v. 11)
  • With Jesus’ single offering of his own blood, we are sanctified (“made holy”) for all time.  Having done this, his mission on earth is complete, and he now takes his place at God’s right hand.  (vv. 12-14)
  • “Therefore” is the signal that that part of the discussion is complete, and we are now going to talk about what we should do about it.  Now that Jesus has done all this, we may confidently enter the sanctuary, or Holy of Holies. Before Jesus, only the high priest could enter that room, and then only after he had been spiritually cleansed.  We are cleansed through our baptism, and may enter past the veil, made of stone.  What a change!  (vv. 19-22)
  • We are to hold fast to our faith, just like we are urged in the reading from Daniel.  (v. 23)
  • We should “provoke” one another to do loving acts.  (v. 24)
  • We must gather for worship, keeping in mind that the end may be near.  (v. 25)


Provoking someone to love and do good things.  What an interesting concept!  Other translations use similar words like “stir up”, “spur”, “arouse”, etc., but the message is the same.  We should aggressively encourage each other to be who Jesus wants us to be.  Most importantly, we need to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…” (v. 23a)



MARK 13:1-8


While we were reading other Gospel passages, Mark’s narrative has gone on without us.  In chapter 11, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey amid praises of “Hosanna!”  He has cleaned the temple, and taught using many parables.  After today’s passage, Jesus will speak more of the “end times”.  In fact, Mark 13 is commonly called “Mark’s Little Apocalypse”. Some bibles name the last book of the bible “The Apocalypse” instead of the book of [the] Revelation.


  • Jesus and his disciples are exiting the big temple in Jerusalem, the one that Herod was rebuilding.  The disciples, all country bumpkins from Galilee, are in awe at the enormity of the temple.  (v. 1)
  • Jesus says something shocking.  “Take a good look, guys, cuz it’s all coming down!”  (v. 2)  [Don’s personal translation.]  Jesus was right, of course.  About 35 years later, there was a Jewish revolt.  In retaliation, Rome destroyed the temple.  In fact, all that remains to this day is the wailing wall.
  • Later, on the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples quiz Jesus on this. They want to know when, and what signs will signal the event.  (vv. 3-4)
  • Jesus’ answer is vague, but instructional. 
    • He warns them not to be led astray by false teaching.  Many teachers will claim many things which are not true.  Don’t fall for them!  (vv. 5-6) 
    • He does hint that it is going to be a while, when he says “…this must take place, but the end is still to come.” (v. 7b)
    • He says that lots of bad things will happen first, but they are all just the “birthpangs”.  The "baby's" delivery is yet to come.  (v. 8)



They wanted dates and signs.  Jesus does not give them this as an answer.  How do you think they would have reacted, if he had told them it would be at least 2,000 years?  Actually, he has already told him that only the Father knows the time. Even Jesus doesn’t know the answer! But what is important for them and us is what he teaches us:

  • Be patient and be wise. 
  • Don’t fall for every little teaching about the end times. 
  • Most of them are wrong. 
  • What is important is to have faith and trust in God. 
  • Everything else is simply details.



If you’re as old as me, you’ve heard and read about all sort of predictions about the “end times”.  I used to own a book that used “biblical math” to predict that the second coming would occur on October 16, 1914.  Yes, it was an old book.  I showed this book to some people of that denomination.  They wanted to give me a newer book with newer dates in it.  Maybe Jesus was right.  Maybe they are who Jesus was talking about. 

One of my pastors told me that these details really don’t matter.  What matters is putting our faith and trust in Jesus, and encouraging others to do the same.  Let God do what God does.  Our names will be in the Book of Life.  Nothing else matters.

For November 7, 2021

This is the Sunday that many call All Saints Sunday.  All Saints Day is always on November 1st, or last Monday this year.  It is the day that we remember those believers who have gone before us, especially those saints who influenced our spiritual growth. 

So, who are “saints”? In the early Christian (Roman Catholic) church, those who were martyred for their faith had always been venerated. Beginning in 993, the Pope canonized the first saint.  For Roman Catholics, the “saints” are those models of faith who have been officially canonized by the church fathers.  But St. Paul used this word about 950 years earlier to describe the followers of Jesus.  He opens many of his letters with the words “to all the saints at…”  (See the beginning verses of 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.)  So, long before the church used the term for designated individuals, Paul used it to describe all believers.

The word “saint” in many languages simply means “holy”.  If we believe in Jesus, we are saints.  We are holy.

ISAIAH 25:6-9


It is believed that these words were written to the exiles who were returning to Judah from Babylonian captivity.


  • God is preparing a banquet on a mountaintop for his people.  Only the best will do—good wine and rich food.  It’s party time!  (v. 6)
  • Better yet, He is going to eliminate death forever!  The shroud and sheet are the funeral garments for the deceased.  (v. 7)
  • God will eliminate sorrow and disgrace from His people.  (v. 8)
  • The conclusion is that even though they waited a long time for their salvation, it was worth the wait.  (v. 9) 


Have you ever hosted a party or banquet for a loved one?  Or, have you ever been treated to a party held in your honor?  A party or banquet is a great way to express our love for others.  This is the image that God is presenting to us.  He wants to rejoice in our being free from death.  Let’s party!



Some read the book of Revelation as a foreboding prophecy of the dreadful times to come.  My understanding of this strange book is that it was a word of comfort and assurance from God to Christians suffering for their faith.  The book is full of wild and strange imagery, but the point is clearly made— Evil has it’s day, but in the end, God destroys evil.  Today’s bible passage comes from the conclusion of this story.  In this reading, John has had a vision of the total destruction of evil.  This is the happy ending.


  • John sees a completely new creation—a new heaven and earth.  To Jewish Christians of the time, the sea represented (and contained) evil things. That is why there is no sea in God’s new creation.  (v. 1)
  • Flowing down from God is the New Jerusalem.  The early church was considered the “New Jerusalem”.  This church-city is a bride, all dressed up for her “husband” Jesus. The image is not a new one.  But let’s think about it.  Back then, marriage was a little different than today.  It was less about romance than duty and responsibility.  Husbands were to love, protect, and provide for their wives.  Wives were to love, serve, and obey their husbands.  (See Ephesians 5:22-32 for a perfect example.) Jesus provided for our well-being when he died on the cross for us.  We are now to serve him, and obey his commandments.  (v. 2)
  • God then speaks from the throne.  He declares that he will live among us.  He will wipe away our tears, and death will be no more.  Sounds like the passage from Isaiah,  Maybe it is at this time that God will finally enact his vision.  (v. 3)
  • He tells John to write this down, because His words are trustworthy and true.  He says that he is the Alpha and Omega.  These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  In English, we should say that God said that he is A to Z!  The beginning and end.  (v. 6a)
  • For those who thirst, spiritually, God provides the water of life.  (v. 6b)


The meaning of this passage is the same for me as it was for those first-century Christians.  Crazy politicians may appear to be taking us and our nation to the brink of destruction.  But God is real, and God has a plan.  In the end, He will set things straight, and make things new and good again.  Best of all, there will be no more tears.  No more sorrow.  No more death.  A happy ending is headed our way!

JOHN 11:1-44 


The lectionary has chosen only the last part of this long story, the resurrection of Lazarus, verses 32-44.  The whole story is too long to read in church on Sunday.  But we’ll look at the whole story, to gain a better understanding of everything that goes on here.

Prior to this story, Jesus and his disciples have travelled to the other side of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist had done much of his work.  They were way out in the boondocks. 


  • Jesus is good friends with Lazarus and his sisters.  Lazarus is ill, and the sisters send word of this to Jesus.  (vv. 1-3)
  • Jesus does not go there right away.  Instead, he stays two days longer!  Verse 4b hints at the reason.  (vv. 4-6)
  • After intentionally dragging his feet, he tells the disciples they’re going to Bethany. They are surprised that he would want to go to a place where they want to kill him.  But Jesus is resolute—he is on a mission.  (vv. 7-10)
  • Next, Jesus uses a euphemism to describe Lazarus’ condition.  The disciples misunderstand.  Jesus makes it clear that he knows that Lazarus is dead.  Another hint to his motives appears in verse 15.  Our Thomas is his typical self, making strange comments. (vv 11-16)
  • Jesus arrives four days after Lazarus’ death.  Martha comes to greet him.  Was there frustration or anger in her voice in verse 21?  (vv. 17-21)
  • They discuss the resurrection of the body.  Jesus makes a key statement in verse 25.  Martha puts her faith and trust in him.  (vv. 22-27)
  • Martha runs home to fetch Mary, while Jesus and his retinue are still on their way there. In verse 32, Mary tells Jesus the same thing that Martha said earlier.  Again—was there frustration or anger?  (vv. 28-32)
  • Jesus is moved by the intense emotion of the situation.  Mary weeps.  Jesus weeps. Onlookers are astonished, and offer criticism.  (vv. 33-37)
  • Jesus orders the stone of the tomb rolled away, in spite of the fact that Lazarus died four days ago. (vv. 38-39)
  • Jesus tells Martha to expect the glory of God.  Jesus prays aloud for all to hear.  His purpose is clear in verse 42b.  (vv. 40-42)
  • Jesus speaks, and Lazarus staggers from the tomb.  Jesus orders the onlookers to care for him.  (vv. 43-44)


I have some questions that I’ve been pondering about this text.  I’ll share them with you, and share my answers, too.  Normally, my writing is built upon the writings of good Lutheran theologians.  In this case, I’m using my own logic, so take that for what it’s worth.

Why did Jesus dilly-dally, and not rush to Lazarus’ bedside?  I believe that Lazarus’ resurrection was part of God’s plan to demonstrate Jesus’ divine power.  Even Martha thought that reviving Lazarus after four days was unthinkable.

Were Martha and Mary angry with Jesus?  Maybe.  They were at least frustrated and confused.  They clearly sent word in time for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus.  But Jesus took his time.  Wouldn’t you be angry?

Why did Jesus cry at the tomb?  Was it in sympathy for Mary and Martha?  Did he miss Lazarus?  But he knew what he was going to do—bring him back to life.  Maybe he was sad for Lazarus.  Jesus would have known that Lazarus was in a much better place. Jesus was about to yank him back to Bethany, and out of Paradise.  Jesus loved Lazarus.  Maybe he was sad for what he was going to put Lazarus through.

Then, why did Jesus do this?  Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, and never return.  It is time for him to make it crystal clear to all that he is the Son of God.  Look at these verses:

Verse 4b:  “…rather, it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Verse 15:  “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Verse 26a:  “and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Verse 42b:  “… I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”


Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  By believing in him, we too are saints.  We are holy. We have eternal life.  Thanks be to God! 


For October 31, 2021

NOTE: There are two groups of readings for this Sunday.  There is the regular lectionary readings for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost and there are the readings for October 31st, which is Reformation Day for some Christians. Usually, we do the first of these. This year, we will look at the readings for Reformation Day.  In addition, I am going to change the order, putting the gospel reading second, and the reading from Romans last.

JEREMIAH 31:31-34


The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived about the same timeframe.  Ezekiel was deported to Babylon along with many other Judeans.  Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem, tending to the spiritual needs of those remaining.  If they were alive today, they would be communicating by email and having Zoom meetings on a regular basis.  Back then, however, communication was quite a bit slower.  But remarkably, their message to the people of God was very similar, as we will see.  After all, they were both God’s spokesmen; the source of the message was the same. Today’s passage from Jeremiah comes from his “Book of Consolation” that we discussed last week.  It is a message of hope and renewal. 


  • Jeremiah assures the people in exile, both from Israel and Judah, that better days are coming.  God will make a new covenant with his people.  It won’t be like the old covenant.  They broke that one many, many times.  Time for something new. (vv. 31-32)
  • This new covenant won’t just be written down in a temple somewhere, it will be written on the hearts of the people.  There will be an intimate relationship between God and his people. (v. 33)
  • We won’t have to learn things about God anymore, because all of us will know it all!  (vv. 34-35a)
  • Best of all, God will not only forgive our sins, but He will forget all about them.  (v. 35b)


The word “covenant” and “testament” mean the same thing. It is easy to conclude that God’s “New Covenant (Testament)” is realized in the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus.  Is this what it meant to Jeremiah’s listeners, or did it mean something else to them?  The short answers are no and yes.  Can it be both?  Maybe!


The people of Jeremiah’s time had troubles of their own.  Jerusalem and it’s society was ripped apart by foreign pagans.  It was a time of desperation and hopelessness.  God had not yet put forth the idea of a Messiah. Instead, Jeremiah’s message from God was that God wanted to have a close-knit relationship with them.  God was not interested in worship, at least when it was not from the heart.  Ezekiel 36:24-28 gives the people under Ezekiel’s care the same message.  God wants an intimate, loving relationship.  The message is the same in that passage and this one—Israel and Judah will be restored one day.  When they are, God’s law will be written on everyone’s hearts. Sins will be forgiven and forgotten.


Centuries later, God sent His only son to walk the earth with us.   Jesus taught us his Father’s will, when he spoke his Sermon on the Mount, and when he taught us parables about the kingdom of God.  Then, he died for our sins.  So, the life of God’s son was the final chapter in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah most certainly did not know that part of the story.  But he most certainly knew the hope and promise that God gave his people in captivity.


It is one thing to forgive someone for what they have done.  It is quite another to forever forget about it.  God promises to both forgive our sins and forget them!  We receive this free gift because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Now, we must not only forgive those who wrong us, but forget about it as well. 


JOHN 8:31-36


Today’s reading comes from the gospel of John. At this point in the story, Jesus had been gathering disciples, and teaching those around him.  Teaching and clarifying God’s will for the people was one of Jesus’ main missions.  For the most part, Jesus taught to the Jews.  Jesus and the twelve apostles were Jews.  He did, of course, occasionally reach out to the Gentiles, but most of his ministry was to his fellow Jews.  In the gospels, “the Jews” often refers to those who resisted or challenged him. In today’s reading, however, it refers to some followers of Jesus.


  • Jesus makes a statement to start a discussion.  He is teaching “the Jews who had believed in him”.  This could have been the twelve apostles or others.  John does not specify.  It doesn’t matter, so he leaves that out.  John was like that.  (See John 21:25.)  Jesus tells them that if they “continue in his word, they will be free”.  (vv. 31-32)
  • The disciples immediately think that Jesus is talking about slavery (which he is, sort of).  Slavery was commonplace at that time; about 40% of the population were slaves.  The disciples state that they have never been slaves, since they are the descendants of Abraham.  I guess they forgot about Egypt and that the Romans had conquered them.  (v. 33)
  • Next, Jesus drives his point home.  We are all slaves—to sin.  But the good news is that if we “continue in his word” (from verse 32), we are set free from the slavery of sin. (vv. 34-36)


For those of us who love and follow Jesus, we are freed of the sin that enslaves us.  We are truly free to be Children of God!



ROMANS 3:19-28

I am also going to change the order on this reading from Romans.  There is a lot of nitty-gritty detail in this passage.  If you don’t want to wade into the “deep water”, you can just go to The Takeaway.  I’ll put the detailed explanation after the takeaway, for those who want to take a deeper dive.


I like to read the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans as one big unit.  You could skip the greeting, and begin with 1:16.  Keep in mind that the church in Rome was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  One thing I like to do is substitute two words for words in the text.  When Paul says “Jews”, I substitute my church denomination.  When he says “Greeks”, I substitute another denomination.  This makes it more real; and it is closer to what Paul was trying to say.

Anyway, in the first three chapters of Romans, Paul presents a panoramic view of the sinfulness of mankind.  He starts with pagan idol worship, but slowly turns the gun around, aiming squarely at the Jews and Greeks.   There’s no escaping it—we are all a sorry, sinful lot.


Verses 23 and 24 are at the heart of this passage. Paul makes his two main points:

  1. Everyone has sinned, and do not measure up to God’s expectations.
  2. For those who have faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven*.

This gift of forgiveness is free to those who have faith in Jesus.  Later in Paul’s letter, he uses the phrase “free gift” often.  (5:15, 5:16, 5:17, 6:23)  All you need to “do” to claim your free gift is to believe in Jesus!

* The word “justification” in this context is a legal term.  When someone was accused of a crime, and was in court, they could explain why they did what they did.  If the judge believed that their actions were acceptable, he would claim that the defendant was “justified”, and the charges would be dropped.


  • When Paul talks about “the law”, he referring to Jewish law.  You know, like the 10 commandments, and all the detailed laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  Paul states here (and elsewhere) that the law is there to make us accountable—accountable to the point that we shut our mouths in guilt. (vv. 19-20)
  • Paul now sets the law aside, and talks about what God has done for us (God’s righteousness).  In fact, all the prophets were like weathervanes, pointing to this righteous act. (v. 21)
  • The righteous act that we are talking about is the gift of God’s own son, for all who believe.  (v. 22)
  • Paul reminds us what he has just told us in the previous chapters—we have all sinned. Everyone.  (v. 23)
  •  The Good News is that by God’s grace, our actions have been “justified”/forgiven. It is God’s action that does this. It is a gift.  (v. 24)
  • During Paul’s time, and earlier, the high priest would make a blood sacrifice for the peoples’ sins.  God himself made a blood sacrifice of his son’s blood for our sin.  We, too, receive this atonement through faith. (v. 25)
  • God did this to show that He is a righteous God.  He loves us so much that He did this for us.  (v. 26)
  • So, what have you got to brag about?  Can you brag that you are a Jew, or a Greek, or a Baptist or a Lutheran? Can we brag about being good or doing good deeds?  Paul emphatically says “NO!”  God has all the bragging rights.  (v. 27)
  • Salvation comes not from keeping God’s rules, but by living our lives in faith. It is a free gift from our Father in heaven.  (v. 28)


For October 24, 2021



Jeremiah lived about 115 after Isaiah’s time.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians about 100 years before Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet.  Now, Judah has fallen to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah’s first prophecies shout out a dire warning to Judah and Jerusalem.  They go unheeded.  Judah falls. Many are sent into exile in Babylon. There is despair and heartache. It seems likely that this trip to Babylon is a one-way ticket.  The People of God are expected to slowly fade away into Babylonian culture, never to return to the Promised Land. 

But wait!  God sends Jeremiah a glimmer of hope!  Chapters 30-31 of Jeremiah’s prophecies are called the “Book of Consolation”.  They give hope to God’s people in exile.  Let’s see what God has to say to his people.


  • The Lord says (through Jeremiah) that the people should sing, praise, and shout for joy. They are to pray for God to save His people.  Not only for Judah in Babylon, but also the “remnant” of Israel, the Northern Kingdom.  (v. 7)
  • God promises to gather up His scattered people from the “farthest parts of the earth”, and bring them home.  He’s not just talking the big-shot movers and shakers, but all of society, including the blind, the lame, and even those in labor.  The image of a woman in labor also conjures up the thought of rebirth, doesn’t it?  (v. 8)
  • There will be tears of joy along the journey.  The journey will be easy, and with refreshing water to be had along the way.  He loves not only Judah, but calls Israel his firstborn. (v. 9)


If you have shopped in a fabric store, you know what a remnant is.  For those who haven’t, I’ll explain.  A fabric store buys many large bolts of cloth.  A bolt of cloth has between 40 and 100 yards of fabric on it. That’s a lot of fabric!  People come in over time, and buy up lengths of the fabric.  Sometimes it’s only a yard.  Sometimes it’s 5 or more yards.  Eventually, the bolt of cloth dwindles down to a length that is too short for most projects.  The fabric shop could throw it away.  But instead, they measure it off, fold it up, mark the price down, and put it on the remnant table.  This table is full of scraps of good cloth, but not much good for most projects. 

God calls his people Israel a remnant.  God loves this remnant, and has something planned for them.  They are not a discarded, marked down scrap; they are precious to God.

No matter what discouraging, disheartening things might come our way, we can rest assured in the knowledge that we are precious to God.  He has a plan for us.  


What is God’s plan for you?



HEBREWS 7:23-28


Last week, we studied about how Jesus is our high pPriest.  The writer made it clear how Jesus qualifies for this title.  Now, we will learn why Jesus is so much better than all the high priests who came before him.


  • One problem with the high priests before Jesus was that they were mortal.  They all died.  So, there were a lot of them.  But now, Jesus holds the position permanently, because he lives in heaven! (vv. 23-24)
  • This is good news for us, because Jesus is right there at God’s right hand.  He can make intercession for all of us.  And he can do this 24/7!  (v. 25)
  • This is the best kind of high priest to have!  One that is holy and undefiled (without sin), and up in heaven, rather than in a temple on earth.  (v. 26)
  • Other high priests were human, so they had to purify themselves by sacrificing for their sins first, and then for the people.  And they had to do this day after day.  In the case of Jesus, though, 
    1. He is sinless, so he does not need to purify himself.
    2. He only needed to sacrifice himself once, for all, when he offered himself on the cross for our sins.  (v. 27)
  • In the end, we get a high priest who is appointed by God—His Son, who is our high priest forever. (v. 28)


This passage tells me that my brother Jesus “has God’s ear”.  When I sin, and ask forgiveness, Jesus speaks to God on my behalf.  If I have a prayer request, and offer it to the Lord, Jesus puts in a good word for me.  If Jesus is on my side, I have a direct line of communication with God.  I don’t need any further help in getting my prayers answered.

Furthermore, I know that Jesus’ death on the cross takes away my sins once and for all.  Once for everyone!


MARK 10:46-52


The tenth chapter of Mark is the end of Jesus’ teaching, and healing on the road.  His traveling days are over.  Beginning in chapter 11, he heads for Jerusalem.  There, he will teach, be challenged, betrayed, and die.


  • So, they came to Jericho.  Apparently, according to Mark, nothing eventful happened until they left.  On the way out, a blind beggar was sitting by the roadside.  (v. 46)
  • When he hears who was passing by, he becomes very vocal.  He calls Jesus “Son of David”, and asks for his mercy.  Many tried to shut him up, but that only made it worse! (vv. 47-48)
  • Jesus calls for him, and he springs into action.  Jesus asks him what he wants.  (vv. 49-51a)
  • The blind man calls Jesus “my teacher”.  He asks Jesus to restore his sight.  (v. 51b)
  • All Jesus does is speak, and the man’s sight is restored!  Jesus says “your faith has made you well.”  (v. 52a)
  • What does the blind man do?  He follows Jesus on “the way”.  (v. 52b)


“The Way” is what the early Christians called having in Jesus as the Messiah.  Throughout Mark’s gospel, the disciples don’t seem to get what Jesus is all about.  But oddly enough, this blind beggar sees things clearly.  Consider this about the beggar and us:

  1. He was a beggar |  We are all too often helpless beggars, spiritually speaking.
  2. He was blind  | We are blinded by our sin.
  3. He was healed by Jesus  | We are healed by Jesus.
  4. He gained new sight  |  Spiritually, Jesus gives us new sight.
  5. He followed Jesus, because of what Jesus did for him |  We, too, follow Jesus because he died on the cross for us. 

Faith is believing in the unseen.  By having faith in Jesus we receive the gift of eternal life.  Faith in Jesus “makes us well”, too.

For October 17, 2021

ISAIAH 53:4-12


On September 12th of this year, we studied the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”, as they are called.  To refresh your memory, I have copied the background paragraphs from that study below.

The year is ca. 550 BC. The People of God are in exile in Babylon.  Isaiah writes to encourage God’s people to be strong in the face of trials.  A “Servant of Yahweh” appears in Isaiah’s writings. Four “songs” are written. 

Song Isaiah Theme
1 42:1-6 He will bring justice to the nations
2 49:1-6 I make you a light to the nations
3 50:4-9 My back to those who beat me
4 52:13-53:12 Bruised for our iniquities

This servant is never identified by Isaiah.  Biblical scholars have debated hotly as to who this might be.  Several answers are possible.  But let’s look at the bible passage for today, and leave the “who” for later.  T

This week, we look at the fourth of these songs. 


Rather than follow our usual format, I am going to focus on some key phrases.  This song was written about this unnamed “suffering servant”. I will refer to him as “the servant” here.  At the end, we will discuss who this might be.

  1. Phrases like “borne our infirmities”, “carried our diseases”, “wounded for our transgressions” indicate that the servant has shouldered the burdens of many.  The servant takes them willingly, and silently.  Verse 10 states that his life will be an offering for sin. 
  2. His death is a “perversion of justice”.  He stands silently before his accuser. 
  3. In the end, he gets his reward.  He “divides the spoil with the strong”, and the Lord will allot him a portion with the great.
  4. He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.


It did not take long for Jesus’ disciples to recognize how closely this sounded Jesus.  It helped them to see God’s master plan, which was carried out by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

So now, we must ask ourselves “Was Isaiah writing about Jesus or not?”

At this point, we need to get into a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” discussion.

First, the chicken.  Some say that Isaiah was a prophet, and he was writing this prophecy about the coming Messiah.  He was prophesizing about Jesus.  It certainly sounds like Jesus.  End of story. But not so fast.  Isaiah wrote these words about 550 years before Jesus was born.  Isaiah certainly knew nothing about Jesus.  So, did he write down something he did not understand?  Just as importantly, what would compel the people of God to preserve these words for over 500 years, if they did not make sense to them? Imagine if Billy Graham had a vision from God, and he wrote it into a book.  He tells us that it doesn’t make sense now, but we should keep reading it. In 500 years it will make sense to those people, but not to you.  Do you think that we would carefully preserve that writing for 500 years?  I don’t think so. 

Now, the egg.  God talks to people in need.  In Isaiah’s time, the people were in exile in Babylon.  People suffered.  God gave them inspiration through Isaiah.  Later on, more than once, the people of God suffered for their faith. Isaiah’s words would be a source of strength to those suffering for their faith.  Jesus most certainly was familiar with these writings of Isaiah.  Through Isaiah, God revealed the redemptive quality of silent suffering servitude.  This was a new concept for his chosen people.  God the Father gave these words to Isaiah because He believes them to be the way we should all behave in the face of adversity, especially when our faith is challenged.  It only makes sense that Jesus would behave in this most godly way.  Were these words written about Jesus?  Yes.  But they are also written for our instruction.  If we all behaved like this, the world would be a much different place, wouldn’t it?


Since we are children of God, we are called to act like Jesus in the world we live in.  Are we prepared to be a Suffering Servant, too?


HEBREWS 5:1-10


The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians.  It explains the meaning of Jesus’ life within a Jewish context.  Understanding two things will help us to understand this passage better.

A high priest intercedes for the people to God for the atonement of their sins.  He does this once a year on Yom Kippur.  There is only one high priest, and atonement is only given once per year.  Also, there were at least two requirements to become a Jewish priest.  First, one must be borne of the house of Levi.  Second, one must belong to the priestly guild.  Not all Levites were priests, but all priests were Levites.


  • The first part of today’s passage provides us a good description of the duties of a high priest. (vv. 1-4)
  • Jesus has already been called our high priest in Hebrews four times, by the time we get to today’s reading.  We are told that God appointed him our high priest, when He said “Your are my Son, today I have begotten you”. This sounds like what God said at Jesus’ baptism and at his transfiguration, sort of. But this is also a direct quote from Psalm 2:7.  Next the writer of Hebrews quotes God as saying “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”  This is a quote from Psalms 110:4.  I’ll explain this in the takeaway.
  • Being our high priest, he offered prayers to his Father for us.  The most detailed account of this is found in John 17, which we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.  (v. 7)
  • Jesus obeyed the Father, and suffered for our sake.  (v. 8)
  • We are to obey the Son, receiving eternal life in doing so. (v. 9)
  • Jesus has the authority to do all this, because his is our high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.  (v. 10)


Jesus was from the house of Benjamin, like King David.  He was not a Levite.  Because he was not a Levite, he could not belong to the priestly guild.  I imagine that when the writer of Hebrews called Jesus our high priest, many were saying “Now just you hold on there!  How is this possible?  He doesn’t meet the two basic requirements!”  Verses 4-10 are the answer to this question: 

  1. God claimed Jesus as his own at his baptism and transfiguration.
  2. God called Jesus our high priest forever, by the order of Melchizedek. 

So who was this Melchizedek dude?  Genesis 14:17-20 holds the answer.  Long before Moses, Aaron and the Levites, Abram went to the holy city of Salem (not the one near Raleigh, NC).  The king of Salem was also a high priest in that holy city.  His name was Melchizedek.  He blessed Abram.  Abram then gave him a tenth of his possessions as benevolence for the blessing. Since God called Jesus to the priesthood by the order of Melchizedek, He sort of cancelled out the other requirements, I guess. 

Jesus’ obedience to the will of his Father perfected him, so that he could serve to be our Lord.  He demonstrated this obedience and perfection in living as a model of the godly life.  (This model is spelled out in today’s reading from Isaiah.)  Jesus  did an awesome job of living his life to this model.  As children of God, we are called to do likewise.

MARK 10:35-45


All through Mark’s gospel, the disciples don’t seem to get it.  At times, they actually act a little stupid.  Today’s lesson is a classic example of this.  It is also a classic example of Jesus love and patience with these two obnoxious disciples.


  • James and John are brothers.  They must have been trouble, because Jesus called them “the sons of thunder”.  They approach Jesus and ask a bold question. (v. 35)
  • Jesus says “Yeah, what do you want?”  [In my version] In this version, he also is thinking “This ought to be good.” (v. 36)
  • They have the audacity to ask Jesus for the two highest power positions, when Jesus is “in his glory”.  By “glory”, they’re talking about when Jesus is the Messiah-king, after they boot the Romans out of Israel.  Sitting to the left and right of the king would be the two top positions in the king’s court.  They really were clueless, weren’t they?  (v. 37)
  • Jesus’ response is amazing.  He is loving and patient, but corrects their thinking.  Keep in mind that he has told them three times that he would suffer and die. Actually, the third time occurs immediately before this passage!  Will they “drink the cup” that he will drink?  Yes, they will indeed.  But who sits where is not up to Jesus, but the Father.  (vv. 38-40)
  • The other ten apostles got upset when they heard about this request.  Wouldn’t you be upset?  But Jesus gathers them all together, and gives them (and us) a God-lesson. He tells them to forget about “who’s on top”, and start fighting to be on the bottom—to be a servant-slave to all. (vv. 41-45)


Being a servant-slave to all is at the heart of what it means to think and act like a child of God.  To love, teach, feed, heal, and give of oneself-- this is what Jesus did.  This is what God wants us all to do. 


James and John clearly did not “get it”.  They were thinking in earthly terms, not divine.  Are we so different?  We want to grab the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life, but balk at being a slave to all and loving our enemies.  Are the details of living a Christian life like a buffet line, or is it a package deal? Can we “pick the cherries”, and skip the tough stuff?  Or, does the cost of discipleship require us to take the whole package?