Year A – Palm Sunday – Isaiah 50:4-9a

Isaiah 50:4-9a: The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Summary – Isaiah explains how God sustains him through the Word. Like a teacher, Isaiah is able to share this Word to help others. Each day Isaiah hears God’s voice. The next verses provide a Messianic image, fulfilled in the trial of Jesus: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” Yet this Messiah is determined and will be vindicated since the Lord is with Him. One can hear echoes of Paul in 1 Cor. 1 and Romans 8: 1 Corinthians 1:18 – “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Romans 8:33 – “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.” This passage concludes with the picture that the enemies of Messiah will all pass away.

Insight – Have you ever looked carefully at a nice woven rug or a tapestry? There are usually recurring patterns. The Bible is full of patterns, too. This passage provides us with a pattern that is deeply woven into the experience of God’s people. Isaiah begins by receiving the Word from the Lord, then giving it to others. In so doing, Isaiah moves to reflect upon his own suffering for the sake of that Word. As he explains this, he moves into Messianic territory, prophesying the very events of Christ’s life. These events took place  in Christ’s trial and crucifixion. The pattern seems to be: 1) Receiving the Word. 2) Suffering because of the Word. And 3) Identification with Messiah. The apostles experienced a similar pattern. As they went out proclaiming the good news, they were often rejected and suffered (e.g., Acts 16 in Philippi), but as a result they knew more of Christ. One important application is that we grow in receiving God’s Word. That is, we should increase our intake of Scripture and listen for His voice as we do so. Then we will perhaps be able to harvest the fruit of that Word as we speak with  others. But remember that as you do so, you will likely experience some kind of persecution. Still, the result is a deeper experience of identifying with the One who was struck, beaten, spit upon, and finally crucified for you.

Child’s Catechism – How should we grow? By hearing more of God’s Word and sharing it with others.

Discussion – What are some ways that you could to know and grow in the Word even more?

Prayer – God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people.In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lord may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.

Year A – Lent 5 – Ezekiel 37:1–14

Ezekiel 37:1–14 – The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

Summary – This important passage in Ezekiel is well known. God promises a renewal of Israel. This is set in the time of the exile. Key leaders (like Ezekiel and Daniel) have been deported to Babylon. Israel has been displaced, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC). Now Israel’s future is questionable. They are like dried out bones, dead in the grave yard. Their hope is lost and they seem to be cut off from God’s purpose. So, God asks the prophet, Can these bones live? The prophet takes the simple way out: “O Lord GOD, you know.” By this vivid illustration God shows the prophet that He is not done with Israel. So Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy to the bones. As a result of the Spirit, these dead bones become a vast army before the eyes of Ezekiel. This passage joins together resurrection and return from exile. God then promises that He will bring them back to the Land of Israel and put His spirit in them, so that they know the Lord has acted.

Insight – People can’t live without hope. Despair is no place to lay your head. While God justly chastised Israel in the exile, He also will fulfill His promises. God gives His people hope through His Word here through Ezekiel. Israel’s hoped-for future of resurrection in the Land was in jeopardy. How would God fulfill these promises (originally made to Abraham)? As it turns out God literally brought Israel back to the land (in Nehemiah’s day) and had the city and temple rebuilt. Then (as we open the pages of the NT) we find that God in Christ comes to Israel. Jesus comes as the True Israel (Matt. 2). He did what Israel was to do by being obedient (Is. 53) and God did what He promised to Israel (Ez. 37, Dan. 12) (in Jesus): raise True Israel from the dead. “In Jesus” is resurrection, now (John 11). This is how God gives His people hope. What was to happen on the Last Day was brought forward in the middle of history. The apostles taught it this way. They were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Jesus will baptize with the Spirit, just as the prophets promised. This culminates in Pentecost. Now all those who trust in Jesus are the new Israel who are united in baptism-faith to the resurrected Jesus (Rom. 6:3). We have Life in Him. Therefore, we, individually and collectively, have resurrection Life through faith in Jesus.

Child’s Catechism – How did God fulfill His promises to Israel? By sending Jesus to be true Israel.

Discussion – What are some ways we can bring gospel life to a dead world?

Prayer – God of the living, through baptism we pass from the shadow of death  to the light of the resurrection. Remain with us and give us hope that, rejoicing in the gift of the Spirit who gives life to our mortal flesh, we may be clothed with the garment of immortality,  through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Year A – Lent 4 – 1 Samuel 16:1-16

1 Samuel 16:1–16 –  The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is now before the LORD.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Summary – This passages tells of the “anointing” of David by Samuel. David is the least of Jesse’s sons and not the one who would have been chosen as the quarterback of the football team. But we are told the criterion of God: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” As a result of God’s selection and the anointing, the Spirit of the Lord was on David.

Insight – Hannah (Samuel’s Mother) prophesied in song that Samuel “will give power to His king; He will lift up the horn of His anointed.” This is the very first use of the term “Messiah” (in Hebrew). Samuel would anoint with Spiritual Oil, the King. Messiah or Christ (Greek) simply means “anointed king.” When Samuel did it, we learn that those who would reign are not mighty in the flesh like Saul, but rather they are mighty in heart. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth of David spoke and plucked psalms, hymns and war songs of praise to the true God. That is the basis for his many victories, the first of which is the story in the next chapter (1Sam. 17). David said to Goliath: “You come against me with a dagger, spear, and sword, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of Hosts . . . and this whole assembly [faithless Israel in the flesh] will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the LORD saves, for the battle is the LORD’s.”

Child’s Catechism – What does Messiah mean? God’s anointed King.

Discussion – What did God see in David’s heart? What does God see in your heart?

Prayer – O Lord, You are the discerner of hearts, you look beneath our outward appearance and see your image in each of us. Banish in us the blindness that prevents us from recognizing truth, so we may see the world through your eyes and with the compassion of Jesus Christ who redeems us. Amen.

Year A – Lent 3 – Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:1-7 – From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Summary – This passage provides one example of God’s miraculous provision of water. The focus here is that God provided even in the midst of their faithlessness. In the Numbers 20 at the end of their 40 years is another event which is similar but the focus  is that Moses in anger struck the rock (who was Christ) twice. “And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them'” (Num. 20:10-12). In this place, as Psalm 95 notes, Moses called it Massah (“testing”) and Meribah (“quarreling”).

Insight – During Israel’s time in the wilderness (a forty-year Lent) we often see them being sustained by God’s miraculous power and yet grumbling. They were being led by a spectacular vision of cloud and fire, as well as getting bread literally from the sky (manna). God was their provider. Yet they are worried about water, as though God could give them deliverance from Pharaoh, bread like rain, but was utterly unable to quench their thirst. Now rock and water are very different. They are opposites. Men today can make mud into pure water. Men today with filters can turn the sewage into a sparkling beverage. But only God can bring forth water by striking a rock. Such is God’s power. Learning from their disobedience, rather than provoke God (“tempt”) with our rock-hearted unbelief, let us be refreshed with His thirst-quenching water.

Child Catechism -Why was God displeased with the people? Because they grumbled and tested the Lord.

Discussion  – Are there any “hard” things in your life that God just can’t do?

Prayer – Father in heaven, we are thanking You that You have given us both the Bread of Life and Living Water in the person and work of Jesus our Lord. We know that all the hard things of our lives are not hard for You. You can make hard rocks into liquid streams in the desert. Please do so in our hearts today, In the Name of Jesus our Rock, 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 – Leviticus 19:1–2, 9–18

Leviticus 19:1–2, 9–18 – The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God. 11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Summary – Leviticus 19 begins with the call for Israel to be like Yahweh. Yahweh is holy and that holiness is manifest in kindness. God is kind and so you shall not take all the produce of your land for yourselves, but rather leave some to be gleaned by the poor and the non-Israelite in the Land. Even so, don’t steal or cheat or lie. God tells the truth and does not rob, but freely gives. God does not defraud us or hold back what is good. God cares for those with disabilities. He does not make fun of the deaf or blind. He does not slander us or hate His people. Love your neighbor as yourself because we are to be like God in His gracious and just character.

Insight – In light of the Exodus from Egypt, we can see that God treats His people graciously. Earlier in the book there is a rationale attached to the command to be like the Lord: “For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (11:45). Because God delivered His people we are to be holy. If we unpack this, it means because God has saved and provided for us, we should desire to obey Him. This is very consistent with the New Testament’s teaching that since we have been give salvation by grace, we should strive to walk in good works (e.g., Eph. 2:8-10). Even more, we should want to be like God’s gracious and just character since He is our Deliverer. Compare and contrast your SlaveMaster Egyptians with God: Your Masters in Egypt would not let you worship the true God (commandments 1-3); they made you work without rest (4th commandment); they stole authority (5th commandment); they killed and hated you (6th); they broke the sanctity of marriage and family (even killing your children) (7th); they stole your labor (8th); they did not speak the truth (9th); they coveted what was not their own (10th). So don’t be like your Masters in Egypt, be like the true and gracious God who saved you.

Discussion – What are ways that we act more like the slaving Egyptian masters than God?

Catechism – Why should we be kind? Because God our Savior is kind to us.

Prayer – O Lord our God, we praise you for your mercy and kindness to us in providing for our Deliverance from sin and death in Jesus Christ. Grant that we who see more and more your great mercies grow to be more and more like you, pleasing you by showing kindness and mercy to others. In Christ’s name we pray.

Year A – Epiphany 5 – Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi 3:1–4 – “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”

Summary – Malachi was written after the temple had been rebuilt after the exile, probably around 450 B.C. Though some of the people had been restored to the land, there was still corruption, particularly in the priestly family of Levi. This corruption continued into the New Testament era. Malachi promises a coming Messenger to prepare the way, John the Baptist. Malachi also speaks of a “Messenger of the Covenant” who will refine and purify God’s people. This was Jesus. The result of this purification will be that the offering of God’s people will be pure and pleasing to the Lord. Verse 5 goes on to explain the nature of their corruption: sd”I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.”

Insight – I remember melting lead to make fishing weights when I was 10 or 11 years old. Malachi uses this image to speak of Christ’s coming to purify Israel. When metal ore is smelted into a purified form, the heated metal melts and impurities or dross rises to the top. One of the ways the purifier knows the dross is gone is by seeing his own image reflected in the glowing molten mass. This is what the Lord has wanted from the beginning, for people to bear His image. Unfortunately our sinfulness, like the dross and impurities of metal, blur and disfigure His reflection. Christ came so that we would have a final purified offering for all of our sins. By trusting in Jesus we receive Him into our lives and now when the Lord looks into the melted ore of our lives He sees His reflection there through Jesus.

Catechism – Who was Malachi’s messenger of the covenant? Jesus.

Discussion – When your life is heated up, what does the Lord see when He looks in?

Prayer – Heavenly Father we give you thanks for sending Jesus, your messenger of the covenant, for us. We thank you that he became a completely pure sacrifice for our sins and we gladly trust in him and receive him into our lives. Grant that we live in a manner that evermore reflects our trust and obedience to him. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Year A – Epiphany 4 – Micah 6:1-8

Micah 6:1–8  1 Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.   3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”   6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Summary  – Micah prophesies “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” and it addresses both Samaria (north) and Jerusalem (south) (1:1). The time of Micah is before the capture of Samaria (722/721 B.C.) and the beginning of his ministry in the reign of Jotham (750–731 B.C.). Jeremiah references him in affecting reforms during the days of Hezekiah king of Judah (Jer. 26:18ff).  Like other minor prophets we find the strong theme of judgment in vivid color: “The valleys will be split in two. The mountains will melt like wax in a fire” (1:4). Judgment will come for idolatries and injustice. “Samaria epitomizes their rebellion! Where are Judah’s pagan worship centers, you ask? They are right in Jerusalem! . . . All of her idols will be smashed . . . For she collected them from a harlot’s earnings, And to the earnings of a harlot they will return” (1:5-7). “You wrongly evict widows among my people from their cherished homes. You defraud their children of their prized inheritance” (2:9). Judgment comes against evil leaders: “Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of the nation of Israel! You ought to know what is just, yet you hate what is good, and love what is evil” (3:1-2). However, the Lord, promises to bring a remnant back to Jerusalem. “I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep in the fold” (2:12-13). After judging Jerusalem (3:1-12), the Lord will exalt Jerusalem high above the nations (4:1-5). He will reassemble an afflicted remnant, who will restore God’s dominion over the earth (4:6-8). This triumph comes through complete trust in the Ruler from Bethlehem. He will bring about the deliverance of his people. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (5:2). The book ends with an affirmation of the Abrahamic covenant and the memorable words, now a hymn: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love” (7:18). In calling for repentance Micah records a memorable Mandate for righteousness: “Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Insight – Micah 6:8 has been called the Micah Mandate: “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:7-8). The clarion call of Micah summarizes the law’s requirements: to act justly (see ch. 3). “We must do wrong to none, but do right to all, in their bodies, goods, and good name” (Matthew Henry). We must love mercy from the heart and serve the weak. We must walk humbly by seeing God for who He is (worthy) and ourselves for who we are (unworthy). Like other prophetic calls, it is mercy, not sacrifice that is required since obedience is better than sacrifice. The Messianic aspects of this book certainly find fulfillment in Jesus Christ who rules human hearts from heavenly Mt Zion (Acts 2:32-36; Heb. 12:22). However, those who trust in the Ruler from Bethlehem have even greater reason to “do justice” to others and to “love mercy” since we have received Calvary’s mercy. We must “walk humbly” since it is not by our works. Trust in the Ruler from Bethlehem transforms us into just, merciful and humble people.

Discussion – What would it look like in your life to “do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with God”? Are there areas of your life which would change toward others (justice), in the practice of love, or your own spiritual life?

Prayer – Holy God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring healing to all wounds, make whole all that is broken, speak truth to all illusion, and shed light in every darkness, that all creation will see your glory and know your Christ. Amen. (Collect for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Year A – Epiphany 3 – Isaiah 9:1-4

Isaiah 9:1–4 – But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Summary – To put this passage in its context, we must understand the Crisis of Isaiah’s Day (ch. 7-9). Jerusalem was under the threat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (allied with Syria) (Is. 7:1). Isaiah sought to reassure Ahaz of the House of David with a confirmation sign but Ahaz rejected the Lord (7:12). Ahaz rejected trusting the Lord and instead put his trust in Assyria (2Kgs 16:7). The Lord says, “Immanuel” will come and the Davidic covenant will be fulfilled. The rest of the chapter 7 and 8 indicates that Assyria will be God’s instrument of judgment on Israel and Syria, but this will also threaten Judah (Jerusalem).  The story continues in ch. 8 in the birth of “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz” which probably means “quick to plunder, swift to the spoil.” The plundering of Syria and Samaria by Assyria led Tiglath-pileser III can be dated in 732 B.C. This literal flood of judgment spilled over on Judah (8:7-8). God calls for faith, “To the law and to the testimony!” (8:19-20) or be driven into darkness (8:27). Isaiah 9:1 begins then with contrast, “But . . . later on . . .  on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” In the original context God provides a sign-promise and a fulfillment/down payment (ch. 7). The Immanuel Promise was fulfilled (finally) in that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary at a time when hope was lost and no one could find a son of David. Had the promise to preserve the House of David until Messiah failed? No, God was faithful. Chapter 9 continues to call His people to faith in this same Child who is not simply “God with us” but the Prince of Peace and the Mighty God. Would Judah be preserved? Would Zion be restored? Yes. All because Galilee saw a “great light.” The promise of an heir of David’s on the throne is finally fulfilled in that Jesus is this Son who reigns at God’s right hand, even now. “His kingdom would be established with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore” (v7).

Insight – Christ is identified as a “prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). Galilee was an insignificant place in terms of economics or religious importance. This is even voiced by a follower of Jesus, Philip, who asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). While God’s kingdom purpose affect all the world at every level, He often has chosen to use the weak and insignificant places and people. Galilee of the Nations was one of theses kinds of places.

Child’s Catechism – Where did Jesus grow up? Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth in Galilee.

Discussion – At the time of Jesus’ birth, Rome was the center of civilization. But Jesus did not grow up in Rome. Why does God use unimportant places like Nazareth in Galilee, rather than Rome?

Prayer – Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP Epiphany 3)

Year A – Epiphany 2 – Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah 49:1–7  – Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”   5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength— 6 he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”   7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Summary – This important Servant song in Isaiah points beyond Israel collectively, since this Servant will “raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel” (v6). The first part of this passage addresses the origin of the Servant. Yahweh predestined the Servant to be one with a mouth like a sharp sword (Rev. 19), like a unique arrow to be drawn at the decisive moment of battle. But the Servant expresses frustration, laboring in vain (v4). This certainly fits with the earthly ministry of Jesus. He was humbled as One “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers” (v7). Nevertheless true Israel will be gathered to this Israelite Servant (v5). He will be a light to the nations. This phrase, light to the nations, found here and in Is. 42:6, is cited in the New Testament in two places. In the first use of the passage, Simeon who sees the infant Jesus utters that He will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk. 2:32). This is to be expected. But in the ministry of Paul, he also cites this on the occasion of the rejection of the gospel by Jews and their decided turning to the Gentiles. He applies this to the  apostolic calling, “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47).

Insight – We have a cabinet over the washing machine and there are spare light bulbs in it. If I grabbed one, I should not expect it to be to be hot or glowing. It is a perfectly functional bulb, but it won’t make light without a connection. Isaiah 49, along with its application and fulfillment in the New Testament, make clear that the people of God are also light in the world. Because Jesus was the light of the world, now we who are his Body in the world are also instruments of His light. We are instruments or even bulbs of that light, but we don’t have that light of ourselves. In the same way that the light bulb cannot produce light without being connected to the power of electricity, so we cannot shine with the light of Christ without union with Him. As we live in faith in Jesus, His power shines through us.

Child’s Catechism – What was the Servant of Isaiah to do? The Servant of Isaiah was to suffer and die to be the light of the world.

Discussion – How can we practice being better lights in the world?

Prayer – Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Epiphany 2)