“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.
“Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
As the saying goes: blood is thicker than water. What is usually meant by this is that biological family-ties are stronger than with people outside the family. God has made it clear throughout Scripture that family is very important. God places us in a family with a father and mother for our good. Marriage and family is truly the foundation for all societies around the world. Families are great sources of support, joy, consolation and purpose. Friends and acquaintances can come and go but a family tree is connected at the roots.
And yet, every family is made up of sinners who fall short of God’s design for family-life and life in general. Often it can be much easier to show kindness to perfect-strangers than to those in our own family that we know so well. Because of our sin, we tend to hurt those we are closest to, and that usually means hurting those in our family. God has established biological families in this world for our good, but being a part of an earthly family–even one that has been connected to the church for many generations–is no guarantee of life and salvation. Blood is thicker than water, as far as it goes. But in Mark chapter 3, Jesus seems to turn this saying on its head.
As Jesus is teaching inside a house one day, His mother and brothers show up and interrupt His instruction. We are never told why Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up outside of the house. But they are literally outsiders, which is mentioned twice in the reading for emphasis. The insiders are those who are circled around Jesus, listening to His words and responding to His call. Those who cannot fully embrace Jesus’ call to repentance and faith in Him will remain outsiders, regardless of their family origins.
Elsewhere in His ministry, Jesus enthusiastically supports and defends the God-given blessing of families (e.g. Mark 7:9-13). Jesus is not abolishing or degrading family in this story. He is simply revealing that He has come to create and establish a new family. This new family is not based on blood, but on faith. Jesus says that His family is made up of people who do the will of God. What is the will of God? From earlier in Mark’s Gospel, we know it is to “repent and believe the gospel” (1:15) and “to follow him” (1:18, 20).
The Good News for you today is that Jesus has made you an insider with Him! Regardless of how functional or dysfunctional your family may be, you will always have a place in God’s family. At just the right time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters (Galatians 4:4-5). God has even given you His name in Baptism: Christian. Blood may be thicker than water in this life, but not in God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to bring sorrow over sin–including sins against family members. The Spirit also creates faith in our hearts so that we may “do the will of God” and follow Jesus. What a joy to always have a place in God’s family by grace.
Prayer: O Father in heaven, strengthen our earthly families, even as you feed and nourish us with your Word of grace and forgiveness in the heavenly family of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.