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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 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 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!

For May 14, 2023

ACTS 17:22-31

THE BACKGROUND

The apostle Paul has been traveling throughout the region northwest of Israel, through modern day Turkey all the way to Greece  Rome has overtaken Athens in political power, but Athens is still the center of the world for philosophy and religion (other than for Christian and the Jewish faiths).   In fact, the Roman gods are all renamed Greek gods—they have copied the Greek religion. .  In the verses just before this reading (verses 15-21), Paul has reached Athens, Greece.  He has been walking around Athens, noticing all the idols to all their “gods”.  Since he is a Hebrew by birth, these graven images are repulsive to him.  He even found an idol entitled “To An Unknown God”.  So, he starts preaching the good news.  Some Greek philosophers invite him to speak about his god to a group of philosophers who regularly meet at the Areopagus, a meeting place for philosophers.

THE DETAIL

If you will remember Peter’s sermons to the Jews, Peter quotes Old Testament scripture, pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. 

These Greek philosophers know nothing of Jewish Old Testament scripture, so Paul must take a different approach.  Paul gives these philosophers a very nicely-developed philosophical presentation of the life and work of Jesus Christ.  He makes several key points:

  • There is only one God, creator of the earth and all its creatures, including mankind.  (v 24-27)
  • In Him, we have our being.  We are his children.  (v28)
  • You can’t make a likeness of him out of gold or stone. (v29)
  • God has overlooked our sins in the past, but not for much longer. It is time to repent.  (v30)
  • God has appointed “a man” (Jesus) who will judge the righteous. We know this man is the one, because God raised him from the dead. (verse 31)

In the verses after our reading, especially in verse 34, we see that Paul didn’t get a lot of converts that day; only a handful.  He left there for Corinth.  There are hints in his letter to that church that he was disappointed about his lack of success in Athens.  (See 1 Cor. 1:18-25)

THE TAKEAWAY

Have you ever done your best to preach the Gospel, only to have it fall on deaf ears?  I know that I have “been there, done that”.  Sometimes, even the most eloquent of speeches do not win the day for our Lord.  It helps me to remember that I have one small part to play in God’s grand plan.  I am asked to plant the seed.  The Holy Spirit has the job of making it grow.
 

1 PETER 3:13-22

THE BACKGROUND

The apostle Peter has written this letter to the all the churches. It is chock full of instructions from him on how to live life as a Christian.  At that time and place, some households had a mixture of faiths.  A wife may have accepted Jesus as her savior, but the rest of the family had not.  In some cases, a servant became a Christian, but not his or her master.  In these situations, there was the opportunity for some to suffer for their faith in Jesus.  In other situations, a person might be the only family member to follow Jesus.  They might be shunned or shut out of family activities because of their faith.

THE DETAIL

  • In verse 14, Peter uses the word “blessed”.  This might remind us of when Jesus used it in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the context of suffering, Matthew 5:10-11 is particularly notable:  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you… on my account.”
  • Verses 15 and 16 give good advice on how to witness one’s faith. He tells us to always be ready to do so, and do it with gentleness and reverence.  This might not always be easy to do, especially in a hostile situation.
  • Verse 20 calls to mind the story of Noah, in which God “cleanses” the world.  Verse 21 makes a water connection with baptism, in which we are cleansed of our sin. Both are acts of salvation.
  • Finally, verses 21 and 22 remind us that Jesus is our Lord, waiting for us in heaven. 

 

THE TAKEAWAY

If we endure some form of hardship because of our faith in Jesus, we can take assurance in knowing:

  • We will receive a special blessing because of our suffering.
  • We can take comfort in the knowledge that through our baptism, we are cleansed by God.  We have been saved.
  • As we learned in last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus has prepared a home for us, and is waiting.

 

JOHN 14:15-21

THE BACKGROUND

This is a continuation of Jesus’s farewell address at his last supper.  It continues on for several more chapters.  Next week will be the conclusion of the study of his farewell address. 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus says something very important here.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” My question is “which commandments is he referring to?”  He said “my” commandments, rather than the 10 Commandments, or any of the other 613 Laws of Moses.  His commandments.  If you look around, you’ll find out that Jesus gave us lots of instruction, but only one commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”   John 13:34  This one commandment really summarizes all 613 Laws of Moses, including the 10 Commandments.  Jesus himself said this, when a lawyer asked him which was the greatest of all the commandments.  He answered that it was to love God and one another.  That all the other laws depend upon this law of love.  (Jesus’ words, not mine.)  (Mt. 22:34-40)  (v. 15)
  • He promises to send an “Advocate”, the Holy Spirit.  Actually, he says that he will send another Advocate.  What might this mean?  Is Jesus calling himself an advocate of the Father?  (v. 16)
  • Most of all, he promises that if we love him and keep his commandments, that we will live, and be together with him.  (vv. 18-21)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus has made it very simple—we “only” have to love one another.  I don’t know about you, but this might be simple, but it is not easy! Some people are not very loveable. But this is Jesus’ one commandment, so we need to try.  Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit to help and guide us on our way.

 

For May 7, 2023

ACTS 7:55-60

THE BACKGROUND

This reading is the conclusion of the story of the disciple Stephen; the account of his martyrdom. He is the first disciple to be put to death for his faith in Jesus.    As he preached The Way (of Jesus), he ran into trouble.  I suggest that you read the complete story of St. Stephen, in Acts chapters 6 & 7. 

THE DETAIL

  • Stephen has just delivered a long and powerful sermon to the high priest and council (earlier in chapter 7).  He did not hold back.  He made accusations, and called his listeners “stiff-necked”.  They didn’t like it.  (v. 51)
  • In verse 56, full of the Holy Spirit, he says “I see heaven open and the Son of God standing at the right side of God!” If you were a Jew who did not believe in Jesus, this would be blasphemy.  The punishment for blasphemy is being stoned to death.  This is exactly what they did.  From the sounds of it, they enjoyed themselves, too.
  • At the tail end of verse 58 is an interesting anecdote.  They put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  A little further along in Acts, God renames this man Paul.  This is St. Paul!
  • As he is being pummeled with stones, St. Stephen prays to God to forgive them.  Then, he dies.  (vv. 59-60)

THE TAKEAWAY

The reason that many people of faith revere saints is to provide them with role models—good examples of Christians living a life of faith.  St. Stephen is certainly a good role model for all of us, because:

  1. He preaches with power, wisdom, and courage; in the face of fierce opposition.  He had to know that what he was saying could lead to his execution. Yet, he courageously pressed on.
  2. As Stephen is dying, he asks God to forgive his enemies.  I cannot imagine doing this, while big rocks are hitting my head and body.  Stephen most definitely was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  I pray that if I am ever in a similar situation, that the Holy Spirit comes to my aid. 

It is the Holy Spirit in action that does the work here.  We all have just as much access to the Holy Spirit as St. Stephen.  Let’s put our trust in God, to come to our aid, when the going gets tough.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How can we be more like Steven, sharing the Good News with those around us?
 

1 PETER 2:2-10

THE BACKGROUND

Peter is writing this to a group of new Christians.  Imagine this being read or told to you right after you accepted Jesus as your savior. This might be the sermon that was preached at your baptism. 

First, we need a vocabulary lesson.

  • STONES:  Cut stone was the basic building material of Jesus’ time. All buildings were made of stone. Wood was only used for roofs and doors. The building that Peter is referring to is the temple in Jerusalem—God’s house, which was built of stone.
  • PRIESTS:  Priests, at this time, were the religious leaders of the people.  Today, at least in most Protestant circles, we do not use this word.  Instead, think “preacher” or “spiritual leader”, when you see this word. 
  • LIGHT:  In this instance, it refers to God’s presence.  Remember Jesus at the Transfiguration, being dazzling white. Also in Revelation 1:16, Jesus face is shining like the sun, to signify his holy radiance.

 

THE DETAIL

  • Just like last week, I like to replace the “if” in verse three with “since”.  We know that Peter is talking to new believers.  That said, he says that since they have tasted the goodness of the Lord (and become baptized Christians), they need to be fed with “spiritual
  • Peter calls us Christians “living stones”.  In his day, buildings and temples were built of stone.  Peter states that the true church is no longer built of stones, but of living people. This was a radical statement. When we say that we are going to church, we usually are referring to the building.  But Peter reminds us that the church is really not the building, but the people who gather inside that building.  (vv. 4-5)
  • Peter quotes scripture, calling Jesus our cornerstone.  Our temple is built upon the foundation of Jesus.  (vv. 6-8)
  • Now, Peter turns to the reader, reminding us that we are special.  We are precious in God’s eyes.  We have been called out of the darkness of our sinful lives to live in the light of Jesus. (vv. 9-10)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

When you build a house, you start with a corner.  Back then, you placed a cornerstone, and the rest of the building was built from, and measured off of this stone.  Today, we drive some stakes, and lay out strings, but we still start from a corner. This corner must be perfect, if we want to construct a perfect building.  Peter tells us that Jesus is our perfect cornerstone.  Everything we do is measured off of his life, death, and resurrection.  The church of Jesus is built upon this perfect stone.

Verse 9 is the key verse.  It states that not only are we a special chosen people, but that we are a holy nation of priests!  In other words, we should consider ourselves just as holy as our spiritual leaders—our preachers, priests, and pastors. We are all the stones from which the new temple is built.  We no longer need to go to Jerusalem to be near God.  He is within us!

Verse 10 wraps it all up—we used to be nobodies, but now that we are in Jesus, we are God’s precious people.

JOHN 14:1-14

THE BACKGROUND

This passage is taken from Jesus’ speech at the Last Supper.  This is the last time that Jesus will eat with his 12 apostles.  He has a lot to tell them, before he goes off to Calvary.  Today’s reading is a portion of what he tells them.  (The whole discourse is John 13-17.)

 

THE DETAIL

  • It starts out with the famous “There are many rooms (or mansions) in my Father’s house.”  He assures us that there is a place waiting for us in heaven, so we shouldn’t worry about the details that confront us in this life.  (vv. 1-3)
  • Jesus tells them that they already know the way there.  Thomas, bless his heart, says “Not me!  I don’t know the way.”  He does, of course, and Jesus will tell him so. (vv. 4-5)
  • Jesus tells Thomas “I am the way, the truth, and the life!”  In other words, Thomas already knows the way to heaven; he just didn’t realize it. (v. 6) 
  • Then, Jesus talks about seeing the Father.  The apostles are confused.  “Where is He?”  “Show Him to us!  That’s all we need.”  Jesus says “You dummies, I’m sitting here right here in front of you!”  (But, he said it nicer than that, didn’t he?)  But his point is that since he and his Father are of one mind, when you see and hear God the Son, you see and hear God the Father. (vv. 7-11)
  • Jesus makes an interesting shift.  He started out talking about faith, but now talks about actions.  He says that if we have faith in him, we will be able to do the same stuff that he did, and even greater things! (vv. 12-14) 

THE TAKEAWAY

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Jesus wasn’t merely a special, holy man.  He was more than that—he was God on earth.  God came down from heaven to teach us, and to show his love for us by sacrificing himself for us.  If (or since) Jesus is our hearts, we are capable of doing remarkable things.  The Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to help. So, let’s have courage and conviction, and do God’s work here in this place!

 

For April 30, 2023

ACTS 2:42:47

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Acts is Luke’s sequel to his gospel.  It takes up where his gospel left off.  Jesus ascends into heaven (chapter 1).  Then, the Holy Spirit makes his dramatic entrance, and many come to believe in Jesus (chapter 2). Starting with the end of chapter 2, we get a glimpse of the activities of the early church.  If you ever wondered what it might have been like in those early years, this is your answer.

THE DETAIL

  • They “had all things in common … selling possessions, and distributing them to those in need.”  This sounds a little like a hippie commune from the ‘60’s, with one big exception.  This was a loving group of Christians, sharing with one another.  (vv. 42-46) 
  • They spent much time together in the temple.  They broke bread (the Lord’s Supper) at home. This was because the early church met in homes, as well as in the temples.  Most important of all, they “ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”  (vv. 46-47a)
  • The contrast to those around them must have been overwhelming, because many were drawn to Jesus based upon the sincerity of these little groups.  (v. 47b)

THE TAKEAWAY

For these Christians, accepting Jesus as their savior brought about a radical change of lifestyle. It was a life focused on loving others.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Could we Christians do this today?  Could we give away all our possessions, and live in one, big community?  

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of doing this? 

What do you see about this lifestyle that is God-pleasing?

How can we be more like these early Christians, without going to these extremes? 
 

1 PETER 2:19-25

THE BACKGROUND

In the second chapter of 1 Peter, he is writing to various groups of people—slaves, husbands, wives, etc.  In verse 18 (just prior to today’s reading), it states that the instructions we read about in this passage were for slaves.  Slave ownership was an accepted part of life at this time.  Between a quarter and a third of the population were slaves.  Sometimes, these servant-slaves believed in Jesus, and their masters did not. Sometimes, they suffered for their beliefs.  Since slavery no longer exists in our culture, do we discard this instruction? I don’t think so. To me, it is just as applicable to people in the workplace.

 

THE DETAIL

  • Peter is talking about slaves who have been beaten for their faith.  Presumably, their masters were not Christians.  Peter states that if you’ve been beaten for a just reason, then you got what you deserved.  But if you have suffered for your faith, then you are just like Jesus.  Jesus suffered for his obedient dedication to his Father. These are words of encouragement for those suffering for their faith.  (vv. 19-24)
  • We are to remember that Jesus bore our sins by being nailed to the cross.  Before we believed, we were like stray sheep.  Now, we follow Jesus, who cares for our souls.  (v. 25)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

We all answer to somebody, so this instruction is just as appropriate for us today.  Sometimes, we face a choice between doing the expected thing or doing the right thing. When we do the right thing, we often endure suffering.  We can find comfort in knowing that Jesus suffered, too.  We should follow his lead.  
 

JOHN 10:1-10

THE BACKGROUND

This passage comes on the heels of Jesus’ healing of a man who was blind from birth.  Some of the Pharisees were upset about it.  Jesus hints to them that maybe they are the blind ones.  They did not take it well.  At that moment, Jesus turns to his followers, and teaches them today’s lesson. It is important for us to recognize that Jesus’ teaching uses figures of speech.  He is not calling himself a gate or shepherd in the literal sense, but figuratively.

 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus begins his teaching by talking about livestock farming!  He reminds them about the nature of sheep and their shepherd.  Real sheep behave like the sheep in this passage.  They really can tell their master’s voice from a stranger’s.  Jesus must have known this, and uses it as an object lesson.  (vv. 1-5)
  • The disciples are confused.  “Why are you talking about sheep?”, they seem to say, or at least that’s how I imagine it.  (v. 6)
  • The “thieves and bandits” are those who denounce Jesus as the Messiah, and seek to lead us astray.  In this case, they are the temple officials, who feel threatened by Jesus’ superior spirituality. (vv. 7-8)
  • Jesus explains the story by making one of his famous “I am” statements that are found in John’s gospel.  This one is “I am the gate”.  He is also the shepherd, whose voice we recognize.  We follow him, and find good pasture.  (v. 9)
  • By following Jesus, we have abundant life. (v. 10)

THE TAKEAWAY

Psalm 118:19-20 is interesting:

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

 

Jesus is our “gate”.  Through him, we have access to God. 

In Jesus, we will find our Good Shepherd, and will be saved.

 

 

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