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For August 6, 2023

ISAIAH 55:1-5

THE BACKGROUND

This part of the book of Isaiah was written when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.  It is a call to God’s People to remain faithful to Him, in spite of their present situation. 

THE DETAIL

  • The word “Ho” is strange to us, and needs to be explained.  The expression in Hebrew is a call to the listener to listen attentively.  We might say “Hey—listen up”.  That’s what “Ho” meant to the people of Isaiah’s time. (v. 1a)
  • Now that God has our attention, He calls us to a banquet.  We are called to come and quench our thirst and eat for free.  (v. 1b)
  • We are asked why we waste our time and money on “food” that does not satisfy.  When I was a kid, we were warned about eating things that were “empty calories”.  God urges us to turn away from these “empty calories”, and focus our appetite on rich, satisfying “food”.  This is the “food” being offered at the Lord’s banquet. By now, I believe you should realize that God is talking about spiritual food.  (v. 2)
  • The Lord beckons the reader to come to Him. He promises that He will provide leadership, like the days of old under David.  He promises that His People will be treasured by the entire world.  (vv. 3-5)

THE TAKEAWAY

For God’s People in exile, these were words of hope in promise at a time of utter despair.  We Christians today are also called to come to the banquet.  We know that the king promised in verses 3&4 is Jesus.  We also know that people the world over come to him for wisdom and salvation.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How much of our life is spent focusing on “empty calorie” activities?
 

ROMANS 9:1-5

THE BACKGROUND

For the past month, we have been studying about living in the spirit vs. living in the flesh.  In chapter 9, Paul changes the subject.  He now discusses the fact that fewer and fewer Jews were claiming Jesus as their Messiah.  In the early years of the church, most Christians were Hebrews. But as time went on, more and more Gentiles accepted Jesus, and fewer Jews.  This will be the topic of our discussion in the upcoming weeks.

THE DETAIL

  • Paul opens up his heart to the reader.  He is in anguish over this subject, and he’s telling the truth.  (vv. 1-2)
  • He tells us that it would almost be easier if he was cut off from Jesus, so he could be like “his people”, his fellow Israelites.  He, of course, doesn’t mean it; that is obvious as we read on.  This was how deep his agony was on the subject.  Remember that Paul was a devout Jew.  So much so that in the beginning he persecuted Christians. He loved “his people” and his rich heritage.  (v. 3)
  • He goes on to explain that the Israelites had it all—the traditions; the promise; the whole, long, rich Old Testament story. Then, along comes the Messiah, and they miss the boat!  All he can do is praise the Lord.  (vv. 4-5)

THE TAKEAWAY

Most of us have friends and relatives who have not accepted Jesus as their savior.  Because of this, it is easy to sympathize with Paul in his agony.  In recent gospel lessons, Jesus has taught us to do the work, and let God do His part. Paul definitely did his part, but was sad that more of his fellow Israelites didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Over the years, Christians have looked down upon the Jews.  They have been persecuted time and time again for what a few of them did to Jesus. Stop for a moment, and consider all that we owe to “God’s Chosen People”.  We have all the stories of the faithful presented to us in the Old Testament.  We receive the Ten Commandments through them, as well as two stories about the creation of the world.  God never changes His mind about the promises He’s made. He still loves the Israelites. Maybe we should, too.
 

MATTHEW 14:13-21

THE BACKGROUND

For several chapters, Jesus has been teaching crowds, and gathering a lot of attention.  Then, in Matthew’s gospel comes the story of the arrest and beheading of John the Baptist.

THE DETAIL

  • When Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist, he hops onto a boat to find a deserted place.  I believe he wanted to mourn his cousin and lay low for a while. But the Sea of Galilee is only so big. And all you have to do is climb a hill to see which direction Jesus was heading and you could go there by simply running around the edge of the lake.  (v. 13)
  • So, when Jesus steps off the boat, he is immediately confronted by those he has hoping to avoid.  Instead of being frustrated, has compassion for the crowd. (v. 14)
  • It grows late.  The disciples don’t want to be responsible for feeding all these people. Jesus has other ideas, and tells them to get everyone to sit down.  “Feed them”, he says.  (vv. 15-16)
  • The disciples give Jesus a reality check. “Look, Jesus.  We’ve only got five loaves of bread and two fish.”  (v. 17)
  • You know the rest of the story.  A miracle happened that day.  (vv. 18-21)

THE TAKEAWAY

Other than the practical side of feeding the large crowd, what was the spiritual significance of the story?  What is the God Message?  Why did Jesus do this?  First of all, when God’s people were wandering in the Sinai desert, God fed them mana.  (Exodus 16:2-12)  Also, in 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha feeds a large crowd with a small amount of food.  This would tell those being fed that Jesus wasn’t your average traveling preacher—Jesus was a prophet!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In our first lesson, God feeds his people spiritual food.  In this lesson, God’s son feeds both body and soul.  Do we feel this level of love and compassion for the hungry in our midst?

For July 30, 2023

1 KINGS 3:5-12

BACKGROUND

King David has died, and Solomon is the new king.  He goes to a “high holy place” called Gibeon, to pray and make sacrifices.  It was customary for the people of that time to go to a special place to talk with God.  Most often, it was the top of a hill or mountain.  Think of Mt. Sinai.  Also, Jerusalem was a hilltop city, and the temple was the high point. These were the places where people believed they would get a God encounter.

DETAILS

  • God comes to Solomon in a dream.  He asks Solomon “what shall I give you?” 
  • As a king, Solomon might ask for many kingly things, such as:
    • Political or military power
    • Victory over enemies
    • Riches 
    • A long reign
  • Instead, what does he ask for?
    • An understanding mind
    • The ability to discern good from evil
  • God liked this answer.  He granted his request, and gave him wisdom.  But he liked his answer so much, that he gave him all the other stuff too!

TAKEAWAY

When we pray, it is so easy to ask for things for our friends and ourselves (i.e., health, happiness, safety, employment, etc.).  These are all good things to pray for.  But maybe we should also be asking God for wisdom and discernment.  Judging from God’s reaction to Solomon’s request, it is the most important thing.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Do you have a special prayer place?  It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop.  It can be a anywhere.  A friend of mine sails big boats in the ocean.  He says that his “God Place” is out on the open sea.  Where’s your “God Place”?
 

ROMANS 8:26-39

BACKGROUND

We have been working our way through the book of Romans since June 11th.  We will continue on this journey through September 17th.  In previous passages, Paul has focused on the concepts of sin & death, faith & life, and our Christian lives that often seem to ricochet between the two. Today’s reading  picks up where we left off last week, but it takes a new turn.  

DETAILS

  • We begin by examining the role of the Holy Spirit in our prayer life.  I love the words of assurance that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness” and “intercedes with sighs too deep for words”. How beautiful is that?!!  By the way, the word “intercede” means that the Holy Spirit steps in and speaks to God for us, explaining to God what we mean.  Some Christians pray to saints and/or Mary. This verse tells us that the Holy Spirit is there to do this, and goes directly to God. The Holy Spirit is our helper. (vv. 26-27)
  • Here is a verse that many of us love!  The problem is that we focus on the promise and not the two conditions.  The promise is that “All things work for the good…”  We like to stop there.  But the conditions are 1) …for those in Christ Jesus and 2)… who are called according to his purpose.  So, the promise only works for those of us who are of the faith, PLUS it only works when we are doing God’s will.  Am I wrong? Read it over again, and think about it. (v. 28)
  • This next verses are ones that a wise person might gloss over, because it contains the word “predestined”.  Since I am not that wise, I will offer my perspective. Many denominations are split over this phrase.  Some claim that God has chosen some to be Christians before they were born, and other people not.  The argument is that if God has already chosen, then we have no free will in the matter of faith.  Free Will Baptists are one example of a denomination taking a firm stance on this issue.  While I am not a Free Will Baptist, I do believe that we all have a free will in matters of faith.  I believe what Paul is trying to say to the church in Rome is that God knew in advance that He wanted them to choose Jesus.  That should be a word of comfort to those suffering for their faith.  I do not believe that Paul intended this as a blanket statement for all Christians.  (vv. 29-30)
  • The remaining verses are full of words that have to do with struggle.  For the early Christians, accepting Jesus as their savior often meant struggles with those around them.  Even today, living out our faith can often present us with difficulties.  (vv. 31-37)
  • The conclusion to this passage is a beautiful word of comfort.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God!  (vv. 38-39)

TAKEAWAY

  • How many times have we heard or said “I don’t know how to pray”?  It is good to remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit is ready to help.  Our prayers don’t have to be perfect; it is the Holy Spirit who makes them perfect.
  • Jesus is the firstborn of a large family (v29). We are that large family.  As members of the family, we know that “God has our back”, when times get tough.  He is always there beside us.  Always.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  • Must our prayers be well thought out and beautifully composed, or may they also be no more than “sighs too deep for words”?
  • How does knowing that we are forgiven change how we live our lives?
     

MATTHEW 13:31-33, 44-52

BACKGROUND

Here we have five of Jesus’ parables.  I could say that the first two are about big things coming from small beginnings, the next two are about the urgency of spreading the Word, and the last is about the end times. I’ll get to that, but first, I want to zoom out, and look at the big picture.

DETAILS

  • We are halfway through the gospel of Matthew. So far in the story, Jesus has been:
  • Born 
  • Baptized
  • Tempted in the wilderness
  • Giving his keynote address (The Sermon on the Mount)
  • Calling apostles and disciples along the way
  • Performing miracles
  • Teaching us about our relationship with God
  • Now, he’s teaching us about the Kingdom of God. I think that Jesus is at the point in his ministry where he’s thinking “Now that I have their attention, let me tell them what I came here to tell them”.  But the people of Israel were waiting for the messiah to come, kick out the Romans, and re-establish the old kingdom of David and Solomon.  I’m sure that when he opened a parable with “the kingdom of heaven is like…” he had everyone’s attention.  They are waiting for him to share his military plan.  Can you imagine their confusion, when he doesn’t talk politics, but talks instead about a community of faith?  I’m sure there was a lot of head scratching going on. If he were to tell them to forget about politics, and focus on faith, I think he would have had an even more difficult time.  So, he used parables to make his points, and get people to talking and thinking.
  • The first two parables talk about how a little of the right thing can create gigantic results.  These talk about our faith and our sharing the Good News to others, even a little bit.  (vv. 31-33) 
  • The next two have to do with doing whatever it takes to obtain a precious thing.  Being part of the kingdom of God, or being one of God’s own children is this precious thing.  What would you do to obtain it?  What do we need to do to obtain it?  The answer is in the takeaway.  (vv. 44-46)  
  • Now we’re fishing!  ( I like this part!)  And, we catch a lot of fish, both good ones and bad ones.  When we get ashore, we sort them out, throwing away the junk fish. Jesus tells us that this is what it will be like at “the end of the age”, when he returns.  The sorting will be done by angels, and it ain’t gonna be pretty. How do we make sure we are a good “fish”?  (Same answer in the takeaway.)  (vv. 47-50)
  • The conclusion to this last parable is a little weird.  I take it to mean that now that we are trained in the kingdom of God, we can help the angels sort out fish!  (Maybe I got that one wrong.)  (vv. 51-52)

TAKEAWAY

How do we obtain this priceless treasure?  How do we make sure that we are one of the “good fish”?  By listening to and believing in Jesus.  If we do this from the heart, we should earnestly try to follow his teachings and value what he values.  His values and priorities are clearly stated by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount and in the parables of the Kingdom of God.  We humans clearly have different ideas about this.  Jesus came to set us straight.  Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How much time do we spend each week thinking and talking about worldly things like hobbies, politics, business, etc.; and how much time do we spend loving each other (even our enemies), and caring for those less fortunate than us?

July 23 2023

ISAIAH 44:6-8

THE BACKGROUND

This portion of Isaiah was written during the early years of Babylonian captivity.  God’s people in exile were having second thoughts about the strength of their God.  After all, The Babylonian’s god, Marduk, defeated their Yahweh,  and Yahweh’s chosen people were hauled off to Babylon.  Was Marduk stronger than Yahweh?  Through his prophet Isaiah, God answers His people in three short verses.  Biblical scholars believe that this passage takes the form of a courtroom scene. 

THE DETAIL

  • God comes out with both guns blasting, so to speak (v. 6a).  “Thus says the Lord…” tells God’s people that what they are about to hear doesn’t come from Isaiah, but straight from God.  God presents three titles or qualifications  for himself:
    • He is the King of Israel
    • He was, is, and will be their Redeemer
    • He is the Lord of hosts.  (“Hosts” refers to the heavenly army of angel-warriors.)
  • And, if you still have any doubts in your little heads, “…besides me, there is no god.”  In other words, Marduk is a figment of their captors’ imaginations. (v. 6b)
  • This is the verse that indicates a courtroom scene. God is calling for witnesses.  Who else is there that a) is like me, or b) can predict the future?  Nobody, of course.  (v. 7)
  • The passage concludes by telling the reader no to fear for the future.  God is in control.  Put your trust in the one and only true God.  (v. 8)

THE TAKEAWAY

The people of God in exile feared for their future, as we do.  We are plagued my many other false “gods” that vie for our trust and faith. Listen to the words of God.  Put your trust in Him. 


 

 

ROMANS 8:12-25

THE BACKGROUND

For the past several weeks, we have been studying the difference between living in the flesh and living in the Spirit.  Next week, with chapter 9, we will change subjects.  So today’s passage wraps up what we’ve been discussing. 

THE DETAIL

This passage can be broken into four parts:  1) I am a Spirit Child, 2) I am a Child of God, 3) I am a Child of Creation, and 4) I am a Child of Hope.

  • We begin where we left off, discussing our life in the Spirit, as opposed to our former lives in the flesh.  (vv. 12-13)
  • Living in the Spirit means that we are now Children of God.  We have been adopted by God to be his children.  We now may call him “Daddy”, which is what “Abba” means in the language that Jesus spoke.  Jesus used Abba (Daddy) when he prayed to his Father in the garden of Gethsemane.  This shows us that we may feel free to share our most intimate fears and frustrations with God, and even call him “Daddy” when we pray.  As God’s children, we inherit the kingdom, just like our brother Jesus.  (vv.14-17)
  • The next section refers to all of creation being “in bondage to decay” (v. 21)  I take this to mean the stress and strain of God’s creation as evidenced in earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, rampant forest fires, global warming, etc.  Along with creation, we Children of God experience our struggle with life as we all (with the earth) await the revealing mentioned in verses 18 & 19.  “Revealing” refers to Jesus’ second coming, when a new heaven and a new earth will cease all of our struggles.  (vv. 18-23)
  • Because we are Children of God, we wait in hope of God’s promises.  Knowing that we are saved, we can look to the future with hopeful anticipation.   (vv. 24-25)

THE TAKEAWAY

Even though things might be crashing down all around us, we can take comfort knowing that God has our back.  We are His children.  We wait in hope. 


 

 

MATTHEW 13:24-30, 36-43

THE BACKGROUND

Last week, Jesus taught us the famous parable about the sower sowing seeds.  This time, there are two sowers of seeds.  Interestingly, Jesus again only explains the parable to his inner circle.  Since we are within that circle, we can see the whole story. 

Jesus used parables to explain to the listeners about the kingdom of God.  This most certainly got their attention.  They were waiting for the Messiah to re-establish a kingdom to replace Roman rule, and rekindle the good old days of the Davidic kingdom. But they do not get a story related to anything that sounds like a political kingdom.  Maybe this is why he used parables, and didn’t explain them to the masses. 

 

THE DETAIL

  • This time, after the sower plants good seed, another comes behind, that night and plants weed seeds.  (vv. 24-25)
  • People (the servants of the sower) are shocked, and want to know where these weeds came from.  He says that an enemy planted the weeds.  (vv. 26-28a)
  • The servants want to pull out the weeds, but their master says no.  That they would disturb the good seed growing alongside the weeds.  Better to take care of this at harvest time.  (vv. 28b-30)
  • When Jesus is alone with his disciples, he explains the parable in greater detail.  (vv. 36-43)

THE TAKEAWAY

Sometimes, “weeds” grow within our churches.  We want to pull them out.  Listen to the master.  Pulling those weeds might disturb the good seed.  Allow God to be God.  He will sort it out.  Our job is to plant and let grow.  When we are confronted with “weeds”, we need to exercise caution.  James 5:19-20 encourages us to “bring a person back from sin”.  Jesus’ parable introduces a word of caution.  We must be aware of the tender shoots growing with the weeds; our primary concern should be not to disturb these.  These are the essence of the kingdom of God.

 

For July 16, 2023

ISAIAH 55:10-13

THE BACKGROUND

God’s people Israel have been in exile in Babylon for about 60 years.  God has decided that it is time for them to return home.  Our text for today is part of his encouragement to them for what lies ahead.  Think of it as a pep talk; the kind that a coach gives to his team before the big game.

THE DETAILS

  • In verses 10, God speaks of rain and snow from heaven.  In verse 11a, he says that his word is like the rain.  We know that rain is essential for life.  It makes things grow.  It gives us all life. 
  • Verse 11b (after the word “mouth”) is, for me, the key verse.  God tells us that his word is true.  That what He promises He will act upon.  For the Israelites, the promise was to return to their homeland.  For us, it is all of God’s promises, but especially his promise of forgiveness, eternal life, and gift of the Holy Spirit.  We like to say that “actions speak louder than words”. We value words less than actions. We are skeptical of promises, until we see them in action.  It is different with God.  His word is powerful.  Think about the creation account in Genesis 1.  God created the entire world with just his word.  Psalm 29 is one of my favorites.  It speaks of the power of “the voice of the Lord”.  Please read it.  God’s word is powerful, trustworthy, and true.
  • Verses 12 & 13 are the pep talk.  God is telling his people to look forward to the journey ahead.  For sure, there will be rocks in the pathway, but going home is going to be joyful and peaceful, full of clapping and singing.  For the returning Israelites, there would be difficulties, but the homecoming would be worth the pain. 

THE TAKEAWAY

Perhaps the same applies for us, in this stage of our lives.  Our future is most certainly strewn with a few “rocks” in our paths. But our homecoming will most certainly be joyful and peaceful, full of singing and clapping.

 

ROMANS 8:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

We have been studying the book of Romans for several weeks now.  We have been learning about the relationship between sin and death, faith and life.  We have been taught that we are both sinners and saints—that we are still capable of sinning, but that we should choose life over death, a life of faith over a life of sin and death.

There is so much detail in the book of Romans, it is good to stand back and look at the big picture.

  1. After a short greeting and introduction, Paul talks about sin in chapters 1-3.  The gist of these chapters is in 3:23—“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  We are all sinners!
  2. Chapters 4 & 5 offer a glimmer of hope.  God’s free gift of salvation is there for the taking, and faith in God is how we get it.  It is free!  Just look at how many times “free gift” is found in chapter 5.
  3. Chapters 6 & 7 speak to the ongoing struggle we have with our sinful nature.  The “Old Adam” is still within us.  We need to be ever vigilant, and resist the temptation to sin.

 

THE DETAILS 

  • The first verse of this passage is all we really need.  It is a favorite verse of mine, so let’s take a closer look at it.  Two words stand out, needing explanation—“therefore” and “now”.
  • “Therefore” refers to all the previous chapters.  1) we are all sinful, 2) God offers salvation as a free gift, 3) we still struggle with our sinful nature, but we have hope. THEREFORE, there is no condemnation…
  • “Now” refers to Jesus’ dying on the cross.  For us, 2,000+ years have passed.  It really isn’t a “now” kind of event.  But for Paul and the early church, they could look at it from this point of view; for them, there definitely was a before and after. NOW (because Jesus died on the cross), there is no condemnation…
  • Paul uses the word “flesh” to refer to our sinful nature—our natural urge to disobey and displease God.  Some are driven by worldly things, and live “in the flesh”. Others are guided by their relationship with the Lord.  They live “in the Spirit.  He reminds us that we are “in the Spirit”.  We are in a relationship with our Lord.  For us, there is no condemnation.  (vv. 5-9)
  • By living in the Spirit, we have life.  The Spirit is life because of God’s righteousness. His right action of offering His son as a sacrifice for our sins.  (v. 10)
  • The final verse uses “if”, but I prefer “since”. Since the Spirit dwells in us, we will live!  (v. 11) 

THE TAKEAWAY

Because we have faith in God through Jesus, we have “no condemnation”—we are “in Christ Jesus”. This is not something we earn by earning brownie points through good deeds.  It is free!  (See Romans chapter 5.)  We most certainly will fall into sin (See 3:23).  But we can rest in the assurance that we are forgiven through the blood of our Savior.  There is no condemnation.  Thanks be to God!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How do we ensure that we are “in the Spirit”?

 

MATTHEW 13:1-9, 18-23

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus is into the heart of his ministry.  He is healing and helping those in need.  He is teaching us about the relationship we should have with our Father.  He teaches us using parables.  These, as you know, are little stories with a point.  I was taught that parables have a single point to them.  If somebody starts going beyond one point, they have missed that point.  One Point per parable. 

In the missing verses, 10-17, we learn that Jesus only explains the parable to his disciples. 

THE DETAIL

We all know this familiar parable.  There is no need to go into the detail.  Better yet, in the second paragraph, Jesus himself interprets the lesson.  I can do no better.  But let’s ponder his interpretation, and what it might mean for us. 

  • The seed is the word of God, including the teachings of Jesus.
  • Jesus is the sower, as are his disciples. Since we are disciples of Jesus, we are also the sowers of “seed” to those around us.
  • Sometimes, the seed takes root, sometimes not. 

In the missing verses, Jesus explains why he only interpreted it to his disciples.  Before his ascension, he tells his disciples to reveal all the “secrets” to everyone.  His work was done, so it was time to explain everything.

THE TAKEAWAY

Things haven’t changed since Jesus’ time.  God’s Good News is shared with people.  It takes root in some, and with others it falls on deaf ears.  As Jesus’ disciples, we are sowers of the Word; we are here to share the Good News.  It is not for us to fret over those who do not accept the free gift.  That is the Lord’s work.  (See Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43.)  Our job is to spread the Good News!

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.

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