Year A – Lent 1 – Romans 5:12-19

First Sunday in Lent
Romans 5:12-19:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned- sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Summary – Paul expresses the core action of Christ over against the fall of Adam into sin. Earlier in the lectionary readings for this Sunday we saw the fall of Adam. Here we see the parallel in the salvation of Christ. As the one act of unrighteousness brought death, so Christ’s one act of obedience brings life to all. In the background of this text is Isaiah 53. The suffering servant’s actions will justify the many and he will be obedient to death. So in this passage Christ’s obedience is the obedience of his one act of forfeiting his life to justify the many on the cross. The result of this obedience is that instead of death reigning over the sons of Adam, now life reigns over the sons of the second Adam. We receive this life by faith in Jesus.

Insight – Many people struggle with the doctrine of original sin. This doctrine is that we are somehow guilty for Adam’s original sin of eating the forbidden fruit. In order to make sense of this, we must understand that there is covenant representation in the Bible. A husband may represent his wife or his children. A leader such as Moses may represent the people. A sacrificial victim on the altar represents the worshiper. And Adam represented all the human race in the garden. While this may seem unfair, our salvation in Christ rests upon the same principle. Unless Christ represented his people on the cross taking the wrath of God for them, there could be no salvation. So rejoice in the doctrine of original sin, but rejoice more in the doctrine of Christ’s representation and covenant headship of his people.

Child’s catechism – How are we made righteous? By the obedience of Jesus, the second Adam.

Discussion – What are some other examples of one person or thing representing another person thing?

Prayer – Almighty God, we praise you that you sent Jesus Christ as the second Adam to be obedient on our behalf, to do that which we could not do. Strengthen us as we seek to follow him , our covenant head, in all things even during this Lenten season. We ask this in his name, Amen.

Year C – Seventeenth Sunday in Pentecost – 1 Timothy 1:12-17

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NRSV

12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Summary – In this passage Paul praises God for being gracious and merciful to him, the chief of sinners. Paul’s past sin of persecuting the church and blaspheming God did not make him unworthy of salvation, he testifies. For the whole reason Jesus Christ came into this world was to save sinners, even the foremost! And Paul says that it was for that very reason that he in fact did receive mercy – because he was the worst of all sinners, and Jesus Christ wanted to use him to show other sinners that their sins do not disqualify them from receiving eternal life.

 Insight – How many people have you heard say something like, “Oh, I can’t come to God yet, I need to get my life right first, and then I’ll come.” Or, “God would never want me in heaven, I am too much of a sinner.” Or, “My sins are way too great, I’m already going to hell, I know it.”  Well, the one thing that is true about such statement is that the person is a sinner. This is true. And yes, it is true that sin separates us from God. But to think that God does not desire a persons salvation because of their sin is completely backwards. God desires to save people who are sinners! “This is a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance,  that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” God is not in the business of helping those who have it all together. God desires more than anything to save sinners. Your sin is not a hindrance from you obtaining eternal life, in fact, being a sinner is a prerequisite! And God demonstrates His patience in saving sinners by showing us in Paul’s life, that if God saved the worst of sinners, He desires to save you as well.

Catechism – Q. For who did Christ Jesus came into the world to save? A. Sinners.

Discussion – Does your sin ever make you think that God no longer wants you? If you were a sinner before God saved you and chose to show His love for you, how much more so does God love you and want you to be saved now that you are reconciled to Him by His grace and mercy?

Prayer – To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, honor and glory be your name forever and ever. For in your infinite and everlasting patience, you came to this world to save sinful humans. Our sins is not a stumbling block for you saving us. Thank you God that you you save sinners totally and completely, even the worst. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Year C – Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost – Philemon 1-12

Philemon 1-21 NRSV

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Summary – Paul wrote a letter to a Christian man named Philemon. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus (which means “useful”) who had stolen money from Philemon and then ran away. In God’s providence, Onesimus ends up meeting Paul who was in prison in Rome (v.10). Under Paul, Onesimus becomes a Christian. Paul attempts to reconcile the broken relationship between Onesimus and Philemon, so he writes this letter to Philemon appealing to him to accept Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord (v.16). Now that Onesimus is a Christian he is more “useful” than he was before, and so it would benefit Philemon to accept him back (v.11). Paul also appeals to Philemon to charge the debt that Onesimus owes Philemon to Paul’s account (v. 18-19). Paul sent this letter to Philemon by the hand of Onesimus. Tradition tells us that Onesimus later became a bishop in the Church, proving himself to be more “useful” than anyone had expected.

Insight – The key theme of this letter, is reconciliation – that is, making peace between two parties who were hostile toward each other. Undoubtedly there was tension and strife between Philemon and Onesimus since Onesimus had stolen from Philemon. But Paul, reflecting on the work of the Lord Jesus, seeks to bring peace and reconciliation to a broken relationship. We were once hostile toward God, and at enmity with him, and had accumulated a massive amount of debt of sin, that we could never repay. But Jesus, on the cross, charges our debt to His account, and makes peace between us and the Father, thus reconciling us forever (v. 15). Paul seeks to do the same for Philemon and Onesimus.  This is a beautiful picture of God’s grace in freely justifying sinners.

Catechism – What does Onesimus mean?  Onesimus means “useful.”

Discussion – Discuss “reconciliation”, and apply that to the Christian’s relationship with God. Discuss ways to seek reconciliation with others. Discuss charging the debt to another’s account.

Prayer – Dear Lord God, we praise you for reconciling us to yourself, through the cross of the Christ, and canceling the debt that we owed you. Please grant us grace to be useful to you and others in this life, as we live debt free lives of gratitude. In Jesus name, Amen.

 Submitted by Michael J. Shover

Year C – Fifteenth Sunday in Pentecost – Hebrews 13:1-16

Hebrews 13:1-16

Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Summary – Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish believers who were tempted to go back to Jewish practices and worship, and leave the new way of Jesus Christ behind. Paul encourages them to keep on believing in Jesus and to not leave the New Covenant Church for the Old ways which were about to perish. He explains to them that Jesus is far better than Moses and the Priesthood, and that the Heavenly Jerusalem is far better than the earthly Jerusalem. In Jesus we have better promises and the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

Chapter 13 focuses on how Christians, who have received an unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:28), should live amongst each other. Christians are to continually live in brotherly love, showing hospitality, remembering those wrongfully imprisoned for the sake of the gospel, living sexually pure, and content with what God provides. Christians should imitate the faith of their leaders, and have their hearts strengthened by the grace of the preaching of the Word of God, and not on sacrificial food from the Temple altar. Rather, our food is from the Heavenly altar, and so we offer sacrifices of praise to God, and we share what we have with one another, in a sacrificial way. For these are the sacrifices that are pleasing to God.

 Insight – Jesus instructed us in Matt 4:4 that we are to not live by bread alone, but every word of God. Here in Hebrews 13:7-10, we have a similar teaching. Paul encourages the Jewish believers to not put too much of their trust in the food they were eating from the altar. The true food that strengthens the heart, is the grace of the true Word of God. Only those who devote themselves to God’s word will receive the benefits of what the altar food symbolized, which is saving grace. When you come to the Lord’s Table, are you coming with an expectation that your heart will be strengthened by the bread and the wine? Or is your heart strengthened by the grace of God’s Word? Show God you believe His Word by offering Him the sacrifices of praise with the fruit of your lips, and with thanksgiving in your heart.   This is what pleases God. Eat, and be thankful.

Catechism – Q. What is the true food that strengthens our heart? A. The Word of God.

Discussion – Discuss the relationship between God’s word and food. What is more important, physical or spiritual food?

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we praise you for sending your Son Jesus to be our true Bread and Wine. Grant to us your Spirit, so that our body and soul would be preserved unto everlasting life, by feeding on the Body and Blood of Jesus in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving. Amen.

Submitted by Michael J. Shover

Year C – The 5th Sunday in Lent – Philippians 3:4b-14

Text–If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,blameless.  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—   that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:4b-14 ESV]

Summary–This week’s text is an explanation of what Paul has been saying in the first three verses in the chapter, where he claims, “we are circumcision which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (vv.3).  The Apostle is tearing down the strongholds of Jews who attacked Gentile Christians by asserting that faith was not enough to be a member of God’s people.  These Jews, so called Judaizers, erected their own high places that Gentiles had to ascend in order to find God, chiefly among these high places being circumcision.  Only after following these Jewish practices could could they call themselves Christian.  These men trusted in their status as God’s chosen people and tried to force Christians to follow suit.  In the text before us, Paul compares his Jewish pedigree with Christian life thus showing where we are to put our trust in this life and the next.

Insight–In our day and age, Americans have a deep confidence in the flesh.  We have the strongest chariots and horses the world has ever known.  With this fleshy strength comes a sense of importance.  We trust that our power will influence those nations around us and bring about peace.  Hebrews of Paul’s day felt similarly, but not because they had the strongest military forces.  They felt important because they had the law.  They trusted in their own ability to order the world through their following the law.  But look at where Paul puts his trust.  He puts it his knowing the Lord, Jesus Christ.  We can’t build a world of peace with the sword.  Peace does not come through strength, but meekness.  It comes when Christians are prepared to lose and to sacrifice everything else in order to follow Christ.  Paul’s example points us to this truth.  He, better than most every Jew of his day, could lean on his credentials and trust in his own merit.  He was a highly intellectual man, having better in the schools than anyone else, he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel.  But to be a Christian, Paul gave all this up, considered it garbage, and became a fool to those around him.  He lost it all, but gained the only thing that mattered.  Christian, where do you place your trust in bringing about the covenant blessings that God promises?  Do you place it in Washington DC?  Do you place it in the cockpit of an F-22?  Of course you don’t.  The world cannot understand that power is not found in politics or military might.  It is in Christ’s righteousness alone where we find our hope.  As we take our eyes off our own strength, we are able to stop trusting in what the world offers.  Trust in Christ. Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Catechism–(Q) Where do you place your trust? (A) The surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord.

Discussion–Is America exceptional?  Discuss ways that other nations have trusted in their own strength and have fallen from the world stage.

Prayer–Father God, we count everything as rubbish apart from knowing you.  Thank you for calling us to your son, that we may put our faith and trust in him alone as we continue to strive for the goal of your glory.  We pray to you, Father, in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, by the awakening of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Contributed by Michael Fenimore

Year C – 3rd Sunday of Lent – 1 Cor 10:1-13

Text–1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Summary:  In this section of the first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul shows us how he uses the Old Testament to explain the meaning of the New Testament.  This text is a foundational decoder ring which lets us see how interconnected the the two halves of our Bible really are.  The issue at hand for Paul was answering the question if it was ok for Christians in the Corinthian church to eat food offered to idols.  The more general issue was to find out just how free the Christian is in choosing his own path.  Paul answers this by linking Old Testament Israel with their own particular circumstances.  Jews had baptism and Feasts, but that didn’t keep them from falling under judgment by God.  Paul shows how today’s Christian cannot rely on their own baptism or the spiritual feast of the Lord’s Supper to guarantee their salvation.  He ends with encouragement that God is faithful and will not tempt us in ways that we cannot escape from.  We do not have to end up like the Jews did.  There is an escape for those who keep their eyes on Christ.

Insight:  Have you ever seen someone act as though they could never get punished for how they behave?  Maybe it was the son of the school principal who never saw fault in his son.  Maybe it was a favored sister in the family that could do no wrong.  Whatever the circumstance, we all know people like that, who believe that they can always get away with it because of who they are.  There were some Christians in the Corinthian church who acted like this.  They believed that they held the strong position and could do no wrong in God’s eyes.  Were they ever wrong!  They had their sacraments, the baptism of the Red Sea and their national feasts, which correspond to our sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  These sacraments did not provide insurance against God’s retribution.  Just as most Israelites were rejected by God because of their disobedience (idolatry, immorality, testing the Lord, and murmuring), Paul warns that this will also happen to all Christians who persist in sin.  Do you see your baptism as fire insurance from the judgment to come?  The Jews who were baptized into Moses could not look to that baptism for salvation.  Moses was their representative, they put their trust in him and identified with him.  This is what Paul means by saying they were baptized into Moses.  But water, bread and wine are not magical elements that repel God’s wrath, no matter their sin.  Pay attention to Paul’s warning in vv1-12.  But through all the warnings comes this blessed truth, God is faithful.  He is faithful in sending His son to die for us.  We put our trust in Christ, not in the elements.  Baptism on its own doesn’t save anyone.  But faithful baptism does unite us to Christ and as we abide in Him we live and move and have our being.  We are free in Christ, not to sin as we please because we are baptized.  Heaven forbid.  We are free in Christ as we identify ourselves with Him and follow his ways for our good and His glory.

Discussion Questions–Besides baptism and the Lord’s Supper, what are some other patterns, events or people that find their fulfillment and reality in Jesus Christ?

Catechism–(Q) Why will we not be tempted beyond our ability? (A) Because God is faithful.

Prayer–Heavenly Father, ruler of all creation, we praise you for how you reveal your truth in your perfect timing.  We are amazed at how you show us your truth through time, through patterns, through your Son.  Help us to understand how you have woven the Old and New Testaments into a single glorious tapestry whereby we can more clearly understand your plan for us in this world and the next.  We ask this in your Son’s mighty name through the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[Contributed by Michael Fenimore]

Year C – Second Sunday in Lent – Philippians 3:17-4:1

Text–Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. [Philippians 3:17-4:1 ESV]

Summary–In Acts 16:12, Philippi is described as a Roman colony.  It was a Rome in miniature, a reproduction on a small scale of the imperial city.  Its citizens naturally took great pride in being Roman.  Moreover, they enjoyed all the rights and privileges of being a citizen in the greatest empire of its day.  They were freed from having to pay tribute to Rome (a kind of income tax).  They were allowed to govern themselves without having to report to a provincial governor.  In return, Philippi provided a safeguard to Roman lands and spread Rome’s dominance throughout Macedonia.  The Roman citizen had much to boast about.  Paul was one of these favored citizens of Rome.  But where did this position get him?  It got him into a prison cell.  While writing to the Philippian Church, Paul sat in a Roman prison awaiting the verdict from the Roman emperor on whether he would be sentenced to death or be allowed to live.  But Paul was not concerned with this judgment.  He warned the Philippian church not to rely on their citizenship in Rome, but to imitate Paul and look to their citizenship in heaven in standing firm in the Lord.

Insight–As you walk in this life, there are many paths before you.  You must choose which way you will go.  Standing still is not an option for you.  You must choose one.  But how will you know which path is the correct one?  Which path will lead you to the heavenly father and his celestial kingdom and which will lead you to destruction?  They all look pretty similar but how do you know which way to go?  In our text, Paul gives us the directions on how to pick the right path.  Paul commands us to join with others who are following his example (vv 3:17).  Look to how he puts it in the preceding verse.  He states, “let us hold true” (vv 3:16)  which in the Greek is another way of saying, “let us walk in a row”.  This row is a row of houses, a squad of soldiers, a wall of trees, and so on.  This word implies an orderly and harmonious arrangement.

But what ways can we stand together in a row?  One way is to remember the season of lent.  Our church fathers arranged the Christian calendar in such a way as to remember the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  For many thousands of years, christians walked by the light of this calendar as a way to follow Him and to imitate His life.  As we follow the same calendar, and remember the same days of feasting and fasting, we are formed more and more into a row of houses, soldiers, trees.  Time builds community.    Following the season of lent provides an avenue for fellow Christians to cooperate in common Christian community.  It helps us take our eyes off ourselves and helps us remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.  We are then able to avoid walking with those who only think of themselves and where their next meal will come from.  This is what Paul warns us about in walking with those whose god is their belly.  Don’t lose sight of where they are headed.  Many look only at what brings them pleasure in the moment.  But when they do that, they are steered off the path and are led to destruction.  Paul commands the church to stand firm in the straight path of the Lord and avoid at all costs the crooked path of the evildoer and enemy of the cross of Christ (vv 4:1).  Remember during this season of lent what Christ did for us and where he is taking us.  He is coming again, stand firm in the faith and look to Him for your salvation.

Catechism–(Q) How do I imitate Paul? (A) By standing firm in the Lord

Prayer–Almighty God, ruler of nations, help us to keep on your path to your glorious city.  Father, give us clear understanding of our privileges as your citizens in the heavenly realm.  Lord, grant us wisdom in who we walk with, that we would walk in a manner worthy of the calling that you have granted us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Contributed by Michael Fenimore

Year C – Lent 1 – Romans 10:8-13

 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13 ESV)

Summary–In this section of the letter to the Roman Church, Paul explains how the Jews of his day wanted to follow God through obeying rules but failed to find Him, while the Gentiles, who did not seek God through their own ability, but looked to Christ, found Him.  Why couldn’t the Jews find God?  Well it wasn’t because the law that they tried to follow was somehow lacking.  The law is perfect.  It wasn’t because they didn’t work hard enough.  No amount of work could make them right with a Holy God.  They sought the righteousness of the law but failed to see what the law pointed to, namely Jesus Christ.  The Jews “stumbled over the stumbling-stone,”.  (Rom 9:30–33).   Paul compared the righteousness of the law with the righteousness by faith in Jesus as the end or purpose of the law. In today’s text, we hear Paul proclaiming salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ.  We also hear Paul’s warning against putting faith in your own strength in earning salvation.  As Paul put it: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9). 

Insight–The season of lent reminds us of Christ’s suffering at the hands of the Jews.   They persecuted Christ for His message of hope to the Gentiles.  Jews could not understand what Christ was offering.  Gentiles didn’t deserve God’s salvation; they were dirty and didn’t walk according to the law.  They believed that works of the law would save them from the judgment that was to come.  As Christians, we know that our works cannot save us.  There is no manner of scrubbing we can do to rid that sinful dirt under our fingernails.  But we must be careful that we don’t miss Paul’s teaching on how we are saved.  We are saved in Christ by grace through faith alone but not with a faith that is alone.  Paul tells us that what we believe in our hearts must be confessed with our lips.  We must confess Christ with our actions to those around us and not just in the quietness of our own hearts.  If you act one way throughout the week and then change your spots on Sunday morning, you are falling into the same type of error that the Jews fell into.  Our faith becomes a work that saves us.  See how Paul ties two Old Testament verses together in our passage to make his point.  With Isaiah Paul says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame,” and with Joel he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” True saving faith comes from believing in Jesus Christ and calling on His name.  This offer is for everyone, to the Jew and the Greek.  You have been offered salvation through Jesus Christ.  Don’t worry about the embarassment that could come from letting others know what you believe.  Don’t worry about not being clean enough to come before the Lord.  Just put your faith in Him and you will be saved.   

Catechism–(Q) Who will be saved?  (A) Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Prayer–Father God we thank you for your free offer of salvation to all who put their faith and trust in your Son.  We praise you for the riches you give us beyond what we could ever earn or deserve.  Your love abounds, Lord.  We ask that you give us the courage to proclaim with our lips and our actions to those around us what we believe in our hearts.  You deserve all glory, honor and praise.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Heb 10:5-10

Consequently, when Christ[a] came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:5-10 ESV)

Summary—In our text today, the author of the Hebrews quotes from the words of David in Psalm 40 to explain why there is a Christmas. and why Christ came into this world.  “I have come to do your will, O God.”  When Jesus came into the world he changed everything.  Old Testament sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ.  The Old Covenant sacrificial system was replaced with a better sacrifice once for all.  The author explains this by saying, “He sets aside the first to establish the second.”  By offering Himself as sacrifice, Christ marked the end of the sacrifices of the Old Testament and ushered in the accomplishing something that no one else in the whole world to do.  He came to show the way to salvation through His perfect sacrifice.

Insight—When you look under the Christmas tree, what do you see?  Why were they put there?  To some, these presents are nothing more than presents, wrapped with sheets of paper and secured with sticky tape.  They are just material objects, purchased as an offering for the enjoyment of their families.  We get so wrapped up (pun intended) in getting the perfect gift that we lose sight of why they are put their in the first place.  During the time of Christ, Jews lost track of why they offered their presents to God.  Day after day, they brought animals to the alter as sacrifices so that they would make God happy and receive his favor and reward.  They thought the sacrifice alone would earn God’s salvation. They were wrong.  Although God told Israel to offer sacrifices, he took no pleasure in these offerings.  Listen to the words of I Samuel 15:22, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice the the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”  God is not satisfied only with sacrifices.  They are just substitutes.  They are shadows pointing to the reality of something better.  If you put presents under the tree to earn favor with loved ones, than you are missing the point of the gifts.  We aren’t earning anything that way.  Christians give gifts because we have already received the best gift of all.  Only Christians can give presents in the right way.  We know, by faith that God gave Christ to His people once and for all to make us holy.  That means he gave us Christ out of love.  Those gifts under the tree represent that perfect gift.  So give with a cheerful heart, with the right attitude of giving, with the love that Christ already showed us in His present to us.

Child Catechism—Q: Why did Christ come into the World? A: To do God’s will.

Discussion—What is the difference between giving and grabbing presents during Christmas?  Why can Christians alone give presents in the right way?

Prayer—Father God in heaven, we rejoice in your present to us this Christmas season.  We humbly thank you for sending your Son as a sacrifice offered for our salvation.  You have made us a people who can rejoice in your gifts.  Help us to reflect that joy to others in our giving by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Use our gifts and joyful obedience to bring the nations into glad service of our Lord Jesus.  We ask this in name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Third Sunday of Advent – Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Summary—It is important for us to remember that the whole history of the early Church, and indeed all the New Testament epistles, can only be understood in the light of the Spirit of God pouring forth upon that infant Church in Jerusalem.  Hold Pentacost firmly in your mind as you read this exhortation by Paul.  Only by the power of the Spirit was the early church able to joyfully respond to their lowly situation.  Only by the same Spirit are we able today to follow Paul’s command in this week’s text.  He commands us to live a life filled with joy in all situations.  The Christian life is a celebration where rejoicing is not only experienced, it is commanded.   In our text today, Paul corrects wrong-headed views of the Christian walk.  Rather than worry, stress or bicker between fellow believers, Paul tells the church to rejoice for the Lord is at hand.  Because of this, we can have peace with the Triune God of the universe.  Paul’s reason for writing this letter was to teach the Philippian Church how to rejoice in every circumstance that they faced.

Insight—Is your life filled with joy?  Are you continually rejoicing in all things, even that less-than-perfect geometry grade that you received last week?  What about that time you lost your favorite ear ring, did you feeling full of joy at that point?  Paul tells us in this section of his letter to the Philippians that we are to rejoice even when your brother won’t get out of the bathroom.  We are commanded to rejoice even when you lose your homework, or your job.  We are told to continally thank God for every situation that we face, even the bad ones.   And yet, we find this command hard to do.  Why?  It may be because we don’t understand the reason for our joy.  

Do you take for granted how bad off you would have been if Jesus had not come down from heaven and been born of a woman?  Do you not see that without Christ, you would be an enemy of God, and without hope?  But Christ did come down.  He was born of a woman and did live a sinless life.  He was nailed to a cross for you and for me.  You have been freed from sin and wrath of God, from eternal damnation and from the sting of death through the blood of Christ.   With this in mind, take heed to Paul’s command, REJOICE!  Rejoice in the Lord for he alone can give you peace.  He alone is worthy of our joy.  You may lose everything in this world, but not your soul or your eternal destiny, nor the glory that awaits you in Christ’s second coming.  These things are above your circumstances.  Rejoice in the lord always, in life, in death, in sins or failure, whatever may be happening to you, whatever your circumstances, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.”    

Child Catechism—Q: Why must we rejoice? A: Because Christ saved us from our sins.

Discussion—When you begin to worry about this life, what are some ways to reflect on what Jesus has saved you from?

Prayer—Father God in Heaven, you are worthy of our praise.  Let all your creation praise you, let all the earth shout forth praises worthy of your honor and glory. We rejoice in the salvation brought to us by your son.  We fall down in wonder, with unspeakable happiness that you came to save us.  We pray that you would kindle Godly joy in us through every season of our lives.  We ask this in name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Contributed by Mike Fenimore