“And [Jesus] said to [Nathanael], ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” John 1:51
When Jesus was gathering His disciples, He did it using His Word. We read in the gospels that whenever Jesus said to someone, “Follow me,” they did it. Philip, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all on the receiving end of Jesus’ words and they dropped everything and followed Him. Jesus draws people to Himself using His Word.
Jesus still uses His Word to make disciples. Whenever Holy Scripture is read, whenever a pastor preaches a sermon that proclaims what Jesus accomplished for us, whenever someone is baptized using Jesus words: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you can be sure that Jesus is using those words to draw people to Himself. But sometimes we don’t think that’s enough. We fallen humans try to find something flashier or more impressive. We want to cling to programs or gimmicks or anything besides than these simple words of Jesus read or preached to us.
But as soon as we start to crave something that we think is more impressive, Jesus stops us in our tracks. He did this with Nathanael. Philip was following Jesus after he heard the words of our Lord invite him. Philip went and told his brother Nathanael that the Messiah had been found. Nathanael doubted, thinking that nothing good—nothing impressive or respectable—could come out of a town like Nazareth, but he went anyway to go and see what his brother was talking about. When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Nathanael realized that Jesus was no mere mortal, and he announced that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. But Jesus didn’t want Nathanael to follow simply because of a show of power. Jesus said to Philip, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you now believe? You will see greater things than this.” (John 1:50) Jesus didn’t want to draw believers through things that simply impressed their fallen flesh. He wants to draw them with His Word—the Word of the cross. That’s why Jesus continued, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Jesus was talking about His crucifixion, where heaven and earth would be bridged and reunited, where the gates of heaven would swing open to welcome us in. Jesus wanted Nathanael to focus on the cross.
Sometimes we want to focus on things that seem impressive to our fallen nature. But Jesus reminds us that His cross is the greatest good. We follow Him not because of a display of worldly power, but because His Word has made us His disciples by showing us that His cross has opened heaven for us. Our crosses in this life lead us to focus on our Lord’s cross and put our faith in Him rather than what’s impressive to the world.
Heavenly Father, lead me to hear Your Son’s Word and put my faith in Him. Turn my eyes away from the things of this world and focus them only on His cross. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11
When Jesus was baptized, something unique happened. All of the others who had gone out to the Jordan River to be baptized by John had been confessing their sins. As they confessed these sins, as they were receiving John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it was like their sins were coming out of them and sitting there in the muddy water of the Jordan. Every tax collector, thug, prostitute, swindler, cheat, and robber had their sins leave them and stay in the water.
But then a different kind of Man came along. This Man had no sins to confess. John knew that He had no sins, so he said to this Man, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) He knew that Jesus didn’t need to repent of anything, and yet here He was, in the same water where sinners had confessed their sins and left them there to drown. But Jesus insisted, saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) So, because Jesus said that it was fitting and that it would fulfill all righteousness, John baptized Him. It’s when this happened that we read; “he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
When Jesus was baptized, it was different. The others had left their sins in the water. Jesus soaked them up. He took all of the sins that the tax collectors, thugs, prostitutes, swindlers, cheats, and robbers had confessed and He put them on His own shoulders. He drew them up out of the water and He carried them all the way to the cross. That’s what it meant, “to fulfill all righteousness”—it meant making all of us holy.
Jesus didn’t stop with bearing the sins of people in His own time. He carries our sins as well. When we’re baptized, our sins are washed off, left in the water, where Jesus picks them up. He took our sins and nailed them to the cross. We’re left spotless and pure. In fact, because of Jesus taking away our sins, our heavenly Father says to us, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased,” “You are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Because we’re forgiven in Jesus, the Father speaks these words to each of us and He sends us the Holy Spirit to create and protect our faith. We’re made His children because we’ve been baptized and given Jesus’ forgiveness, where He takes all of our sin and gives us His own perfect righteousness.
Father in heaven, at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River You proclaimed Him Your beloved Son and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. Make all we who are baptized in His name faithful in our calling as Your children and bring us to inherit with Him everlasting life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
“When [the wise men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they 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 2:10-11
Tuesday, January 6 is the beginning of the season of Epiphany in the Church year. It’s during this season that we hear about all of the ways that Jesus revealed Himself to be God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. It’s not particularly difficult to believe that God could become man—after all, He’s God, so He can do anything He wants. It’s a completely different thing to believe that this man, this Jesus, this child sitting on His mother’s lap is God. And yet, here we see the Gentile wise men, from a far-away land, falling down and worshiping Him, this God-in-human-flesh.
The Gentile wise men, although they didn’t have the advantage of being Hebrews and hearing the Word of God all the time, had heard the prophecies. At some point in history, the pages of the Old Testament had found their way to the homeland of these wise men and they had read them. The Word of God had taught them that there would be a Savior, not just for the Hebrews, but also for Jew and Gentile alike. The wise men trusted the words of these prophecies, waiting for the time when the Messiah would arrive.
The surest sign for the wise men, aside from the words of Scripture, was the star proclaiming Jesus’ birth. They knew that this must proclaim something unique and wonderful. After the fall into sin, heaven and earth were dragged into mankind’s rebellion against God. Men worshiped the stars and the sun and moon. Gold was fashioned into idols. Incense and myrrh weren’t only used in God’s holy temple, but also by pagans who worshiped false gods and mortal kings. But now, with the arrival of the Savior, with the appearing of the star announcing His birth, heaven and earth are restored. The wise men don’t worship the Christmas star, as their ancestors would have; rather, the star points them to Jesus. They don’t use gold to make an idol or burn incense and myrrh in front of false gods; rather, they present these treasures of the earth to the Savior. These treasures have been made new, set aside for good and holy purposes. They have been redeemed and are now instruments to point people, both Jew and Gentile, to the Messiah.
Epiphany is important because it shows us that this man, Jesus, is God in flesh, God walking among us. As God, He restores heaven and earth. He redeems them from mankind’s sinful rebellion. He sets them apart for His good purposes: to be used by us to care for us and to always point us to Him. Amen.
O God, by the leading of a star You made Your only-begotten Son known to the Gentiles. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy the fullness of Your divine presence in heaven. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. --Romans 8:34-35, 38-39
The Christmas season is too short. In the world, it seems as if there’s an entire month of build-up…followed by a sudden and abrupt end of Christmas and turn toward New Years.
I recall having the radio on in the background of the house from Thanksgiving on and hearing Christmas song after Christmas song after Christmas song. As Christmas day came and presents were opened and relatives were visited, and exhausted children went to sleep, I sat alone in our living room, drinking a beer and listening to the familiar Christmas songs. Suddenly, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was abruptly ended mid-song and a song from the 90s band Matchbox 20 began playing. It was exactly 12:00 AM on December 26th. Christmas suddenly ended and the lack of Christmas music on the radio made that clear.
Advent and Christmas are comforting in their predictability. You know how things are going to unfold—the virgin Mary will be with child again. Joseph will again consider calling off the marriage until the angel, Gabriel, tells him to take Mary as his wife. They will again travel to Bethlehem. Again, there will be no room in the inn. Again, shepherds will be out in the field watching their flock by night when the angel appears and they are afraid. We will again sing Joy to the World and O Come, All Ye Faithful.
New Years is much different. New Year’s Eve carries with it unmeasurable uncertainty. We look back at all life’s twists and turns that happened to us during the course of the year and marvel at what we experienced. We are reminded of the celebrities who died during the course of the year and we are surprised all over again. We see footage of the year’s major news stories and wonder how these things could ever have been predicted.
Then, we look toward an uncertain future. What joys will we have? What will be the cause of this year’s tears? Who will we meet and who will we say goodbye to for the final time? What news stories will delight us or terrify us? We cannot possibly know.
And yet, one thing remains for certain. We cannot be separated from the love of God in Jesus, our Lord. Jesus’ forgiving love remains more powerful than loss or COVID or war. Jesus’ forgiveness is greater than our most horrible sin. Jesus’ life is greater than death. Jesus’ victory is greater than our most-humiliatng defeat. Jesus will never stop loving you, Jesus will never stop forgiving you, and Jesus will never, ever abandon you…come what may.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we know that Jesus is already there in his grace. Amen.
Eternal God, we commit to Your mercy and forgiveness the year now ending and commend to Your blessing and love the times yet to come. In the new year, abide among us with Your Holy Spirit that we may always trust in the saving name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen