For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
September 14 is Holy Cross Day. It may seem a little strange to have a day set aside to celebrate an object, and it would be strange it that’s what were actually doing. Holy Cross Day is not a celebration of the actual cross on which Jesus died, but it’s a celebration of the one who died on the cross for us, and of the salvation that we received through His death in our place.
St. Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Martin Luther later wrote, “The cross alone is our theology.” The cross has always been the chief symbol of the Christian church. We wear crosses around our necks, and we use them to decorate our churches and our homes.
The cross is the summary of the whole Christian faith. Jesus’ death on the cross was the most important event of all human history. When Jesus died on the cross, the sins of the whole world died with Him. Jesus paid the price that we all owed. Jesus said with His dying breath, “It is finished.” And it was finished; our salvation was accomplished.
Unfortunately many people don’t believe this. They think that it is foolish for many different reasons:
Despite all of our objections, the message of the cross is true. It’s so amazing that we can’t always understand or comprehend it. How could God become man and die for me? It is a mystery.
But even when we can’t understand the message of the cross, we believe that it is true because we have been baptized into the death of Christ, we receive His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, we hear the message and the Holy Spirit works faith in our heart.
As you see crosses around you this week, look beyond the cross itself to the one who died there for you.
Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
September 5 is the commemoration for Saints Zachariah and Elizabeth. This is a special day for our family, because my wife and I have two children: a son named Zachary and a daughter named Elizabeth. We didn’t plan to name our children after a biblical couple; it just kind of worked out that way.
Zachariah and Elizabeth played a special role in God’s plan of salvation. They were the parents of John the Baptist, whose ministry prepared the way for Jesus. The book of Luke begins by telling the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth as a way to introduce us to Jesus.
Now Zachariah and Elizabeth were old and they had no children. They were faithful people, and Zachariah was even a priest. But they were sad and disappointed that they had not been blessed with any children. They never expected to be blessed with a child in their old age, and certainly not a child like John who had such an important mission.
When the angel Gabriel told Zachariah that Elizabeth would have a child, he did not believe him, and as a consequence, Zachariah could not speak for the nine months that Elizabeth was pregnant. It was only after John had been born that he was able to speak, and his first words were a hymn of praise to God.
You may feel like Zachariah and Elizabeth did. You may be sad and disappointed about how your life has turned out. You may feel worthless, that there isn’t anything left for you to do.
But just as God used Zachariah and Elizabeth, He can also use you. God isn’t done with you yet. It might be in small, simple ways, like speaking a word of love and encouragement to someone who is suffering, or thanking those who work and volunteer in your facility. You can invite your neighbors to come and hear God’s word at the weekly service. And you can always pray for the needs of your family, your community, and the whole world. And don’t forget to praise God, too, as Zachariah did, for His wonderful grace and mercy shown to all of His servants.
Our Weekly Prayer:“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:68-75)
This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. (John 6:29)
How does someone get to heaven? The Pharisees of Jesus’ time asked Him that same question. They phrased it a bit differently, but the point was the same: “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” So what must we do? Believe. Believe in the one whom the Father has sent. In other words, believe in Jesus.
That sounds too easy. That sounds too simple. What about all that Jesus says about doing good? What about the commandments? What about good works, and where it says that Jesus will be judging us by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked?
Of course, that’s all true. You need to do good works. You need to try to keep the commandments. You need to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. In fact, Jesus even says (quoting the Old Testament), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Now take a step back and reflect on your life. Have you always, 100% of the time, loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind? With 100% of your heart, 100% of your soul, 100% of your mind always loved God? And have you always, 100% of the time loved your neighbor 100% equal to or more than yourself?
The reality is that no one can honestly say they have done this. No one. In fact, Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us that it’s not only a matter of these 100%’s that I just mentioned, it’s far worse. Quoting the Psalms, he says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” That’s a very harsh statement isn’t it? And what’s the implication? We all deserve hell. Absolutely every one of us.
So what do we do to get out of this predicament? Believe in Him whom He has sent. Believe in Jesus. Does it still sound too easy? Too simple? For us, perhaps, but it’s better than the alternative. Why not place our hope on the One whom God sent into this world to bear our sin and be our Savior, the One whom God sent to hang on the cross of Calvary, bleeding and dying for our transgressions that we would live by His resurrection? Why not place our hope in this gracious God? After all, as we look at it, yes it’s easy and simple for us, but it certainly wasn’t for Him. And that’s where we see just how great, how deep, and how wide His love for us is. Amen.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you took my sin upon Yourself, coming into this world as the One sent by our Heavenly Father. Grant me faith to trust in Your mercy, to trust in Your work of dying for my sins. Amen.
“He has begotten us again… To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1:3-4
While we live on earth we must live in hope. For although we know that through faith we possess all the riches of God (for faith certainly brings with it the new birth, adoption, and inheritance), we do not yet see it. Therefore it stands in hope, and is laid aside a little while, so that we cannot see it with our eyes. This he calls the hope of life.
In hope, he says, we await the precious inheritance to which we have attained through faith. For this is the order: out of the word comes Faith, out of faith the new birth, and out of the new birth we enter into hope, so that we are sure of the heavenly good and await it with certainty.
This hope leads us not to look at this world with disdain but with joy for the future the Lord has prepared for it! This world will be recreated by the Word of God in the same manner that we have been reborn in faith.
Prayer: Lord God, Heavenly Father, may we always be excited for the best day of the rest of our lives, the day of the Lord. The day of your triumphant return is indeed on its way and we cant wait! In the name of Jesus, Amen.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:13
Behold how daring and bold the prophetess? Who gave him such as stoned if I encourage? Or when it’s did he receive it? From the savior alone. The more people would drive us away from him the firm or reclaim to him. The more sorrow, misery, and harm people do us, the more we rejoice, for our joy is eternal. And the more people want to drag us away from it, the greater it becomes.
And this should be understood as follows: Christ as my Savior; if I no one believe it, it is an eternal joy to me, so long as I build upon it. When, however, the heart and conscience are devoid of Christ, the joy has ceased. Grace continues, but the conscience can stumble and fall. In this essay that you may not be offended if many of your number fall away from the gospel and denied Christ. For Christ is with his comfort and joy, the cross and persecution are not far away.
In this we see that our sinful conscience can often sway with our broken thoughts and intentions but that Christ holds fast onto us. This is the mercy of God, that the work of saving sinners belongs to Jesus and not to the hands, thoughts, and wills of mankind.
Prayer: Lord your Joy is indeed our strength. We know this and pray that you would continually hold it before our eyes that we can know where our true home is. Thank you Jesus! Amen.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
This is a noble and dear virtue of faith, that it closes its eyes and simply and joyfully leaves everything in the hands of God. Faith does not seek to see into the motivation of our Heavenly Father wanting to know why he acts as he does, it simply holds him to be the highest goodness and justice for all.
This is why faith is called the proving of things not seen, and even the very opposite of what is seen. The logic of the Gospel often runs contrary to our own human wisdom and therefore we are called forth from it to trust our Heavenly Father. It does not mean we close our eyes to the situations and needs of those around us. Rather, it means we see them very clearly yet simultaneously trust and rely upon the work of God for them in and among us.
Therefore this is the highest honor and love toward God in the highest degree of such honor and love for her neighbors. It is the trusting and believing God’s promises that he will be at work and is indeed at work now even though in many situations that may be hard for us to see or understand.
May you know and trust in the love of your Father, especially when it is hard and contrary to your natural desire for those are the faith moments when he is calling you from your human logic and into His Gospel logic.
Prayer: Lord God Heavenly Father, we pray that you would continue to strengthen and sustain saving faith in us and in all your people. We rely upon you for our hope and the hope of the world. Amen.
“I will pour upon them the spirit of grace and supplication.” Zechariah 12:10
The Spirit should create these two things in all Christians: first, that their hearts are sure in certain that God is gracious unto them; then, that they can help others to with their prayers. There is always and out flowing to others from the individual who has been touched, convicted, and freed by the power the gospel to those around them.
This is the same blessing that was given to Abraham by our Heavenly Father in Genesis chapter 12. “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The Creator of heaven and earth has a heart that seeks and loves the lost no matter their condition. So when our Creator and Redeemer puts His Spirit within the children of Heaven, His Spirit continues to do what the Holy Spirit has always done, He loves people. That means the people of God love others and care for them simply because the Holy Spirit is still doing that Godly work and is now using them as the hands and feet of God.
This concept is shown to us in the hymns the church sings when they worship together. For example “Take my heart and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee”. We hear this concept expressed even in the Lord’s prayer when we say Thy will be done.
May His love and Merciful will be done among you! Today, and for the rest of your tomorrows!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we submit to you in all things. We do this with Joy because you have shown that Your will is gracious and loving to all. We desire that our will be unified with yours. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” – John 15:11
It is to this end that we must celebrate that Christ holds fast to us. That he holds fast to our whole heart and soul, mind and body. Our joy is full when the Son joyfully presents us to our Heavenly Father in celebration. He shields us so that no calamity may befall us, that the Devil may not oppress us or snatch us from His hand. It is His work that breathes joy into all of our struggles and brokenness so that despair may have no place in our heart.
Jesus never tells us that life in relationship with him, that is saving faith, will be a life without struggle or suffering. In fact, He tells us the opposite! He tells us the world will hate us and war against us because we have the joy of Jesus! This is why it is important for us to remember and celebrate that just as Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil on the cross, so we too will forever be more than triumphant having received the victory of Easter in the waters of our Baptisms!
The only alternative to the Joy of Jesus is the happiness of the world. There are times, for sure, that the happiness of this world is very enticing! There are times when we are sinful fallen Children of God are tempted to give in and devote our lives to acquiring and pursuing the happiness of this world as the ultimate good!
As Christians we don’t reject the good things of the world but we definitely know that the good things of this world are only a blessing if they serve us in the right capacity. That is, they serve us but without us ever serving them. They must not and cannot replace or even challenge the rightful priority and spot that only belongs to Christ and the saving Joy that He give to us.
Prayer: Lord God Heavenly Father, please continue to establish your Joy in our hearts. Guard and protect us from this day forth and forever more! That we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord, Amen.
“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son – And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called – and he wrote: ‘His name is John.'” Luke 1:57, 62-63
Depending on when you read this, there are only–give or take–181 shopping days left until Christmas (or 181 days of procrastination left, depending on what kind of shopper you are). 181 days–that means we are 6 months away from the blessed Nativity of our Lord.
Why mention Christmas in June? Because the church celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist this month (the actual date is June 24, corresponding to the birth of St. John the Baptizer).
John’s parents were the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth was unable to have children. But when an angel told Zechariah that he and his aged wife would give birth to a son, and that his name would be John, and that this son would prepare the people for the Lord, it was just too much! Zechariah’s faith was empty. God’s promise to him didn’t bear any fruit. And because of his lack of faith, the angel Gabriel told him to “Just be quiet for a while and watch God work.”
Like Zechariah we must confess that we too have had a cold response to God’s Word. God has spoken to us through His Word saying trust Me, believe in Me, live for Me, follow Me – to which our reply has been as mute as Zechariah. We have been indifferent or even bored with God’s Word; too scared, too lazy, or too prideful to let it dwell in us richly. Jesus says in John 15, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” But if God can bring people back from the dead, He can bring you back too!
And it all started with Zechariah’s son, John. Zechariah was struck deaf and mute by the angel Gabriel, but when the time came, he let out a stream of praise like champagne bubbling out of a hastily opened bottle. His son John would “be called the prophet of the Most High; for [he] would go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” And prepare the way He would! John–wild-eyed, grasshopper eatin’ John–would point people to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
John usually points us to Jesus in Advent and Christmas. But God’s put him to work this month to point you to the greatest gift ever. No matter what your week was like. No matter what challenges you’ll face this afternoon or tomorrow or the next day; no matter how badly you botched things up again, Jesus is your gift. Drenched with His water and delighted with His wine/blood and bread/body, you are something new in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” From nothing, to something new and marvelous.
It’s June and there’s only 181 days till Christmas, but the blessing and gift of Jesus comes to you now in His Word and Promise.
Prayer: Almighty God, through John the Baptist You once proclaimed salvation. Grant that we may know this salvation and serve you in holiness all the days of our life. Amen.
“The kingdom of God – is like a grain of mustard seed – ” Mark 4:30, 31
If we were to write a story about how God in his great and mighty way
was going to rescue his special people and destroy all his enemies, our
version of the story would never read like the New Testament.
We like big and impressive heroes who live larger than life. We like
obvious winners. We like decisive victories. And we like the glory that
goes with all of that. If we were writing a story about God, it would
probably not look or sound like anything from the Bible. It certainly
wouldn’t involve planting little, unimpressive mustard seeds. But in the
parable of the mustard seed, Jesus is making the point that God’s ways
are not our ways.
Jesus is teaching us that despite appearances, what He was doing while
on earth was going to have a dramatic outcome. From one little Rabbi
from Nazareth along with His band of twelve motley men, would come
something big enough to change the world forever.
Jesus had come to bring the reign of God into the world. And in many
ways it did not look very effective or important. But it was how God
planned to bring people into His kingdom. Who would have thought
that God would arrive as a helpless baby in a manger? Who would have
thought that a ragtag group of men would be hand-selected to carry the
kingdom of God to the very ends of the earth? Who would have
thought that God’s kingdom would include turning the other cheek and
loving one’s enemies? Who would have thought that God’s own Son
would lead by suffering and dying a shameful death on a cross in order
to restore all things–to fight death with death?
The answer? No one but God would have done things this way. And
yet, through this unimpressive ministry of Jesus, God’s reign has grown
into the most powerful kingdom ever–a kingdom where the sins of the
sinful are forgiven, mercy is shown to the merciless, and the poor in
Spirit are made rich in the undeserved grace of God.
The little mustard seed is truly unimpressive at first. And perhaps your
faith and our churches are just as unimpressive today. But just as the
little mustard seed will grow into a large plant, so will God’s “little”
kingdom grow into the all-encompassing rule and reign of God Almighty.
With repentance and faith wrought by the Holy Spirit, you have been
brought into this kingly reign of Jesus. Your faith and your life may feel
as little and insignificant as a tiny mustard seed. But God promises that
it will all change in the future. This parable invites you to live with faith
and hope until the Day that Christ returns to make all things new. Only
on that Last and glorious Day will the fullness of God’s reign be seen.
Until then, trust in the seemingly unimpressive works of God in your
life: baptism, confession and absolution, the Lord’s Supper, hearing the
Word of God through sermons and Bible Studies. These are all signs
that the best is yet to come.
Prayer: Grant me faith, O Lord, to trust your ways and not my
own, until you come again; through Jesus Christ, Amen.