“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.
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)
“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.