Year A – Lent 4 – Psalm 23

 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

 

Summary – Psalm 23 is a beautiful poem which expresses the care of the Lord for his people with the well-known Shepherd/sheep relationship. It is a Psalm of David and calls to mind a young man who came to know God while tending the flock. Just as David was a good shepherd, nourishing and protecting the flock, so the Lord was The Good Shepherd (1 Samuel 17:34ff).  This is one of the most memorable passages in Scripture and has been the comfort of God’s people for over 3000 years. It explains God’s care for us, to lead us, to restore us, to be with us through the darkness, to strengthen with rod and staff, to prepare a table, to anoint us, to cause goodness and mercy to follow us – forever. When God looked on David’s heart, by His grace, David was the kind of believer that placed His trust in Yahweh as Shepherd of His people. This caused David to sing and play psalms of praise to his Lord.

Insight – Psalm 23 is the best known Psalm in the world. It is a tremendous comfort. The first five words, like five smooth stones can bring down the giants of self-condemnation and lack of assurance.

The LORD is my shepherd. That is The one and only Almighty God is the One who cares for me.

The LORD is my shepherd. He is not a vague deity. He is the Covenant Lord (Yahweh) of Israel, a covenant keeping God who has committed Himself to the salvation of His people.

The LORD is my shepherd. Now He IS and ever will be at any time I call upon Him, the only Covenant Lord who is my shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd. He is certainly the Covenant Lord and Savior of His people and unlimited in His power to save, but I confess now that He is MY personal Shepherd who cares for me.

The LORD is my shepherd. Not only is He the Almighty God and Savior, but He saves me not as a Tyrant, but as a loving Shepherd. So I can claim boldly, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

Children’s Catechism – Who is the Lord? The Lord is my Shepherd.

Discussion – Have you learned Psalm 23 by heart? If not can you at least learn the first five words? Which one of these words is most important for you?

Prayer – 
Through Christ you make us a new creation, O God, 
for with Him we pass from sin to the new life of grace.
 Accept our prayers in the warm embrace of your compassion,
and welcome all people to the festive banquet of your table,
 where we may rejoice in your love and celebrate the inheritance you have given to us. 
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Year A – Lent 2 – Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)-in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Summary – Paul explains that Abraham’s righteousness did not rest upon his works. Moreover, the promises God made to him did not rest upon works. He received a promise to be heir of the world, the land promise, now extended to all the world (v13), through faith. If you read the entire context of this passage, the argument Paul makes is one of history. Abraham received the promises of his covenant prior to his circumcision. So Paul reasons that this could not have been based upon the law or identity markers of Israelites or keeping of things such as circumcision and the Mosaic code. Rather, Abraham believed God and that was accounted to him as righteousness and that is the basis for the promises.

Insight – To be polite we always congratulate people who have been awarded for hard work. Sometimes our words may (out of kindness) express that their achievements have been completely earned by their efforts. However, a thoughtful person receiving such an award, will note how often they were dependent upon others or how grateful they are for others, and to some extent how much they were unable to do it without the help of someone else. Paul cuts through all of this in the discussion of justification by simply saying the father of our faith Abraham had nothing to boast about. It is certainly one of the most precious promises in Scripture that God declares righteous, justifies, the ungodly by faith in Jesus. We are called to trust Jesus and then to obey. This is what Abraham did. In the argument of Romans Paul is making the point that it is not distinctive Jewish practices like circumcision that make one righteous, it is not being “hearers of the law” (Rom. 2:13), but faith in the God who raises the dead. Abraham did not have anything to boast about and neither do we.

Child’s catechism – How did Abraham gain acceptance before God? Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Discussion – How would you contrast the Christian way of righteousness against other religious or secular ways of righteousness?

Prayer – Our merciful Father, we thank you that you justify the ungodly by faith in Jesus Christ and that you take such ungodly people as Abraham and turn them into fathers of the faith. Grant that we may also rest in faith in Jesus, and as a result of your Spirit’s work, be faithful to you. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

Year A – Lent 2 – Genesis 12:1-4a

Genesis 12:1-4a – 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. 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 the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Summary – Genesis chapter 12 is one of the most important passages in the Bible. It references the call to Abram to leave his father’s land and to go to the promised land. God had promised that he would make Abram great and would bless all the families of the earth through him. Through Abram God would restore to the world what was lost by Adam . The promise involved giving him land, a Seed, and blessing all nations through him. When this promise is fully unpacked by the new covenant era, the land is the whole world, see Romans 4:13, the seed is Christ the new Adam, and the blessing of all nations is the gospel great commission bringing salvation through Christ to the multi-ethnic Church in all the world.

Insight – The story of Abraham is the story of a man who heard God’s word and then believed. It was Abraham’s faith that made him unique. Abram, as he was called then, believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Abraham’s faith in God meant that he would also step out to go the land God showed him. In other words he not only believed that God’s word was true, but then put his feet into action. In the New Testament we discover the promise that God made to Abraham now is true of us. We are incorporated into the promises God made to Abraham. This is especially clear in Romans 4:16, “The promise will be guaranteed to all descendants, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.” What this means for us is just like Abraham we may have a place in the world which God provides, wherever that may be, we are the rightful heirs of the world (Rom 4:13). It also means that like Abraham we may be fruitful and have a “seed” whether that is physical children or spiritual influence or both, and we may be a blessing to future generations through our faithfulness. To the extent that we accomplish these things it will mean that we ourselves have acted like Abraham. We embraced God’s word in faith and then took action.

Child catechism – What did Abraham do when God called him? Abraham believed God’s word and acted on it.

Discussion – Do you think that God can bless you with place, purpose, and influence? Or do you think those kinds of blessings are reserved only for the people that were in the Bible?

Prayer – Heavenly Father we thank you for the example of father Abraham. Grant that we may also have the grace to hear your voice and trust in your Word and then take action to accomplish what you call us to do. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.

Year A – Epiphany 7 – Matthew 5:38-48

Matthew 5:38–48 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Summary – In the Sermon on the Mount thus far, we have seen 1) the beatitudes that picture character of the Kingdom of Jesus; Jesus embodied these characteristics and in His passion and death he was denied all of the blessings of the beatitudes. poor in spirit (humble), who are mournful (who acknowledge sin), are meek, desire righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted and are slandered for righteousness sake. 2) Kingdom people that express the character of Jesus are salt and light in the world and they are righteous, beyond the righteousness of hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. In this section, Jesus directly contradicts the teachings of the religious leadership of Israel. This is signaled by a variation of the statement, “You have heard that it was said.”

Matthew 5:21 You have heard that the ancients were told … But I say to you (MURDER VI Commandment)
Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (ADULTERY VII Commandment)
> Matthew 5:31 It was said  . . . but I say to you (DIVORCE IX Commandment)
> Matthew 5:33 you have heard that the ancients were told . . . but I say to you (FALSE VOWS III & IX Commandment)
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (EYE FOR AN EYE X Commandment)
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR VI Commandment)

How should we interpret these? Here are three principles: 1) Continuity – Since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, we should accept that Jesus is not contradicting Moses or other prophets. Rather, he is contradicting the legalistic interpretation of the Law that came through the Pharisees and scribes. 2) Radicalism in the application of the Law and Prophets – He is taking the Law to the root, not just actions, but motivations, words, emotions. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament too, such as Psalms 15:1–3:  “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, …Psalms 15:4 He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” 3) Jesus uses hyperbole, an expansion and exaggeration to make a point.  We use these too, “I’ve told you a million times.” “I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” “I have a million things to do.” Jesus does this in this way: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you … If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off.”

Insight – Unlike the Pharisaic approach which claimed righteousness by not physically murdering and by not physically committing adultery, etc., – we cannot earn anything through  keeping the Law because we regularly  desire, emote, and speak in ways that violate the character of God. It is impossible for sinners to achieve righteousness through the Law. Jesus raised the Standard so high in His interpretation of the Law that we must find another way. That way is His perfect righteousness which we receive by faith.

Discussion – Since we cannot be “perfect” in thought, word, and deed, do we give up seeking to be obedient to God’s Law? How do we live with sin, yet continue in faith and seek to be obedient? [Remember the Collect for this day]

Prayer – O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

Year A – Epiphany 3 – Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12–23 – Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Summary – Christ fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 9 as he makes his “base of operations” Capernaum, since this place would be the first place enlightened by the ministry of Jesus. Jesus proclaimed repentance since the kingdom was drawing near in Himself. This passage also describes the call of several key apostles: Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus promised to make them fishers of men if they followed Him. This passage also reports the beginning of the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus went throughout the area, ministering in the synagogues, proclaiming the news of the coming kingdom and “curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” This is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus after His baptism and testing in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1-11).

Insight – It is interesting that the means God chose of sharing the good news of Christ was a dozen feeble disciples, several of whom were common fisherman. God did not have this news first announced in the centers of power in the world. There was an actual “evangelist” that announced in Rome the “good news” to the people, like an anchorman on the news today who would announce in the public square “news” worthy of proclamation. But the gospel of Jesus was not announced by such an evangelist. Rather, the first proclamation about Jesus after His resurrection was by one of these fishermen who had been given the Spirit and had walked with Jesus. It was Peter who would proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The effect of the Spirit was recognized: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Such is the work of God in us to take the ordinary and bring about an extraordinary transformation through His Spirit.

Discussion – What are some ways that God changed Peter in order to bring about his transformation to become the Pentecostal preacher and early church leader?

Prayer – O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Epiphany)

Year A – Epiphany 3 – Psalm 27

Psalms 27:1, 4–9 –  The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?   4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.   5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.   6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.   7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

Summary – In this powerful and poetic psalm, David calls on the Lord for salvation from His foes, faithfully recognizing that Yahweh is the only help on which to rely.  The life and times of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18-20 read in conjunction with Psalm 27 (especially in light of vs 6 which connects Yahweh’s mercy on Hezekiah to the Davidic line) forms an interesting parallel.  Hezekiah, in the face of the massive horde of Sennacherib, stood firm believing that the Lord is his stronghold and he needed to fear no one.  “Though an army encamped” (vs 3) against Hezekiah, he did not fear, and the Angel of the Lord struck down the army overnight!  Thus, Hezekiah’s head was “lifted up above [his] enemies” (vs 6, cf. 2 Chron 32:23).  Then when Hezekiah was mortally ill (2 Kgs 20:1-6) his prayer to Yahweh (“I have walked before you in faithfulness”) was like David’s in verse 8, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”  In the final verse, David turns his driving poetry to the reader.  Rather than focusing on his personal experience, he admonishes the reader to wait for the Lord, be strong, and take courage.

Insight – There are two things that frighten me badly:  cornfields at night, and criticism from other people.  Sometimes it can seem like “an army is encamped against me” if people disagree.  What frightens you?  One thing we all have in common is fear, and King David was no different.  But rather than shrinking back in fear when his enemies were all around him, he called on God to save him.  His prayer was a mixture of trust in God’s promises and supplication to God’s goodness and faithfulness.  Ultimately, our greatest accuser can be our own hearts, telling us we are sinners who are un-save-able.  But with David, let us say that because God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:19-22), and has sent Jesus to take on our sin, we will be confident, knowing that we will look on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Child Catechism – Who is your light and salvation?  The Lord.

Discussion – List the problems David is dealing with in Psalm 27 (examples: evildoers and war).  What are some ways God overcomes those problems?

Prayer – O Lord, our stronghold, hide us we pray in Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we may hold our head up high knowing our acceptance surely.  We know that You have powerfully saved Your people and we believe that You will continue to do so.  Teach us Your ways and set us on a straight path so that the natural desires that war within us would be defeated.  We believe that we will see Your goodness throughout our lives and will wait for You, knowing that it is your mighty arm that fights for us.  Through Christ,  Amen.

Contributed by Scott Cline

Year A – Sixth Sunday of Easter – Acts 17:22-31

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 17:22-31: Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

Summary – This famous speech given by Paul in Athen on “Mars Hill” demonstrates the apostolic defense of the faith. In speaking to these pagan thinkers, Paul does not appeal to Scripture (as he does in the synagogues), he begins with their own culture as a point of contact. He then moves on to provide a biblical description of the Creator-God which has a certain rational consistency. Essentially, if this is the Creator, then He is not limited to your altar or shrines. He is the one who gives life to all. Now he appeals to the biblical story again in that from one person God made all the nations and is sovereign over them. He did this so we would reach out to find him. Here he once again makes the point of contact some of the poetic words of pagan writers (Epimenides, c.600 B.C. and Aratus, c. 315–240 B.C.). Then Paul moves to call them to account, emphasizing that the proof is that God raised a man (Jesus) from the dead.

Insight – The Christian faith is grounded in the historical events of the OT, leading to the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We proclaim that after a vicarious death for sins, God raised Jesus from the dead and this Jesus ascended to rule from heaven. Therefore, Jesus is Lord. These beliefs are not leaps into the darkness of irrationality. One need not sacrifice the fullest intellectual curiosity for truth in believing this Gospel. God has provided sufficient evidence for all the world to be “without excuse” (anapologetous – “without an apologetic” Rom. 1:20), since He has “furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). On the other hand, men can erect a Standard (“of reason” or “evidence”) which never yields to the Triune God whose existence is the foundation for truth, knowledge, reason, logic and evidence. You can’t get rationality in a universe made by chance. Rationality only makes sense if there is a God to account for it. At the end of Paul’s address, many scoffed over the resurrection. Were they doing so because they had a superior rationality? Paul had already successfully argued that their entire culture was bound in irrational practices (idolatry) since the Creator is not made of metal. Rather, we are God’s offspring and therefore we should expect God to further reveal Himself in a human being and one who showed Himself evidentially to walk in the power of God. The Greeks here did not have a superior Standard of truth; they had a bias against creation/matter/physicality. Only by yielding their alleged Reason and worldview to be examined in the light of the true God’s revelation could they truly come to a higher level of rational understanding.

Child’s Catechism – Where do we live? In Him we live, move, and have our being.

Discussion – What is the greatest intellectual challenge for you to believe the Bible?

Prayer – O LORD, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Acts 7:55-60

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60: But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Summary – Despite the tragic subject matter, this is really a precious, tender portrait of Stephen’s death, because of the ministry of Christ to him in the midst of his death (Ps 23:5).  Blessed by the light of Christ’s face shining upon him, literally, Stephen was granted sight of Heaven, and we’re told specifically that he saw Christ ‘standing’ to watch as His faithful servant was attacked.  Did you know that this is the only time in the New Testament where you’ll find Christ ‘standing’ at the right hand of the Father?  He is always otherwise found regally seated there, but not at this moment.  Christ knew the terror of a moment like that and He was not unaffected by it – He was not simply a casual Heavenly observer or disinterested witness. He was moved to His feet.  He’s not a High Priest above being touched by our pains (Heb 4:15).

Insight –  We are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7). But there is a time when our faith will be transformed into sight; our vision into beholding. Stephen’s faith was sight at this moment. Christ was risen indeed and not only risen, but ascended and received into the most honored position of Heaven: the right Hand of the Father’s throne. Since Christ was there, it is only through Him that anyone can now approach the Father.  And with the sight of this, Stephen’s heart was no longer troubled.  He not only faced his violent death faithfully, but found the grace to repeat the words of His Savior, praying mercy on his foes . . . a prayer that was  answered, at least in part, through the life of the chief of sinners, to whom we’re also introduced in this passage: Saul, who would become St. Paul.

Child’s Catechism -What did Stephen see? He saw Jesus standing at the right Hand of the Father as his advocate.

Discussion – Why were the men so angry with Stephen?  Specifically, they lost control when he claimed that Christ was at the right hand of the Father, why was this statement so infuriating to them?

Prayer – Merciful Father, our times are in Your good hands.  We praise You for caring for us, Your people, so tenderly.  We praise and thank you for the way you shepherd us through the hardships You have for us.  We praise  You for Your steadfast love and sufficient grace.  And we praise You for giving us a Savior like Christ, Who was acquainted with suffering, and apart from Whom, no one can come to You.  Give us His heart of mercy and cause the light of His face to shine on us in our dark hours we pray, in His name, Amen.

(Contributed by Pastor Ben Rossell)

Year A – Lent 5 – John 11:1-45

Fifth Sunday in Lent
John 11:1-45: Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Summary – John 11 tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. The preventable death of Lazarus, like other events in John’s Gospel, is not taking Jesus by surprise. He desires to show by this powerful sign that He is the resurrection and the life.  This parallel in John to a previous sign of “preventing death” –

The Seven + One New Creation (Signs in John)
1. New Creator: Water into wine (2:1-11)
2. Redeemer/Healer: Prevents death of nobleman’s son (4:46ff)
3. True Sabbath: The paralyzed man at the pool (5:2-9) GO SIN NO MORE
4. Bread of Life: Multiplication of loaves (6:1-14)
5. Light of the World: Born blind, healed on Sabbath (9:1-7) IT WAS NOT HIS SIN
6. Resurrection & Life: Delays/death then raises Lazarus (11:1-44)
7. Living Water: Water & blood on the cross (19:34-35)
+ 8. New Adam/Gardener: The resurrection (20:1-29) “First Day” (8th Day)

Insight – The beautiful story of the raising of Lazarus is so powerful. It demonstrates that Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. Martha knew the resurrection would come at the end of the world, but Jesus brought resurrection into the midst of history. It ripped a hole in the Matrix of a fallen world. I find it amusing that “from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death” (v53) and they also wanted to kill Lazarus, too! (To make him dead . . . again!) John 12:10: “But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also.” Why? These Pharisees knew that Jesus brought a rotting dead Lazarus to life, but they still wanted to kill Jesus and kill Lazarus, to boot. This is deeply ironic. They want to kill a Man who raises dead people. This is not a brilliant business plan for Pharisees to stay in power. Pharisees love death and hate Life because they seek their own power and control over reality (godish behavior). They plot death by any and all means to those who do not worship them as righteous, pure, holy and right. What they didn’t contemplate is the absurdity of their own logic: What if Jesus raises Lazarus again? And He most definitely shall! How many times does this ‘poor Lazarus’ have to die? It’s like a Groundhog Day (the movie) situation. Even worse what if the Man they kill is raised from the dead Himself? That’s exactly what happened. It’s Friday, but “Sunday’s a coming.”

Child’s Catechism – Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

Discussion – Do you believe that Resurrection life has broken into our fallen world? Where do you see it?

Prayer – God of all consolation and compassion, your Son comforted the grieving sisters, Martha and Mary; your breath alone brings life to dry bones and weary souls. Pour out your Spirit upon us, that we may face despair and death with the hope of resurrection and faith in the One who called Lazarus forth from the grave. Amen.

Year A – Lent 3 – Romans 5:1-11

Third Sunday in Lent
Romans 5:1-11: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Summary – In the last part of the previous chapter, it says Jesus was “delivered up because of our transgressions and was raised to-cause our justification” (4:25). The next verse (5:1) declares the powerful result of being declared one of God’s righteous people. We have peace objectively in the Hebraic sense – Shalom (wholeness, well-being, completeness) which should produce conscience-clearing rest/acceptance with God. Faithful Jews could (temporarily) enter into God’s peace-presence by the liturgy of the Temple, ascended and acceptable as the aroma of transfigured animal sacrifices. This kept the faithful longing in hope for a time of fulfillment. Chapter 5 says that the time has come! Now we have been justified – past tense – through Christ and currently we have (present tense) peace with God and enjoy a state of reconciliation which yields fruit inside-out. Hope is produced from the power of this peace. Without peace, then a desire for a better future is just anxiety. Only from a standing of peace with God is real hope even possible. And this hope has a present benefit. “Through the Holy Spirit who was given to us, our love for God wells up within our hearts” (5:5). The nature of true hope, powered by the Spirit, transforms desert hearts into streams in the desert. Our motivation is that God saves us when we are “unsaveable” of ourselves. Sovereign grace in salvation calls forth the cry, “Lord, Why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear Thy voice and enter while there’s room when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come.” (Watts). Because of the Justification, Peace, Hope, Love and Reconciliation in Christ – We boast in God. Our “stock” and pride is not in ourselves, our ethnic status, our culture, but Christ alone.

Insight – Romans 5:1 is worth knowing by heart – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace or “rest” in terms of Psalm 95, is the result of being right with God through Jesus’s completed work grasped by faith alone. Yet this faith is not “alone in the person justified” (Westminster Confession 11.2). This peace results in changed lives. In this case, those who believe, “stand and rejoice,” “persevere,”  have “character,” “hope,” and love. In Lenten pursuit, do you “stand” in Him? Do you live in joy? Are you persevering or giving way? Is your character being shaped by your peace with God? Does hope characterize your life? Do you walk in love toward others or hatred? If you have peace with God through Christ, cease any wars with yourself or anyone else.

Child’s Catechism – What do we have as a result of being justified by faith? We have peace with God.

Question to Consider – What is one result of peace with God do you need to exercise in your life?

Prayer – Father in heaven, thank you for gift of grace in Christ, that through His life, death and resurrection, we have acceptance and peace with You forever. Strengthen us in believing this and we are thanking You for changing our lives into those who stand faithfully, rejoice frequently, persevere in difficulties, have character to weather storms and especially, live with an outlook of hope and a an ever-present love for others. In Jesus’s mighty name we pray. Amen.