Where are you headed, Jesus?
Ever notice how often we ask some form of the preceding question? We see someone coming out of their apartment with a coat on and we ask, where are you headed George? Or we see someone standing in the lobby looking out of the windows, obviously looking for someone and we ask, where are you headed Betty? And their answers may be relatively simple. Maybe George was going for a walk outside or getting ready to get on the bus and go to the Jewel or a doctor’s appointment. Betty might have been waiting for her daughter to pick her up and take her to lunch or maybe for a bit of shopping.
We are always curious about where people are going. You hear that someone is going to be going on vacation and your first question is usually, where are you going? We like to see if it is somewhere that we have been, or would like to go; or if it is somewhere very special or off the beaten track. We are always interested in where people are going. Think about when your grandson or granddaughter says they are going to college in the fall and you ask where. Same thing happens when they get a job, you ask where is that job?
Last week we ended the season of Epiphany with Jesus going up on the mountain and being transfigured, glorified in his person as God. Then in the middle of the week we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, and the question we might want to ask is where are you headed, Jesus? Because of the confession of the disciples that Jesus is Christ the Son of the living God and Jesus’ transfiguration, things are different now. No longer are the disciples going to be moving around the region of Galilee. Now it is different and Jesus has told them where they are headed, Jerusalem.
This is not the first time that Jesus and the disciples have headed to Jerusalem; they have been there before. What is different this time is that for Jesus this is the last time he will head to Jerusalem. Jesus answered the disciples’ question of where they were headed and he told them Jerusalem. But he added to the answer, that he was going to Jerusalem to be arrested and tried by the Religious Leaders and turned over to the Roman rulers who would kill him. But he also told his disciples that on the third day he would rise again. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen and understand all that Jesus told them.
But Jesus heading to Jerusalem to die is good news for us. He is headed there to die, not because he did anything deserving death, but rather because we did. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem to die on a cross to pay the price for the sins that we have committed. It is with his shed blood that our sins are wiped away and we are put in a new and right relationship with God. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem to save us. That is the good news of Lent and that is why we focus on sorrow for our sins, knowing where Jesus is headed and why he is going there.
Lord God, we often want to know where you want us to go with our lives. Yet your answer is clear to us. You want us to follow Jesus. You want us to go with Him to Jerusalem and to the cross on Calvary and see where He suffers and dies so that we receive the forgiveness of our sins. During this time of Lent strengthen us to walk with Jesus knowing that it is for us that He suffers and dies. Amen
Did You See Jesus?
As we start the month of February and are getting ready for Lent, this is a fair question to ask. In January the church was celebrating the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a Greek word that translated means, manifestation, make visible, reveal. And as we recall the readings and events that took place during the season of Epiphany, that is exactly what happened. On Epiphany Sunday we heard about the three wisemen who came from the east, seeking Him who was born king of the Jews. And when they found the baby Jesus they worshipped him and gave him gifts, for he had been revealed to them as the promised savior of the world.
Likewise we saw the Baptism of Jesus take place in the Jordan River, where John the Baptizer, baptized Jesus. And once again more about Jesus is revealed, simply that he is filled with the Holy Spirit as represented by the dove descending from heaven. But he is made manifest as the savior when the heavens open and God speaks and says; “this is my Son, with Him I am well pleased.” That day many people saw Jesus and got a glimpse of God with flesh on.
In a few days, we will worship the transfiguration of our Jesus. This is the reading, which marks the end of the season of Epiphany. For here Jesus is shown in his role as God. The disciples Peter, James and John have gone up on the mountain with Jesus. And while their eyes grew heavy with sleep, Jesus was transfigured. Jesus’ appearance was changed to be bright, and magnificent reflecting to some extent the glory he has as God. This man the disciples know as Jesus is manifested as God, the holy, almighty, creator God. And they get just a glimpse of his magnificence and glory that he possesses as God. Over and above his appearance is that fact that Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. Two of the most well known Old Testament people, Moses the deliverer, who lead the people out of bondage in Egypt and who gave the people God’s commandments. Then there is Elijah the great prophet who called the people to turn away from idol worship and return to the worship of the only true God. Jesus the Lord’s savior, God with flesh on is talking with these two great prophets about Jesus’ upcoming death.
The disciples at that moment awoke, confused, frightened and not fully understanding what was before them, was God revealed, made manifest to them. Fortunately, the disciples do begin to understand and see Jesus as their Lord and Savior. So now we come back to our question. Did you see Jesus? Did you see him in God’s word, teaching, preaching, healing, forgiving and promising you grace, mercy and love? Did you see him in the acts of kindness and love performed by others? Did you see him in the answer to prayers? Did you see him in the comfort his presence gives to those who mourn, but who have hope because of the promise of eternal life with Jesus? If you didn’t, look again, because Jesus is here and invites you to come and see him and know him better.
Most Wonderful Heavenly Father, we give you thanks that you have sent your Son our Savior to live here on earth. We give you thanks that you have revealed his glory, honor and might before us these past few weeks. We ask you to help us to see Jesus in acts of kindness and mercy. Help us to see Jesus as we read and study your Holy Word. Help us to see Jesus in the answers to our prayers. But we pray especially that you will help us to show Jesus to others, by how we live, act and speak. We ask this all in the name of our revealed Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen
How Would You Change the World?
I think it is fair to say that most of us would agree that the world needs changing. As I write this article the United States is still reeling from two recent mass shooting incidents, there continues to be strife in the Middle East, economic uncertainty and all manner of troubles around the world. Add to that the daily incidents of rudeness, me first-ism, and a lack of respect and kindness for others and I think the point is clear; the world needs changing.
In December in the season of Advent we were talking about preparing for the coming of our Advent King. In talking about this king the point was made repeatedly that He was going to turn the world upside down. This king was going to be a king in ways that most people did not expect. This king would be different than all the other kings that people knew. He would be a world changer.
Each of us has the chance to be a world changer. I know most of you don’t think that is possible. You say that you are not a king, you are not a leader, you have very little influence and certainly you don’t have the talent, skills or abilities to change the world. I beg to differ with you. I believe that you do have the ability to be a world changer and have all the skills, abilities and talents you need. And simply all you have to do is follow the example of our Advent King and you can change the world! Think about how Jesus changed the world. He taught people to turn the other cheek, he taught people to love their enemies and he taught us what it means to love sacrificially.
You change the world first and foremost by beginning with you, yourself. See each of us could learn to love better. First we need to learn to love ourselves, I talk to so many people who just don’t seem to love themselves. They think they are not good enough, tall enough, pretty enough, nice enough, you fill in the blank. They just don’t seem to love themselves. God makes us for His purposes, in His Image and we are worth everything in his eyes, so let’s agree to love ourselves, because God does.
Next let’s learn to love one another better. I am a people watcher and when I am out and about I watch people and it is amazing how rude and crude we are to other people. We don’t open doors for others. We barge ahead. We cut in line, both in person and in our cars. We don’t take the time to do for others, to share a kind word, a compliment or see how we could help someone. If we focused on doing one act of kindness or love each day for someone we would be surprised how much of an impact it would have on others. Think about this year, you can be a world changer. “Love one another as I have loved you … by this they will know you are my disciples.” This is pretty good advice from the perfect world changer.
Lord God, we know that you have created the world and continue to be in the world shaping and changing our lives. We have never thought of ourselves as world changers, yet we see how your Son did this while he was on earth. He taught us about love, real love, love that is sacrificial, love that gives and does not take, love that is complete and perfect. It is all too often too easy to look for and see the negative, the bad side of things and people. Lord, help me to look to the good side, the side of love, care and concern. Help me to be a world changer by loving as our Lord Jesus has loved. In his loving name I pray. Amen
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Matthew 4:17
Repent is not a popular word in our world today. Usually people associate it with wild-eyed street preachers, holding up signs made from pieces of cardboard about the end of the world. But repent isn’t a bad word. It’s a very good word. It’s the very first word that Jesus used when He started preaching and teaching during His time on earth.
The word “repent” literally means to turn around. It means to turn our minds around and realize that there are things we’ve done that God has told us are wrong. Repenting means we recognize that we need God to save us because no matter how hard we try; we just can’t save ourselves. We can’t stop doing those things He’s said are wrong and harmful for us and our neighbor. We can’t pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. To admit that is to repent.
Of course, we don’t repent just for the sake of repenting. We don’t do it to wallow in our weakness and sorrow over sin. We repent because, as Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That means that it’s right here, close enough to touch. We repent because we want to be brought into that kingdom and the only way there is through Jesus. When we repent, we admit that we can’t get ourselves to God’s kingdom, so we ask Jesus to bring us there. And the way He brings us there is by forgiving us.
When we repent, we’re called to believe that Jesus is the way to the kingdom of God. He is the way to eternal life lived under God’s good and gracious reign. We turn away from all the other things that got us distracted from Him and we look to Him instead. We look to Him in His Word, where He’s promised to be. We look for Him in Baptism, where He forgives us and makes us children of God. We keep coming back to those places where we see and hear those things. That’s all repentance really means. It means turning around and looking for Jesus in the places He’s told us to look for Him.
To make sure that we turn completely to Jesus and trust only in Him, God sends us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us God’s Word and shows us Jesus. In that way, repentance is really God’s work. He’s the One who calls us to repent. He’s the One who gives us the gift of faith so that we can believe. We learn to thank God and put our faith in the only One who can bring us into the kingdom of heaven: Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, You do not want any to be lost. We thank You that You have called us to turn away from everything that would take us away from You. Help us to repent of our sins and to look only to Your Son Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ John 1:38-39a
When Jesus asks the question, “What are you seeking?” He’s asking the would-be disciples, “What do you want?” That’s a very revealing question. The things that we want are the things that we love. If you want to know what someone loves, find out what they want. The things they want the most are the things that they love the most. They fear losing them. They love having them. They trust those things to make them happy and fulfilled and content. It’s when we learn what someone wants, what they love, that we learn what their god is.
Sadly, most of the time what humans—including all of us—want is something other than God. It can be money, peace and quiet, popularity, power, honor, or anything really. But rarely is having God enough for sinful humanity. All those other things that we fear losing, that we love having, and that we trust more than God are called idols. So when Jesus asks us, “What do you want?” He’s trying to show us all the idols we have in our lives. He’s calling us to want Him more than anything else.
The First Commandments tells us that we should have no other gods. That means that we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That means that we should want Him above all things. Why? Because God is the only one who can really give us life and contentedness. The life and bliss that He gives is much more than any other god could give. Everything else that we chase after and want won’t be able to give us eternal life or never-ending happiness. Money gets spent. Popularity fades. Power falls apart. Honor becomes tarnished. But none of that happens when God is what we fear, love, and trust. He is the only thing that lasts forever. And the most wonderful thing about that is that He shares it with us. When He forgives our sins in Jesus, He shares eternity with us. He gives us His own eternal life. He brings us with Him.
Jesus tells those who would follow Him as His disciples, “Come and you will see.” Come after Him. Follow Him. Love Him above all things and you will see all the wonderful things He does for those who put their trust in Him.
Heavenly Father, you know that we have many things in our lives that we fear, love, and trust more than You. Forgive us for this. Help us to love you most of all, because You have loved us enough to send Your Son to die on the cross for us and give us eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.’ Matthew 3:13-15
At Epiphany, we learn that Jesus is on our side. Even more, we learn that He is one of us, that this Man Jesus is also God. Here, at His baptism in the Jordan River, we learn that He’s not content to simply be one of us. He also wants to do for us what we could not do on our own.
When Jesus went down into the water to be baptized by John the Baptist, John knew that this was not going to be any ordinary baptism. All the other people he had baptized had sins that they needed to confess and receive forgiveness for. But John knew that Jesus had no sin. He was the Lamb of God—spotless, pure, and holy. So he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John thought that things should have been the other way around.
But this is exactly how Jesus wanted it. He doesn’t want to stay separated from His people. He doesn’t even want sin to get in the way. So He wades down into it all, right into all the muck and mire of every single sin ever committed by humanity, and He meets His people there. Not only that, He picks up those sins and carries them Himself, taking them all the way to the cross, where He willingly pays the price those sins demand: death. He dies so that sinful people can live forever. It might seem backwards to us. It doesn’t make much sense for the innocent to be punished and the guilty to go free. It didn’t make sense to John the Baptist. But that’s what Jesus wants. He says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is His plan of salvation.
At Jesus’ baptism, we see Him beginning His work of saving us. He’s not just one of us, He is right there with us in a misery-loves-company kind of way. He’s with us to redeem us, to take all of our sins from us and to give us His own purity and holiness. This is how he fulfills all righteousness. He does it all for us.
Heavenly Father, at Jesus’ baptism You told the world that He is Your beloved Son to whom we are to listen. Let us always hear His Word and know that because of what He has done for us, we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life; in Jesus’ name, Amen.
And going into the house [the magi] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
At Christmas we celebrate the fact that in Jesus, God has become man. The eternal Son of God now shares our human flesh and is one of us. He’s taken our side, declaring Himself to be with us forever. And it’s not too difficult to believe that God could do that. Since He really is all-powerful, He can do anything at all, including becoming man.
But with the celebration of Epiphany, we’re faced with something that’s a little harder for many people to believe. At Epiphany, we celebrate that this particular man, Jesus, even as a little child, is the God who is to be worshiped. That takes a lot of faith.
The wise men, as they came from the east, probably had no idea what to expect when they would see the one who was born King of the Jews. So they did what anyone would do: they went to the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. After all, where else would a king live? But there was no Messiah to be found there. The magi then had to follow the star again until they came to the house where the Savior of the world was born.
What was it that they saw there? A small child with His mother. Anyone who was looking at this would find it hard to believe that this child could be the Savior of the world. He looked like a kid. And yet, the wise men bowed down and worshiped him as God. This is what the celebration of Epiphany is all about. It’s about God becoming one of us so thoroughly that human eyes can’t tell you that this child is truly the Son of God. Epiphany is about coming to know Jesus not through what our eyes tell us, but coming to know Him through faith.
Jesus wants to be known through faith. He wants us to look at Him and not judge based on what we see, but on what He’s said. So when we see Him as an infant, we should still know that He is fully God wrapped up in swaddling clothes. When we see Him as a man who is despised by the powers-that-be, we should still know that He is the One who is praised and adored by the angels. When we see Him dying on the cross, we should know that He is the salvation of the world. Epiphany teaches us not to know Jesus through sight, but through faith. For it is only through faith that we come to know Him as He truly is, as He wants to be known: as the One who redeems us from all sin, evil and death.
O God, by the leading of a star You made Your only-begotten Son known to the Gentile wise men. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy Your presence in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’” (Revelation 7:7-11)
September 29 is the Feast Day for St. Michael and All Angels. Christians have always been fascinated by angels, and you see them all the time in movies, TV shows, and on your Facebook feed. But there are many myths about angels and what they really are. Today, I’d like to dispel two of these myths:
Myth #1: Angels are cute and cuddly.
Sometimes you see angels pictured as playful children or beautiful women. They seem harmless or even fragile. But that is not the case.
Angels are fearsome spiritual warriors. The first words out of an angel’s mouth are usually “Fear not!” Some people have confused angels for God himself.
The word “angel” means “messenger.” These are God’s servants, and because they are in His holy presence, they reflect His glory. With their messages, they bring the glory of God down to earth.
They also fight against Satan and His angels. We know that Michael and the angels will be victorious, not only because the Book of Revelation tells us so, but because Satan has been defeated by Jesus through His death on the cross, and he has no more power over any of us.
Myth #2: When you die, you become an angel.
Jesus does say that in heaven we will become “like the angels” but He is only saying that we won’t get married after we die. The truth is that angels and human beings are different creations of God, and we’re much better off being humans rather than angels.
Jesus did not become an angel. Jesus did not die for the angels, but for all of humanity. We confess that when Jesus returns we will rise from the dead, just as He did, with a new, glorified body, just like Jesus’ Easter body. This is a blessing beyond anything that God has given to the angels.
So no, your loved ones who have died in the Lord are not angels watching over you from heaven. They are at rest awaiting the resurrection of the dead. But God does promise to use His angels to watch over you and defend you, and when your last hour comes, they will bear you to His side.
Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
September 21 is the Feast Day for St. Matthew. On this day we give thanks to God for the good that He has done through St. Matthew in His church. St. Matthew was one of the twelve disciples, Jesus’ closest followers. He also wrote the first gospel (as best as we can tell). Other than that we don’t know too much about St. Matthew. His name shows up in the lists of disciples. The only specific story we have about St. Matthew is the account where Jesus calls him to be a disciple.
We find Matthew here sitting at His tax booth. Think of this like a toll booth, there to collect taxes on those who were traveling on the roads, especially those bringing goods to market. Tax collectors weren’t especially known for their honesty. They were looked down upon as collaborators with the hated Romans, as well as cheats and thieves.
But tax collectors were no common street thugs. Tax collectors had to be able to read and write. They needed to know math and be able to speak several languages. They were probably among the better educated people of their day.
When Jesus saw Matthew, He said, “Follow me.” We don’t know why Jesus chose Matthew. It was simply an act of grace. No matter how smart or wealthy anyone was, no one could earn their way into being a disciple. It was simply Jesus’ choice.
It was amazing that Jesus chose Matthew, and it was amazing that Matthew got up to follow Jesus. What about all the money there in the booth? What about all the paperwork? Who would take over after Matthew left? None of that is important. Just as James and John left their fishing nets and boats behind, so Matthew left his tax booth and his old life behind. Nothing was more important than following Jesus.
Jesus has chosen you, too. He calls you to be a disciple. He calls you leave your old life behind and follow Him. There’s nothing in you or about you that qualifies you to be a disciple. It’s simply Jesus’ gracious choice, as He calls you to follow Him.
O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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.