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For July 9, 2023

ZECHARIAH 9:9-12

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Zechariah was written during the time when God's People were returning to Jerusalem and Judah.  The book falls into two parts.  The first half is prophecy in the form of dream visions. The second half, starting with chapter 9, is an oracle which looks forward to the coming of the messiah.  The people of Zechariah’s time were looking for the Chosen One (the Messiah), who would be their king and restore the dignity of Israel, similar to when David was king.  In Jesus’ time, the people were looking to oust the Romans, and restore a Davidic-style kingdom.

THE DETAILS

  • This sounds like Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  The key words here are “celebrate” and “humble”.  The people did celebrate Jesus’ ride on a donkey, shouting Hosanna, and laying palm branches in his path.  But he is also a humble messiah, riding on a little colt. (v. 9)
  • People expected a warrior messiah who would rescue them from Roman oppression.  I guess the peace would come afterward?  (v. 10)
  • Finally, we are reminded that our covenant with him is sealed with blood.  His sacred blood.  He will rescue us, and give us hope.  (vv. 11-12)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus continues to show us how to behave, even on his way to the cross.  Instead of a warrior king, we got a peaceful messiah who would save our souls from sin and death  Our Savior is humble, meek and mild.  A bringer of peace.  We need to be more like Jesus!
 

ROMANS 7:15-25a

THE BACKGROUND

In previous chapters, Paul has been explaining that we are dead to sin through our baptism; that we receive the free gift of grace and forgiveness from God our Father.  In today’s lesson, he speaks of the inner struggle that exists in each of us. Also, in previous chapters Paul used the pronoun “we”.  Here, he switches to “I”.  We may view this as his personal witness, but also as a pretty good description of ourselves, too.

THE DETAILS

  • When I read those first two paragraphs, I think “Paul, you are a mixed up mess!”  But he speaks for all of us, really.  We know how we should act, but we go ahead and do the other thing instead.   
  • At the end of each paragraph, he says it is the “sin that lives within him” that makes him do these things.  This reminds me of the old comedian Flip Wilson’s expression “The devil made me do it!”  That’s the cheap way out, blaming it on someone other than one’s self.  I don’t think Paul is trying to blame it on the devil; I think he is saying that we are simply born with a sinful nature.  We are drawn to sin like a moth to a flame.
  • Now, Paul talks about The Law.  He’s not talking about just the Ten Commandments, but the whole list of laws.  We love these rules, because they define the framework of how to walk our walk with the Lord.  But by our very nature, we try to bend or break the rules.  (vv. 21-23)
  • We are a mixed up, not just Paul.  We are a miserable mess! (Verse 24a)
  • Who will rescue me…?”  It is Jesus.  Thanks be to God!  (vv. 24b-25)

THE TAKEAWAY

Let’s admit it—we, too, have this struggle going on within us.  We can’t rescue ourselves, we need outside help. Let us thank and praise God for sending Jesus to rescue us from our poor, miserable selves!  Let us confess our sins to him frequently, asking for the forgiveness he has promised, knowing that our sins are forgiven.  
 

MATTHEW 11:16-19, 25-30

THE BACKGROUND

We continue to follow the narrative presented in Matthew.  In the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus (finally) sends out the 12.  Then, he starts preaching, too.  Jesus is frustrated with the people.  Well, at least at the spiritual leaders.  He has performed miracles and preached the good news, only to have it fall on deaf ears. In the omitted verses, 20-24, he even names some cities that he is frustrated with.

THE DETAILS

  • The first two verses are the most puzzling.  First of all, they are a lead-in to verses 18-19a, where he talks about John the Baptist and his very different ministries.  In these later verses, Jesus says
    • John the Baptist comes, living an austere life, and you say he has a demon in him; you reject him.
    • Jesus comes along, and you accuse him of drinking too much, and associating with the wrong crowd.
  • Jesus basically says that these people cannot be pleased.  They don’t like either man of God.  This is why he starts with the curious saying in verse 17.  When he says “when we played the flute, you wouldn’t dance”, he is referring to his joyful ministry, eating and drinking (with sinners).  But the Pharisees “wouldn’t dance”.  When he says “we sang a funeral song, but you would not mourn”, he is referring to John the Baptist call for mourning and  repentance.  They wouldn’t “mourn”, any more than they would “dance”.  (vv. 16-19a)
  • Verse 19b needs some explanation.  In the Old Testament, godly Wisdom was highly treasured.  In some passages, godly Wisdom actually becomes a person, which is why it is capitalized—“Wisdom”.  Jesus is saying that both he and John the Baptist are godly Wisdom, in the flesh.  The people should recognize this, because of their good actions.  In effect, Jesus is saying that actions speak louder than words, yet the people criticize instead of believing.
  • Next, Jesus prays, thanking his Father that he has come for the ordinary people.  Those fancy religious guys are missing the boat.  The ordinary people are more open to his message.  (vv. 25-26)
  • He reminds us that what he teaches us comes from the Father, and the Father wants us to know Jesus.  After all, the Father sent his son to proclaim this message.  (v. 27)
  • Jesus concludes with words of comfort.  The burden is light.  Come to Jesus.  This reminds me of the hymn “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.  Come home!”   ( v. 28)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Let us receive the Good News of Jesus with open hearts.  Let’s come to Jesus, and He will give us rest. He really is gentle and humble. (Remember Zechariah 9:9?)   The yoke is easy, and the burden light. Amen!

For July 2, 2023

JEREMIAH 28:5-9

THE BACKGROUND

The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judah (and Jerusalem), took all the sacred vessels from the temple, and carted off many (not all) into exile in Babylon.  He then set up Zedekiah as the puppet king of Judah. Hananiah was a prophet in Zedekiah’s court who was popular, because he told people what they wanted to hear.  Everybody wanted to join forces with Egypt, to oust Babylon, and win back their independence.  Hananiah prophecies that all this will happen within two years, and they’ll even get their sacred vessels back.  God told Jeremiah that this is wrong, and it was going to be a long time before things are put back in place.  Jeremiah spoke his piece to the king, and was sent away.  But before he went, he told Hananiah what God told him—that Hananiah would be dead within a year.  Guess what happens?  Yep. Within a year, he was a gonner!

THE DETAILS

  • Jeremiah responds to Hananiah’s false prophecy. Basically he says “Hananiah that would be really nice, but I doubt it”.  (vv. 5-6)
  • He reminds Hananiah that in the past, every time Judah made an alliance with other nations, it went badly for Judah.  He’s saying that if a prophet tells you something you want to hear, then you should presume that he’s not telling you the truth. (vv.7-9)
  • After this, Jeremiah is sent away.  His prophecy fell on deaf ears.  In the end, he was right, and everybody else was wrong. 

THE TAKEAWAY

Some things never change.  We have preachers who speak for God, and preachers who tell the people what they want to hear.  Let us pray for discernment, so that we can choose between the two!
 

ROMANS 6:12-23

THE BACKGROUND

This is a continuation of last week’s lesson.  This time, we get an explanation using an analogy.  The analogy Paul uses worked great in his day, but it is less effective today.  He talks about being “slaves” to either sin or to obedience to our Lord.  In Paul’s time, slavery was a normal thing.  It was so commonplace, that people felt that there was nothing wrong with it.  Historians estimate that between 20% and 35% of the population were slaves.  A better analogy might be addiction.  Some are addicted to smoking, some to shopping, drugs, etc.  (I’m addicted to my iPhone.)  Maybe you can think of another analogy that works for you.  But let’s try out the addiction concept. 

 

THE DETAILS

  • The passage begins with a profound statement—“do not let sin rule your life!”  (v. 12)
  • Instead we are to present ourselves to Gods as “instruments of righteousness”.  Righteousness is living our lives as God intended.  (v. 13)
  • And, just in case you missed it in last week’s reading, here it is again.  Just because we know that our sins are forgiven does not mean that we can do anything we want.  Heck no! (vv. 14-15)
  • Using the analogy of addiction, verse 16 might read like this:  “…you are addicted to the one whom you obey, either addiction to sin, which leads to death, or being addicted to obedience to God, which leads to righteousness.”
  • Back in Romans 3:23, Paul told us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  Now, Paul lifts us up onto a pedestal.    We now are no longer addicted to sin; we are addicted to living our lives in right actions (righteousness).  The main thing that Paul is driving at is that since we love and obey God, we no longer walk in sin, but in righteousness.  We no longer are destined to die, but to live in Jesus.  (vv. 17-21)
  • Being sanctified simply means that we are made holy. Through our baptism, we have been made holy.  We should act accordingly!  (v. 22)
  • The summary of this whole discussion comes in the famous verse 23.

THE TAKEAWAY

So, dear friends, let us “walk the walk”.  Let’s reject the temptation to sin.  Instead, let us choose life in Christ Jesus!  This should be our addiction!

 

MATTHEW 10:40-42

THE BACKGROUND

It’s a good time for us to stand back and take a look at this whole area of Matthew’s gospel.  At the end of chapter 9, Jesus realizes that the needs of the people are more than one person can handle.  He decides to take his inner circle of disciples, 12 of them, and send them out to do what he has been doing.  In the process, he gives them full authority and power to heal, revive, and preach.  Most of chapter 10 is devoted to detailed instructions for them, as they go on this mission.  These past weeks, we’ve been studying most of those instructions.  Today’s reading is the last of this instruction.  It is good to know that Matthew wrote down this gospel about 50 years after the fact.  At the time of his writing, many preachers of the gospel travelled from church to church. I’m sure that he had these preachers in mind when writing this, as well as those who welcomed them into their homes.

THE DETAILS

  • In these verses, Jesus sort of knits a chain of communication and care.   If we welcome a teacher of the Good News, it is as if we welcome Jesus himself.  This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-40, where he says if you give a needy person a drink, it is as though we were giving Jesus a drink. 
  • The phrase “in the name of” might be a little confusing.  Try replacing it with “having respect and honor for”.  I don’t think it changes the meaning of Jesus’ words, and it makes more sense.
  • In verse 42 He uses the term “little ones”. Jesus uses this a few times, when referring to his disciples.  I believe he is talking about believers who love God and put their trust in Him as a child would his parent.

THE TAKEAWAY     

Martin Luther said that a Christian is a “little Christ” to their neighbor.  Since we, too are Jesus’ disciples, we are Jesus’ hands and feet to those around us.  We are indeed “little Christs” to those whom we love and care for. 

For June 25, 2023

JEREMIAH 20:7-13

THE BACKGROUND

Imagine God calling you to be his spokesperson in a troubled time.  You really just want to get along with others, but God needs you to do this. God called Jeremiah to do this, because things were a mess in Judah.   The king of Judah, Jehoiakim, surrounded himself with “yes men”.  Jeremiah was to warn Judah of their unfaithfulness; they needed to repent, and return to God.  The high priest Pashhur struck Jeremiah, and punished him by placing him in the town square in stocks.  Upon his release, Jeremiah warns Pashhur that the king of Babylon would conquer Judah, and carry Pashhur off into captivity.  Today’s reading is Jeremiah’s lament to God.  He is complaining to God about his miserable life.

THE DETAILS

  • In verse 7 Jeremiah accuses God of “enticing” him and “overpowering” him into taking the job.  These are not good words, are they?  We know from Jeremiah 1:6 that he took this call reluctantly. He knew it was going to bring him grief and hardship.
  • In verse 9, Jeremiah admits that he can’t keep it inside himself, that there is a burning fire shut up in his bones.    He simply must do what the Lord requires of him.
  • This lament takes a turn in verse 11.  He puts his trust and confidence in the Lord to stand by his side and protect him.
  • In verse 13, the lament ends in a song of praise.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

As disciples of Jesus, we are all called to spread the Good News.  We should ask the Holy Spirit to make this Good News a “burning fire shut up in our bones”.  (v. 9b) We, too, can thank and praise God for giving us the Holy Spirit, who stands beside us and helps us to do His work. But work we must!
 

ROMANS 6:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

Paul is writing to the Christian church in Rome.  He has just explained to them that God’s grace is a free gift.  They receive the gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins not by obeying rules and laws, but by their faith in Jesus.

 

THE DETAILS

  • Paul must have realized that some of his readers would take chapter 5 as giving them the freedom to do whatever they chose. That they were free to indulge in an “anything goes” lifestyle.  Verses 1 & 2 put an end to that possibility. 
  • Verses 3-6 bring forth the interesting concept that through our baptism, our former lives have come to an end; we have died with Christ—we were crucified with Christ.  And with him, we will also be resurrected.  This changes everything—we are now tightly united with our savior. 
  • Verse 11 summarizes it nicely—since we are dead to sin, we are now alive to God.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Does being “dead to sin” mean that we are no longer capable of sinning?  No, we are still human beings.  Martin Luther said that we are at the same time both “sinners and saints”. We are, by our very nature, tempted to serve ourselves rather than God.  It is up to us to remind ourselves of our new life in Christ.  Yes, we are forgiven for all our sins.  But we must also live our lives being “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”.  Being freed from the cycle of law/sin/death, we are able to bravely live the Law of Love. 

 

MATTHEW 10:24:39

THE BACKGROUND

This is a continuation of last week’s reading.  Jesus is sending his apostles out to continue his work.  He is giving them some detailed instructions, including the consequences of following him.

 

THE DETAILS

  • The beginning of this passage (verses 24-25) was a little confusing to me.  This is how I’ve come to understand it.  In verse 24 and the first part of 25, Jesus is telling his apostles that they are his disciples, and he is the teacher; they should simply teach what He has taught. They are his representatives.  In the second half of verse 26, he mentions Beelzebul.  Beelzebul can be another name for the devil.  Jesus says that if “they” (their enemies) call Jesus the devil, they can expect the same treatment as he.
  • In most of verse 26 and all of 27 Jesus is simply saying “You may share everything I’ve taught you in private with everyone. There are no secrets anymore.”
  • Verses 34-37 have always been troubling for me. This is how I now understand them. Back then, if you decided to follow Jesus, it usually meant breaking away from your family’s religion.  It meant that your family would probably try to convince you to deny Jesus, and remain faithful to your previous beliefs. For them, this meant choosing Jesus over family.  We still see this today.  When people change denominations, it can cause family divisions.  Jesus is reminding us of the importance of priorities—to put God first, no matter what the cost.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

In our baptism, we have all become disciples of Christ.  Sometimes, this comes at a cost.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we must strengthen our resolve to serve Jesus, and share the Good News, regardless of the personal sacrifice.

For June 18, 2023

EXODUS 19:2-8a

THE BACKGROUND

Moses led the people of Israel out of Ramses, Egypt and onto the Sinai Peninsula.  They got down towards the bottom in an area called Rephidim.  (We don’t know exactly where it is.)  Moses’ father-in-law Jethro heard about their escape from slavery in Egypt, and met him in Rephidim.  He was from Midian (to the lower right on this map).  He brought Moses’ wife, his daughter, and their two sons.  Afterward, they proceeded to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai (same mountain, two names) to meet with God.  In Old Testament times, people thought God dwelled in specific places, such as certain mountain tops, the temple, or in the Arc of the Covenant. This event occurred fifty days after their departure from Egypt.  On the fiftieth day, God made a covenant with his people on Mt. Sinai.  The celebration of Pentecost for the Jews is a celebration of the giving of the Law of Moses—the Ten Commandments. 

THE DETAIL

  • The Israelites leaving Rephidim, reaching Mt. Sinai after two months, literally “on the third moon”.  Two lunar cycles is 2 X 28=48 days, or about 50 days.  (v. 2)
  • Moses goes “up the mountain, and God speaks to him. (v. 3)
  • God reminds them that he has saved them, and brought them out of slavery.  He has chosen them above all peoples.  All God is looking for is a relationship.  He then lays down the details of that relationship in the form of a covenant. (vv. 4-6)
  • Moses presents God’s covenant to the people, and they agree, saying “We will do everything the Lord has commanded”.  The terms of the covenant are set.  (vv. 7-8a)

THE TAKEAWAY

Of all the peoples of the earth, God chose the Israelites to shower with his love.  Why was this? I’m sure that it had a lot to do with the faith of Abraham, way back when, and the promise he made to Abraham. I believe that God’s promises are eternal.  He promised to love the Israelites, then, and he loves them yet today.  Since we love his only Son, this love now extends to us. Let us all promise along with Israel to “do everything the Lord has commanded”.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

There’s one glaring problem here.  In verse 5, God says “IF you obey my voice…”, then we may be in a loving relationship with Him. But we are anything but obedient to His voice!  We sin left and right.  How can we possibly justify having a relationship with God, when we do not obey His commandments?  Our second reading just might have an answer for us.

 

ROMANS 5:1-8

THE BACKGROUND

This reading is a continuation of last weeks’, where Paul explains that Abraham’s faith is the basis for his relationship with God, not his adherence to the law  Paul reminds the Christians in Rome of the love and grace that has been freely given to them from God.  They obtain this abundant love not by what they do.  The only way is by having faith in Jesus. 

 

THE DETAIL

  • This passage answers the question we had at the end of the first lesson.  The only way to be justified by God is through having faith in His son as our savior. It is God’s free gift to us, once we believe in Jesus.  (v. 1)
  • Because of this faith, we are in a relationship with our Lord.  We have direct access to him.  We don’t need to ask a priest, a preacher, a saint, or anybody else to pray for us. We have direct access to God’s loving grace.  So, if we want to brag about anything about our Christian walk, it should be about what God has done for us, not about anything we might have done.  (v. 2)
  • Paul outlines the process that can occur, when suffering one’s faith.  Suffering leads us to the hope of God’s love.  It is there where we may dwell, when suffering for our faith.  (vv. 3-5) 
  • Since he is talking about God’s love for us, he reminds us of God’s giving of His son on the cross for us.  There are very few people I’d sacrifice my life for.  It’s a pretty short list.  But Jesus sacrificed his life for you, me, and many others. This is how much God cares for us—that he sacrificed his only Son for our sins, regardless of our sinful nature. (vv. 6-8)

THE TAKEAWAY

We are richly blessed, aren’t we?  We have a God who loves us enough to sacrifice his Son for us.  We really don’t deserve this.  There is nothing we could do to earn this.  It is a free gift, requiring only faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!

 

MATTHEW 9:35 – 10:8

THE BACKGROUND

It is helpful to remember that Matthew’s gospel was first written for fellow Jews, to show them that Jesus truly was the Messiah.

 

THE DETAIL

  • This story is early in Jesus’ ministry.  He is travelling everywhere within Judea, healing and teaching.  (v. 35)
  • He sees how down-trodden the people are. According to Matthew, “they were harassed and helpless…”  Jesus’ heart goes out to them.  He loves them so much that he sends out his 12 apostles to do exactly what he has been doing. (vv. 36-38)
  • He delegates his authority and power to the 12, to cure physical and psychological ailments.  Their names appear here.  (vv. 10:1-4)
  • Jesus gives them some interesting instructions. They are to keep to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and not minister to the needs of Gentiles or Samaritans. (vv. 5-6) 
  • This is what they are to do: proclaim the good news that the kingdom has come near, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons.  (Wow! That’s a lot!)  (vv. 7-8a)
  • Finally, he tells them to do this for free!  (v. 8b)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Why would Jesus tell his disciples to skip over the Gentiles and Samaritans?  Perhaps there was enough work for the 12 to do close at hand without spreading themselves too thin.  Maybe this wasn’t the time in Jesus’ ministry to expand to the outside world.  (See verses 7-8a)  Or maybe this is just Matthew being a little too Jewish, to the delight of his listeners.  I can only find one instance in Matthew where Jesus heals a non-Jew. 

Jesus has love and compassion for those in need. He can’t do it all by himself, so he sends out helpers.  All too often, I see people in need. But, I want to be like a turtle, pulling my head into my shell, hoping they disappear.  We should be like Jesus.  We should help.  After all, we are the helpers that he is sending out. 

 

For June 11, 2023

HOSEA 5:15-6:6

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Hosea is an odd but compelling book.  Hosea was from the northern kingdom of Israel.  There, he preached repentance at a time where it was much needed.  They did not listen, and the Assyrians conquered the land.  Hosea moved south to Judea, and continued to relay God’s warnings to Judah.  They, of course, did not listen either.  The weird part is in chapters 1-3.  As a living parable, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute.  In this parable, Hosea represents God, and the prostitute is God’s people Israel & Judah.  More on this in the takeaway.

From chapter 4 on, the book of Hosea is a series of back and forth dialogues between God and His people. 

THE DETAIL

  • Today’s passage starts out by God making the decision to step away from the situation, and wait for His people to come to Him. (v 15)
  • The whole next paragraph is God’s people, who have decided to return to God.  They are confident that He will be waiting with open arms.  (vv. 1-3)
  • Instead, we see that God is definitely fed up with their on-again, off-again need of Him.  “Ephraim” is a nickname for the northern kingdom of Israel, “Judah” being the southern.  He points out that their faith and devotion are as short-lived as the morning cloud (fog?). (v. 4)
  • A harsh judgement follows.  No, He is not going to welcome them with open arms.  Those in Israel have already gone off to Assyria. Soon, Judah will be carted off to Babylon.  (v. 5)
  • God tells us what he really wants—He wants our steadfast love, and for us to be in such a close relationship with Him that we desire to learn all about Him.  (v. 6) 

THE TAKEAWAY

Asking Hosea to take a prostitute as a wife seems to be an outrageous order, at least until you think about it.  God’s point is that while He desires our love (v. 6), we behave more like a prostitute than a devoted bride.  It seems like everything in this world is more important than our relationship with God. To this day, we allow other things to take God’s rightful place in our lives. 

Verse 6 tells us that God desires our “steadfast love”.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of God’s steadfast love for his people and the failure of God’s people to return this love to God.  Verse 6 tells us that all God wants is our steadfast love in return for what he has continually shown us.

Keeping God’s commandments is one way of maintain our relationship with God.  Jesus summarized His Father’s many commandments into three:

  1. Love God
  2. Love one another, even your enemies
  3. Don’t judge anybody.  That’s God’s business, not yours.

These commandments are simple, but far from easy, aren’t they? It is my hope that because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God is a little more forgiving now than He was for the people of Hosea’s time.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How many hours each day do we spend on:

  1. Routine daily matters (Bathing, eating, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, etc.)?
  2. Entertainment (TV, socializing, going places, playing games, napping, etc.)?
  3. Developing our relationship with God (Prayer, worship, bible study, helping others)?

Does our maintaining our relationship with God occupy the priority it deserves?
 

ROMANS 4:13-25

THE BACKGROUND

Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome.  At that time, the church there consisted of a mixture of Greek Christians and Jewish Christians.  In the first three chapters, Paul tells them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  (Romans 3:23)  He started with non-believers, and swiftly worked through everybody, saving the Jewish Christians for last, beginning with 2:17.Paul is talking about what makes us right with God; about what justifies our sinful ways to be in a loving relationship with God.  In 4:1-25, Paul uses the example of father Abraham to make a very important point. We join this example at verse 13.

THE DETAIL

  • The first sentence is key.  It states that the relationship between Abraham and God did not hinge on Abraham’s obedience to rules (the law).  The reason God made big promises to Abraham was solely because of Abraham’s faith.  (v. 13)
  • What follows is a long, detailed explanation of all the reasons why Abraham could have easily have given up on the promises of God.  And those promises are in there too.  But Abraham did not give up on God, even though the deck seemed stacked against him. (vv. 14- 21)
  • Here’s the clincher verse—Abraham’s “faith was reckoned to him [God] as righteousness”.  Abraham’s faith is the reason that God made those promises, and was true to His word. (v. 22)
  • Paul tells us all that the same holds true for all of us!  Our faith in God and His son Jesus are what save us.  (vv. 23-25)

THE TAKEAWAY

Paul uses the word “justification” in verse 25.  This is another way of saying that our sins are forgiven.  By having faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven.  Our faith, not our keeping the commandments, is our right-action; it is what God reckons as righteousness.

*If you want to try an interesting exercise, read Romans 2:17-3:1a, but substitute the name of your denomination for the word “Jew”. In my case, since I am Lutheran, verse 2:17 would read “But if you call yourself a Lutheran and rely upon your rules, and boast of your relation to God…”  What Paul is saying is that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what your church traditions and rituals are; they aren’t going to save you—you’re still a sinner!
 

MATTHEW 9:9-13, 18-26

THE BACKGROUND

This is actually two stories combined.  The first is the calling of Matthew as an apostle of Jesus.  The second are two healing accounts that occurred right after Matthew was called.

THE DETAIL

  • So, Jesus is walking along, sees Matthew, and says “follow me”.  Without hesitation, Matthew gives up his lucrative job as a tax collector, and follows Jesus.  (v. 9)
  • That evening at dinner, somebody must have recognized Matthew the tax collector sitting at Jesus’ dinner table.  Jesus took a lot of flack for doing so. (vv.  10-11)
  • Jesus uses some heavy sarcasm in his response. (vv. 12-13)
  • The leader of the synagogue interrupts Jesus to announce that his daughter has just died.  He is confident that if Jesus lays his hand on her that she will live again. Here is some heavy-duty faith coming from one of the Jewish leaders!  (vv. 18-19)
  • Along the way, Jesus heals a woman who had a longstanding illness.  (vv. 20-22)
  • At the leader’s house, Jesus is ridiculed for his comments.  But then he heals the daughter, and the ridicule stops.  (vv. 23-25)
  • The miracles have their desired effect.  Word of Jesus’ power and authority spread throughout the land.  (v. 26)

THE TAKEAWAY

This is Matthew’s report about his being called as one of Jesus’ inner circle.  There is no hesitation in his response.  He simply rises from the counting table, and follows the Savior. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Every day, Jesus calls you and me to love and serve him.  How do we respond?  Are we like Matthew?

FOR JUNE 4, 2023

OVERVIEW

June 4th is Holy Trinity Sunday; the day we examine the concept of the Holy Trinity.  Our epistle and gospel lessons focus on this concept.  The Old Testament lesson, oddly enough, is the creation story, as told in Genesis 1-2:4a.  The study of the two creation accounts (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2) is near and dear to my heart.  We’ll look at that last.  But first, let’s talk about the Holy Trinity.

THE SECOND LESSON AND THE GOSPEL

These two passages are perhaps the first mention of the concept of the Trinity in the New Testament.  (Other passages are: 1 Cor. 12:4-6, Eph. 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, and Jude 20-21.)  Judaism and Christianity are monotheistic religions; we insist that there is only one God.  Yet, from the mouth of Jesus and from Paul and others, we have three.  It is confusing, and the more you study it, the more confused you will get!  Feel free to discuss your own understanding of the Trinity with others.  Please respect others’ opinions.  Let’s agree that there will be no wrong answers, OK? Here are some thought starters from a good theological seminary:

  • The Trinity describes the fullness of a God who creates, redeems, and makes us holy.  [Which ones do which?]
  • The Trinity is a complex doctrine that confuses more than explains.  The whole business needs rethinking for the 21st century.
  • Our temptation is to wallow in the delight of Jesus’ salvation.  The Trinity keeps from forgetting our responsibilities to creation, for example, by reminding us of the Creator-father.

These are thought starters, and not to be considered as firm statements of doctrine.  What do you think?

 

TWO PARTING THOUGHTS

  1. In the epistle reading, verse 13, we see that we get grace from Jesus, love from God the Father, and communion (love-fellowship) from the Holy Spirit.  I like that!
  2. Jesus sends us forth with the marching orders to make disciples of everybody, baptizing them in the name of the Holy Trinity. OK, let’s get started!

 

THE FIRST CREATION ACCOUNT, GENESIS 1-2:4a

To start with, whoever assigned chapters and verses botched the job, starting with the first chapters of Genesis.  There are two creation accounts.  The first one is in chapters 1-2:4a, and is the story of the 7 days of creation.  The second one begins with chapter 2:4b, and is the story of Adam and Eve, beginning with the creation of earth.  Why would you not make the first story all chapter one, and start the second chapter off with the second story?  That’s crazy!   Anyway…

The point is that there are two creation accounts.  I encourage you to read all of chapter 2 on your own, and compare the two. You will find many differences in how the world was created, if that’s what you’re looking for in these stories.  I have friends that are so set on interpreting Genesis 1 as a science book. They feel so strongly about this, that they won’t send their kids to public schools.  I believe that if God wanted us to know about science, the bible would have chapters or books about biology, chemistry, and physics.  I believe that God doesn’t care about our understanding of science; He wants to tell us something about our relationship with him.  That is what God want us to learn about.  That is what I call the God Message.  That’s why we have two different creation accounts—they both have different God Messages!  It really doesn’t matter if you read it one way or the other, as long as you understand the God Message.

THE DETAIL

I believe that through this story, God wants us to learn four basic facts about our relationship with Him. 

Point One 

Look at the reading, and notice the rhythm, the repetition, and the orderly way that the world was created.

  • “… then God said…”
  • “… and there was…”
  • “… and it was good.”

Every day follows the same pattern.  Every day’s work is done orderly, calmly, and enacted merely by the voice of God

Every non-Hebrew culture surrounding Israel had their own beliefs, which included stories about how the world was created. One very popular belief was that the “gods” engaged in bloody battle of hand-to-hand combat; a good “god” fought an evil “god”.  The good “god” won.  The body of the evil dead “god” became Earth.  The people of Earth were formed from the blood of this evil “god”.  If I believed in this story, it would tell me that not only is the world an evil place, but all of us are basically evil beings! 

Our God comes to the rescue, and tells us NO!  He created us and our world calmly with just his words.  Most importantly, what he created is good.  We are good, the Earth and all its creatures are good. This is the first God Message presented to us in this story.


 

 

Point Two

Day Four begins with verse 14.  He creates the sun, the moon, and the stars.  But he doesn’t call them that.  He just calls them “lights”. 

Many of those neighboring non-Hebrew cultures included the worship of the sun, moon, and stars as part of their religious beliefs. (Think of astrology, for example.) God is telling us—“don’t worship them, they are only ‘lights’.  They’re just things to mark the days and nights”; they are a sort of calendar that He created for us.

Point Three

In verse 26, God says “Let us make humankind in our image…”  This is plural.  God doesn’t say “let me make humankind in my image…”  Why?  Some friends of mine point to this as an indication of the Holy Trinity.  The first chapter of John tells us that Jesus was present at creation, right?  Well, yes, that is true.  But it makes no sense to me that the Hebrews, who knew nothing of the Holy Trinity, would preserve these words for hundreds of years if they didn’t understand what they meant.  What else could it mean?

  1. One explanation is that God was using a verb tense called the “Majestic Plural”.  Huh?  In the olden days, when kings spoke, they would use “we” instead of “I”.  It is weird to us, because we are unfamiliar with the ways of royalty.  But this was a common practice.  This could be one explanation—that this is one way of pointing to the kingship of our Father in Heaven.
  2. Another explanation is that God includes his “heavenly court” in the use of “we”.  The idea of a divine council is also found in 1 Kings 22:19-22 and Psalm 82:1.  Again, it points to God being our king.  But this time he says “we” to include his council.

Point Four

In verse 26, God creates us “in his image”. 

  • Does it mean that we look like God, and God looks like us?
  • Does it mean that we think like God, and not like the other animals of creation?
  • What does this mean to you?

THE TAKEAWAY

So, what’s the God Message in Genesis 1?  The way I read it, 

  • Our one God created the heavens and the earth not by war, death, and chaos, but in a calm and orderly fashion. 
  • What the tools did he do this with? Only with his voice. His word is powerful!
  • The sun, moon, planets, and stars are only lights. They mark the seasons as does a calendar.  They are not objects of worship, only “lights” in the sky.  They do not predict our future, or govern our personalities.
  • Our sense of logic and reason, our sense of right from wrong come from God.  This is what he means when he says that we are created in his image, at least they do to me.

 

So, it really doesn’t matter if you believe in the 7 days of creation idea or the complicated explanation above.  What matters is the God Message.  Always ask yourself “What does God want me to know about my relationship with him?  Why is He telling me this story?  What is the God Message?”

For May 21, 2023

ACTS 1:6-14

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Acts is the second book that Luke wrote for us.  The first is the gospel of Luke.  The second is the book of Acts.  You could call it a sequel.  It tells us what happened after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  It begins, appropriately enough, with His ascension. The ending of Luke’s gospel (Lk 24:50-51) also gives a brief account of His ascension.

THE DETAILS

  • Why would Luke mention the ascension twice? I can think of two possible reasons. Maybe you can think of more.  If so, please share them with others. 
    • In the early years of the Christian church, the gospels and letters were circulated separately.  Perhaps the ascension meant so much to Luke, that he wanted to make sure it was read, regardless of which scroll (they didn’t have “books back then”) was being read.
    • The ascension is not only the end of the story of Jesus’ life on earth, it is the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the new church.
  • In verse 6, the apostles are still asking Jesus when he will be their king! They still don’t get it; but they will, soon enough.  His answer demonstrates his love and patience for answering their seemingly stupid questions. “You don’t need to know that.”  Instead, in verse 8, he gives them an assignment; one we still have for us today—“…you will tell everyone about me… everywhere in the world.”
  • Verses 10 & 11 always crack me up.  I can see the apostles standing there, drop-jawed, looking up.  Two angels suddenly appear, and say something like “Why are you standing around?  GET TO WORK!”  (My paraphrased version.)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

  • The ascension of Jesus was important to Luke, it should be important to us.  The Holy Spirit cannot come, until Jesus leaves.  It was time for the Holy Spirit to do his/her work. 
  • We have a job to do.  (See verse 8)  Time to get to work!  The Holy Spirit helps us with this work.

 

1 PETER 4:12-14; 5:6-11

THE BACKGROUND

This is our final lesson from the letter called 1 Peter.  Remember that Peter wrote this letter the newly baptized in Christ.  Many were suffering for their belief in Jesus as the messiah.  Some suffered physically, others suffered socially.

THE DETAIL

  • Many more Christians suffered socially than did physically.  Sure, many people lost their lives for believing in Jesus.  But many more were ostracized, or cut off from family and social relationships.  This can be devastating emotionally.  It can also be devastating financially, if you lose your job or lose business because of your religious beliefs.  (vv. 12-14) 
  • Peter offers encouraging words in verses 6-9. We are to be humble, be on our guard, stay awake, resist the devil, and many more things.  This instruction has been called a “spiritual fitness program” for us.
  • Finally, Peter reminds of God’s grace, of God’s steadfast love for us.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God will restore, support, strengthen, and establish us. For this, he deserves our praise. (vv. 10-11) 

THE TAKEAWAY

I don’t know about you, but I could use a fitness program like this!  We need to be spiritually fit at all times.  We never know when we will suffer, either physically or emotionally. We need to pray, worship, and read the scriptures regularly, so that we are spiritually fit, and always prepared for what might be ahead.

JOHN 17:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus has finished his long farewell speech to his apostles.  He is about to go to the garden of Gethsemane, where he will be betrayed and arrested.  He concludes the meal and speech by praying to his Father in Heaven. This prayer has been named his “High Priestly Prayer”.  A priest, pastor, or preacher is the shepherd of their flock.  Jesus, displays his concern for our continued care.

THE DETAIL

There are three parts to his prayer.

  • First, he asks his Father to bring glory to him, so that he may bring glory to the Father. I understand “glory” here to mean the power and might of God.  Jesus is asking for the strength to face what lies ahead, so that he can complete the Father’s work.  (vv. 1b-5)
  • Then, he prays for his apostles (and for all his followers, including us).  He reminds his Father that we are his representatives.  (vv. 6-10)
  • Finally, he asks his Father to keep us safe, because we are still “in the world”, and need his protection.  (v. 11)

THE TAKEAWAY

When he prays to his Father, he is concerned about the well-being of his “flock”, rather than his own well-being.  He is about to be crucified, and yet he is concerned about us!

We can take comfort in knowing that Jesus intercedes to the Father for us, then and now.  We know that we have Jesus’ “ear”, which means that we also have the Father’s.

We are God’s precious possession, and we now know that He will protect and sustain us.  Amen!

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