Monthly Archives: December 2015

New Year’s Eve

The CircumcisionIllustration:  “The Circumcision,” by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, c. 1739-1774.  Oil on canvas.

This day the world is getting ready to usher in a new year.  Parties are being planned, clothes are being laid out and reservations are made. But so many of those party-goers never give any thought to what the Church is preparing for.

The circumcision and naming of Jesus is probably one of the lesser known and celebrated festivals of the Church Year.  But it is one infinite importance.  Jesus’ circumcision tells us many things.  He is a child of Abraham.  His parents observe the law for Him and bring him to the mohel, the “circumciser” and Jesus sheds His first blood for us.

Yes, for us.  For Him to be the Lamb of God, he must be blemish free, and ironically, to be blemish free is to be cut upon, to shed blood, to observe the law, so that when he sheds His blood on the cross for us, “it is finished.”

And his name is Y’shua, “He saves.”  It is by that name that we enter into the presence of God.  When Mary followed Gabriel’s command and named her baby Y’shua, she set into motion the events we await.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for keeping all Your promises to me.  This year, with Your help, I want to keep all my promises to You.

As We Wait:  As you make your plans for the new year, start with a worship service and celebrate the real reason we have so much joy.  And Happy New Year.

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Share the Promise

St. PaulIllustration:  “St. Paul” by Masaccio, 1426.  Tempera on wood.

“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers, a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

God’s people act on God’s command. The obedience of the nations is Messiah’s (see Dec. 6). All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). At His command and with His authority, we go to people of all nations, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3).

At Pentecost (the 40th day after Easter, when God sent the Holy Spirit), Jewish people from many lands came to the temple in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit. They returned to their homes proclaiming God’s glory in Messiah Jesus. As Jesus commanded, they spread the message from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Though these first evangelists were Jewish, the sad irony is that soon the Jewish people became hardened to the name of Jesus, and fell away from faith in Messiah. Even today they struggle with God, refusing to hear His Word. But as God promised, a remnant of the Jewish people still believe in Messiah.

Paul’s theme verse of the letter to the Romans is  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Paul put this into action as everywhere he went, he went first to the Jew.  God still has a plan for his beloved first children.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for being “Immanuel,” God with us, as we serve Your gospel among Jews and Gentiles throughout the world. Amen.

As We Wait: Find out more about Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism (Burning Bush Ministries), a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and Congregation Chai v’Shalom, ministries to Jewish people who do not know Jesus is the Messiah they await.

http://www.BurningBushLCMS.org http://www.ChaivShalom.com

Resurrection Fulfills the Promise

ResurrectionIllustration:  “The Morning of the Resurrection” by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, 1886.  Oil paint on wood.

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’–and that he had said these things to her” (John 20:18).

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We don’t have to wait until Easter to give this glad tiding. Today we celebrate the resurrection, God’s final victory over death and Satan. Isaiah’s prophecy has come to pass. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

The apostle Paul taught that without the resurrection, our faith in Christ would be in vain. Yet there are many who call themselves Christians, but deny the resurrection. Clearly, there is much work yet to be done. Satan may not have any dominion over us who are saved, but his whisper is still heard throughout the land. He knows he is defeated, that he will no longer rule. But he will take as many with him as he can.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me faith that does not depend upon the evidence of my eyes, but only upon You and Your promise. Sustain me in my faith, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

As We Wait: God has not returned in final victory because there are still many who can be saved. Lutheran Hour Ministries is one tool God uses to reach people around the world with His love. Consider supporting this Christ-centered ministry today.

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Messiah in a Grave

BurialIllustration:  “The Entombment of Christ” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, c. 1865.  Etching, oil on copper plate.

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:41-42).

After He was crucified, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross. The guards ensured that He was dead, and to the watching disciples it probably looked like a hopeless situation. Despite what they saw, God was still in control. His promises were still being fulfilled. He said that his people would make for Messiah “his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death” (Isaiah 53:9). So He was: Jesus died a criminal’s death and was placed in the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.

Waiting in this dark hour, we remember Jesus’ promise: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The death of the Promised One looks like a hopeless situation, but God’s promise says otherwise.

The same is true in our lives. Sometimes it looks like evil is winning, like all hope is lost, but we have God’s promise that He is working even when we cannot see it.

Prayer: Dear Lord, sometimes the wait seems long and I lose the expectation of what You are preparing for me. Help me trust You when I cannot see You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: When you feel like God has abandoned you, remember the desolation of Jesus’ death and put your hope in God’s promise of resurrection.

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Messiah Dies

CrucifixionIllustration:  “Crucifixion” by Edward Vardanian, 2003.  Oil on canvas.

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50).

Today’s Scripture passage tells about the fulfillment of the painful prophecies of Messiah, given first to Adam and Eve, and spelled out in detail by Isaiah. It was time for Jesus to “bruise [the serpent’s] head” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus was rejected by His people and, without argument or defense, allowed Himself to be made the victim of Satan’s plot to destroy humankind. Scourged and hung on a tree, Jesus suffered the death and the abandonment by God that sin deserves. Maybe Satan celebrated this apparent victory, or maybe Satan remembered God’s promises and knew defeat was inevitable.

As Abraham promised his son, Isaac, when they climbed Mt. Moriah (see Dec. 4), God provided the Lamb for the sacrifice. Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, became sin for us that we might be spared God’s punishment. It was the final great sacrifice, modeled in the thousands of sacrifices the Jewish people made to atone for their sins before God. But Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for everyone, for every sin, forever. This was God’s plan all along, through 4,000 years of faithfulness to His unfaithful people. There was no victory for Satan in His death.

Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, for standing between me and Satan, sparing me from the death I deserve. In You I have true life and salvation. Amen.

As We Wait: Without Christ’s death and resurrection, His birth and life are meaningless. His teaching is just wise words with no power. Thank God today for His resurrection power.

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Messiah Not Known

Entry into JerusalemIllustration:  “Entry in Jerusalem.”  12th century mosaic in the Basilica Di San Marco, Venice, Italy.

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?'” (Matthew 21:10).

Jesus had been publicly ministering for three years by the time He made this triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He had called, taught, and empowered His disciples; He had performed miracles; He had preached to the multitudes; He had been recognized by some and scorned as a heretic by others.

Then, as the prophet Zechariah foretold (see Dec. 16), the shepherd King entered Jerusalem, gentle and riding on a donkey. Crowds of people welcomed Him enthusiastically, covering the road with palm branches and cloaks, proclaiming Him to be the Son of David (one of the key prophecies about the Messiah they await). But when some asked who He was, the crowd did not call Him Messiah. They said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” True, He is a prophet, but He is so much more! There are many prophets, but only one Messiah.

Today, people of many faiths acknowledge that Jesus was a prophet but do not recognize that He is the Savior. God promised a king, a deliverer, and a Savior. He is Jesus.

Prayer: Jesus, reveal Yourself clearly to those who do not see that You are Messiah. Amen.

As We Wait: Pray for missionaries who share the Gospel with people who know Jesus only as a prophet. Call Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism  at (314) 645-4456, or go online to http://www.lcms.org (Tab “What We Do” to “Missions and Outreach” to get the name of one in particular.

http://www.BurningBushLCMS.org http://www.ChaivShalom.com

Christmas Day: Messiah Has Come!

Christmas DayIllustration:  “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, 1622.  Oil on canvas.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child” (Luke 2:1-5).

LinusThe second chapter of Luke may be my favorite Christmas reading, largely because of the lone voice of a small boy named Linus. Surely you remember this young creation of cartoonist Charles Schulz standing alone on the stage with his blanket, reciting Luke’s Christmas story to explain the real meaning of the holiday. Before I even knew who Jesus was, I treasured these words and pondered them in my heart.

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth fulfill yet another of God’s promises. The emperor ordered that a census be taken, so Joseph took Mary from their home in Galilee and traveled to “Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). And there Micah’s prophecy (see Dec. 13) came to pass. Out of the smallest clan of Judah, the birthplace of David, came the Messiah. Now Micah’s enigmatic words, that He is “one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days,” make sense. Jesus is the Son of God and has been King from the very beginning.

Prayer: Thank You, God, for the miracle of Christmas, the fulfillment of Your promise. Amen.

As We Wait: Happy Christmas! Today, join the shepherds who received the news of Messiah’s birth. Glorify and praise God for all the things you have heard and seen, which are just as you have been told.

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Christmas Eve: An Angel Speaks to Mary

The AnnunciationIllustration:  “The Annunciation” by Luca Girodano, 1672.  Oil on canvas.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27).

The moment is upon us. You can almost feel the world holding its breath in expectation. God’s promises are coming to pass. He sends His message with the angel Gabriel to a virgin pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. Gabriel’s message is that she will bear a child, born not of her union with Joseph, but by the Holy Spirit. It will be a miraculous birth that will testify to God’s promise. The child will be God dwelling among us, called the Son of God, and reign on the throne of David. His kingdom will never end. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could miss the importance of this miraculous event. Could God be any clearer?

Many churches celebrate the miracle of Christmas Eve with a candlelight service. I remember attending a candlelight service once before I knew Jesus, and I chose not to hold a candle. Sitting in the darkness, I realized something was missing in my life. I didn’t have all the answers. I needed the Light.

Prayer: Baby Jesus, come into the hearts of those who do not yet know that You are the King and Savior they await. Amen.

As We Wait: Tonight, as you sit in the warm glow of candlelight, rejoice that God has spoken to your heart through our King.

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Shalom

PeaceIllustration:  “Peace” by William Strutt, 1896.  Oil on canvas.

As we wait to celebrate the birth of the promised Messiah, we wait for the coming of Him again who would bring peace.  Today we live between the times.  Jesus’ birth would usher in the Messianic Kingdom when God comes to us and reconciles us to Himself.  That historic incarnation gives us shalom, the peace that passes all understanding.

But he will come again to bring the other peace that we long for, the lion laying down with the lamb.  That peace is as elusive today as it was during the “silent” years between Malachi and Matthew.  One foreign nation after another waged war on little Israel, and they, like us, longed for peace.  His coming in quiet, in a manger in Bethlehem, did not do much for little Israel.  They would still see dark days to come.  But those who would venture to the manger and praise God with the angels would see God’s forgiveness and live in hope.

Today the world is blowing up around us.  News of atrocities across the Middle East, terrorism in our own land, and living in fear seems to be what the world is serving.  But if we venture to the manger and praise God with the angels, we will see God’s forgiveness and live in the hope that he promises.  No amount of bad news can steal our shalom.

Prayer:  Father God, hold us in your arms tonight and lead us to the manger, to see your promises come true, and hold onto the promises yet to come.  Amen.

As We Wait:  It is tempting to live in fear, but fear is not of God.  Focus on his promise, and with our Lord Jesus, say, “get behind me Satan.”  He will not still our peace.

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Elijah Returns

BaptismIllustration:  “Baptism of Jesus.”  Mural painting.  The Vladimir Cathedral in Chersonese. Sevastopol. Crimea, c. 2004.  Oil on canvas, diameter 400 sm.

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matthew 3:1-2).

Jesus will be born soon, but first we celebrate another promise-fulfilling birth: John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel announced he would be the Elijah that Malachi promised, the one God sent to prepare people’s hearts to receive Messiah (Matthew 3:1-17). John the Baptist did just that, preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John spoke of the One who would judge between the righteous and the wicked, and warned Abraham’s children not to rely upon their lineage for salvation, but upon God’s promise. No one would be found righteous except those who were redeemed by Messiah.

John’s message of repentance is not just for those who do not yet know the Messiah. It is also for us who already know Christ. By grace, God made us His children in Baptism. John the Baptist’s call to repentance reminds us that daily we renew God’s promise by confessing our sinfulness, remembering God’s promise to forgive, and being prepared again to do His work on earth.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for blessing me in my Baptism, forgiving my sins, and preparing me for Your good works. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

As We Wait: Mark your Baptism day on the calendar and make plans to especially celebrate God’s faithfulness to you on that day. Do the same for your spouse, children, and godchildren.

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