Devotions & Essays, Uncategorized

Prayer for Independence Day

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1–3).

Dear Christian friends,

As I write this, it is Independence Day weekend. On July 4th, we observe the 244th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We have much to be thankful for in this country. God has given us a system of government that has allowed us to worship and practice our faith in our vocations relatively freely. God has given us a land filled with natural resources and industrious people that have made this the most economically prosperous nation in the history of the world. God has brought a diversity of people from all over the world who have sought to live together acknowledging the richness of our own ancestral heritages, while at the same time seeking to build a common culture.

Certainly, our nation is not without problems. No human society in this fallen world will ever be. No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on, I am sure that you can identify concerns that you have. Most recently there are issues dealing with respect for authority, assurance of equal protection and justice under the law, and how to deal with the medical, emotion, and economic consequences of a pandemic. In our system of government, we have the tools to deal with those concerns peacefully. As citizens of this country, we have the right to voice our opinion public square. We have the right to vote and campaign for candidates who best represent our views and interests. And we have the right to worship and practice our religion according to consciences.

As Christian citizens, we have a duty to not just look out for our own benefit, and the benefit of our loved ones, but for the good of our neighbor as well. God has also given us the privilege and duty to pray on behalf of our nation, civil authorities, and people, that, as St. Paul urges, “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We acknowledge our failures of the past, the many challenges of today, and pray for the Lord’s guidance and protection of our nation as we move into the future.   

Toward that end, I offer this prayer, adapted from Lutheran Book of Prayer, for your consideration.

Heavenly Father, we come to Your throne of mercy bowed down and wearied by the weight of suffering and disaster visited upon our country through disease, distrust, and disorder. We beg You to protect this nation in our hour of need. We acknowledge our trespasses before You and do not deny either our own transgressions of Your holy Law or the sins of other citizens of our homeland. We have not loved You above all things; we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are laden with iniquity, but You call us to Your forgiveness, salvation, hope, and life. Turn the hearts and minds of all to You that they might find peace through the cleansing of Jesus’ blood. Let us not be confounded or dismayed, so that we, children of Your grace, may courageously speak to this needy world of the hope that is within us. Make us instruments of Your peace in a world of conflict, witnesses to the power of faith in a world lost in unbelief, and bearers of the joy that overcomes the sorrow of a fallen world. Grant to the leaders of the nations of the world wise counsel, calm thinking, and unselfish aims. Amid the tumult of disaster, build Your kingdom and turn even more souls to Yourself. Because of Your grace, we are not altogether lost but find peace and forgiveness in You. O Lord, give us the grace to seek You, trust You, and confess You; in Jesus’ name. Amen

The Lord bless us and keep us and our nation in His Word and will in however many days and years He has allotted to us. Amen.

Devotions & Essays, Sermons

A God Who Rises

“Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene” by Jan Cossiers

Click here to listen to this sermon.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:11–18)

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Behold the man who died and who now lives. His heart was stopped but again pulses with a new rhythm and vigor. His veins spilled their crimson contents all over the Golgotha ground but now course with a fresh supply of warm, red, oxygenated blood. His lungs were deflated and flat after that loud cry with which He yielded up His Spirit but now they expand and fill with the perfumed, stale, air of the tomb. His eyes were closed in death but now open and squint to take in the sites. His hands had been nailed but now they spread all ten living fingers open before picking up the grave cloths and folding them. His feet had dragged lifelessly as His body was placed into the tomb but now they reach to the ground and plant ten living toes into the cool dirt. His skin had cooled to the ambient temperature of the stone-and-dirt grave but now radiates heat and warmth, though it still possesses five distinct wounds from nails and a spear. His brain had been still and dead but now electrons dance and synapses and neurons sparkle. His stomach, which hasn’t eaten since Thursday, growls and suggests somewhat urgently that the Lenten fast is over. Behold, the man, Jesus, God and man, lives. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His creation.

And Mary mistakes Him for the gardener. It’s an honest mistake, really. She was understandably confused. She showed up first, while it was still dark and the disciples were asleep. But she probably hadn’t slept for days. As soon as day began to break after the Sabbath had ended, she went to the tomb. When she saw that the stone had been taken away, dislocated from what she knew was its permanent resting place, she ran and told the disciples. She found Peter and John first, and the words came crashing out so quickly, it’s any wonder they understood her at all. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

They all went back to the tomb, Peter and John sprinting. John doesn’t bother to tell us whether Mary Magdalene ran or walked. But when the men wandered away bewildered, she was there. She stayed outside weeping, grieving at the double loss. First the One she called Lord was crucified. Now His body was missing. The angels are perplexed at her weeping. “Why?” Her distress is wrong, not part of her honest mistake. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she turned around and beheld the Risen Lord. He asked her the very same question as the angels: “Why are you weeping?” and added, “Whom are you seeking?”

Of course, she supposed He was the gardener. This was an honest mistake. It’s not a mistake to confuse Jesus with a gardener. It’s a mistake to confuse Jesus with this gardener, the caretaker of the cemetery. He is no caretaker of cemeteries. In fact, He is quite the adversary to anyone who wants to keep cemeteries neat and orderly, who wants graves undisturbed, who wants peace and quiet maintained. There is a gardener, a caretaker for those things. But this man is not he.

There are many caretakers for the cemetery of the world. Maintaining this cemetery is the peculiar pastime of the world. I don’t mean, of course, the tending to real cemeteries or the peculiar business of operating a funeral home.

Ironically, the funeral industry thrives from shielding you from the stinging reality of death. First, there’s the cutting, draining, embalming, stuffing, plugging, sewing, and otherwise disguising the cold reality of a dead body to make it look as close as possible to the picture you provide the undertaker. Then there’s the casket, the liner, and the vault, because who wants to deal with the reality of ground that sinks as bodies decompose? And then the euphemisms: “He has passed on.” “She’s in a better place.” “He’s watching over you.” “Heaven needed another lady in its bowling league.” Finally, the funeral in the church has been replaced with the “celebration of life” in the mortuary. That’s all exceedingly odd and out of touch with the reality that death is a rupturing of God’s perfect creation.

It’s only in times of national emergency like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or pandemics that the terribleness of death is noticed and we don’t know how to deal with it when human lives (or at least some lives) become precious.  

It’s a sad fact that our culture often promotes death. The strong are encouraged to eliminate the weak. Mothers are persuaded that it is more convenient to kill their unborn children rather than shouldering the burden of being a parent. As soon as our elderly show some sign of slowing down, we want to scuttle them off to care facilities rather than take the time to grow old with them. And if our elderly are indeed too infirm to live at home, we do not take time out of our busy life to visit those who gave us life. Vengeance is yours. Suicide is noble. Divorce makes sense. Happiness at all costs. War is just. Kill or be killed. Efficiency is our idol. And nothing is more efficient than death.

The Didache, a first-century compilation of the teaching of the apostles, describes the culture of death like this:

And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.[i]

There is nothing new under the sun. Who has not bought into this evil way of thinking? Repent. Death does not become you.

The culture of death is not an American innovation, though we’ve made this idealized and idolized morbid production more efficient with every new technology we embrace. It is as old as creation, minus maybe seven or eight days. It was a culture of death that drove the first humans to rebel against the source of life, their Creator. “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” dyingly die, forever be more inclined toward death than life, see death as the unavoidable end to your lives, kill and fight, destroy both the Creator and His creation. You will die.

And then what happened? They fled from the gardener. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid, fearing for their lives. The God who had created them with His Word; who had scooped Adam out of the fresh, fertile adamah, or earth; who had planted a garden called Eden and put His humans in the garden to care for it and tend it; who still had the dirt of His creation under His fingernails, having indulged yesterday in the perfect Sabbath of His good creation, now strikes terror into the hearts of these be-your-own-gods rebels. And He should. He is life. They chose death. Adam became the first gardener of death, and the mere existence of the gardener of life made him afraid for his life.

Since then, the tension between Creator and men has been a clash of life versus death. But it didn’t stop the divine gardener from taking the occasional stroll in His creation, from tending His garden. So it should be no surprise to us that when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, when the Creator took an extended stroll in His creation, He exercised the skill and patience of a master gardener as He walked the rows.

Behold the man who tends His garden, who, everywhere He went, pulled the weeds of blindness and paralysis, leprosy and death, unbelief and rebellion. Behold the man who sowed the seed of His Word, the news of the new, irresistible reign of life, swallowing up the regime of death. He promised life, but it would come through death—specifically, His death. The death of this man at the hands of the caretakers of the culture of death, the gardeners of a dying world.

And so when Mary Magdalene beheld the man who created the Garden of Eden, who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who was dead and buried in a garden, she made the honest mistake of assuming that He was just another man, just another gardener in the gardens of death. But He is not.

He is a gardener, but of a completely different sort.

So here we are, at the dawn of His resurrection, in the fresh rays of a new dawn, basking in the glow of life, overcoming the shadows of death, and undoing a culture of death through sacrament and song, beholding the man who rose from the dead to obliterate death’s stranglehold in His good creation.

Join with Mary Magdalene in her pious mistake. Suppose the crucified and risen Christ; the grain of wheat fallen dead into the grave, buried in infertile ground, and broken forth in the bloom of new life; the eternal sower; the gardener of Eden; the new man, to be the Gardener. He is the gardener of His new heavens and new earth, the caretaker of the culture of new, resurrection life.

Behold the man who gives life. Believe in His bodily resurrection and your own, already begun in the waters of Holy Baptism, but not completed until His return. Behold the man who answers the culture of death begun by the first man by immersing Himself into it and dying at its hands. Behold the man whose death has destroyed death. Behold the man—the only man—with the authority to take His own life back up again. Behold the man who emerged from the grave and was immediately confused for the gardener. Behold the man whose resurrection means your resurrection. Behold the man who feeds you with the only body that rose from the dead in victory over death. Behold the man. And in Him, behold yourself, holy and whole, forgiven and free. In Him, behold the man or woman you are now and will be fully when He raises your very flesh from the grave.

Jesus’ resurrection is not just for His sake. As His death was for us, who are bodily dying as the consequence of our sin, now His resurrection is also for us, over whom death was thought to have the final word. Jesus rose bodily; His body and soul were knit back together eternally. And He promises the same bodily resurrection for us—not some disembodied rest for our souls with Him. Our lungs will breathe again. Our hearts will beat warm and strong anew. Our eyes will see; our ears will hear. Our lips will be freed from their lifeless rigor mortis to join the unending Te Deum of the eternal Bride of the resurrected Christ, His Holy Church. Our bodies will rise, as His is risen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

This sermon is adapted from a sermon series by Jeffrey Hemmer published by Concordia Publishing House.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Didache [The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], Ch. 5: “The Way of Death,” ANF 7:379.

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Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Jesus Sees a Man

“Christ Heals the Blind” by El Greco

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“As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).

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

Have you ever noticed how John, in his Gospel, takes us into small personal encounters with Jesus? Rather than give us an overview of Jesus’ ministry, listing regions and various kinds of healing, John takes us into the heart of Jesus’ work, asking us to meditate on how He interacts with people. The last couple of weeks we’ve had Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Today, it is Jesus and the man born blind. In these moments, John offers us an intimate view of how God works, personally, individually, then and now in the world.

The story begins simply. “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth.” Jesus sees a man. I would like you to stop and think about how profound this is. Jesus sees a man. Sometimes, it is so hard for us to see a person. We see things not people. We see the big house but fail to see the broken marriage. We see the nose ring but completely miss the lifetime of childhood abuse. We see fashionable clothes and perfectly applied makeup but fail to see the insecure girl looking for affirmation. We see things but do we really see people?

It is hard for us to see a person. When the disciples see this man, what do they see? They see a problem, not a person. Listen to what they say to Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Why? Why is he blind? Why was he born this way?” For the disciples, he is a teaching moment, an educational instance which has reduced this human being to a theological dilemma.

The disciples think they are practicing theology, meditating on great theological questions. Yet, their theology takes them away from the man. So, they stand at a distance, observing the man, but not seeing him. Talking about him but not with him. They don’t see him. They don’t touch him. They don’t put shoes on his feet or a piece of bread in his lap. They don’t grasp his hand and lead him to Jesus. They stand apart from the man and talk theology with their teacher.

For the disciples, this is a case study they can approach from an impersonal theoretical perspective. It is an attempt to answer the age-old question: Why? Why is there suffering? Particularly, why is this man suffering? Whose fault is it?

Notice how they are looking for a Law answer. They’re asking who did what sin to make this man born blind? Remember, the Law is all about what we do, and the Law is given to show us our sin. The disciples are asking a Law question and looking for a Law answer, which isn’t completely wrong. It’s just that Jesus isn’t going to give them a Law answer. He gives them a Gospel answer.

Jesus does something different. Jesus sees the man. And Jesus sees this man as part of a greater story. Jesus’ theology is practical, hands on, personal.

The disciples had written a story which was too small. It was a story of sin and punishment from God. This man was blind, so someone had sinned. Either he did or his parents did, and God punished the sin with blindness. I don’t know if you have ever encountered people who tell the Christian story this way. It is just a story about sin and an angry God. We become the morality police in the world. We are there to discipline rather than disciple. To root out the sin rather than save.

Jesus, however, sees this man as part of a much greater story. It does not begin with sin but with creation. It does not end with punishment but with restoration in Him. When the story begins in creation and ends in restoration, all the moments in between are filled with the works of God. God who comes to take His broken creation and fashion it into a new creation.

So, Jesus looks at this man and sees him as part of a greater story. Jesus says to the disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.” In other words, neither this man nor his parents did something sinful that specifically earned the curse of blindness. It’s just one way that the curse of sin shows itself in a sinful world. Bad things happen, and bad things will happen to you also from time to time.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. Christ has come to redeem the world, to reverse the curse of sin; and so, He is going to display His work and saving power by what He does for this man born blind. He goes on to say, “We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am  the light of the world.” Jesus has come into this world to defeat sin, to bring light to dark places, to restore what has been broken by sin and its consequences.

Then Jesus stops talking theology and starts living it. It’s a bit of déjà vu. Jesus kneels on the ground and begins to create again. He spits and makes mud from the dust of the earth. Forming it. Putting in on the man’s eyes. And then He speaks to him and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus is obviously unaware of modern germ theory or the benefits of social distancing.

The One who recently said to the consternation of the religious elite, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” now shows just how far back He goes. He was there at the first creation, separating the land from the water, forming a world that was beautiful and fashioning beautiful creatures to live in the world. He was there forming the first man out of the dust of the earth and breathing life into him. The One, who was there at the original creation, has come into creation again and is going to work to restore His broken world. He will give sight to this man. On a cosmic scale, it’s just one small step toward making all things new; but for the man born blind it makes all difference in the world.

Jesus comes to make a difference. For that one man, for all people, for all of creation. That is His work. And He is willing to die to do such work. In fact, by dying He will do even greater things than these. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. He will capture our sin and condense it into His death and then He will rise to create new life. Life for this man. Life for you. A new heaven and new earth in which the former things have passed away, where there will be no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain, nor death, where God will wipe away every tear from every eye.

What a blessing for Jesus to reveal Himself like this today. How easy it is to reduce God’s story to sin and punishment; to see problems, not people. To take a colorful world and reduce it to black and white until the only thing people hear from the Church is sin and punishment, rules and regulations.

But Jesus comes today and gives us a glimpse of a much greater story. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. You are not slaves to sin but children of God, servants of His righteousness. Jesus opens the door of His Father’s kingdom and gives us a glimpse of His greater work. He teaches us to live, not by the littleness of our minds (talking about people) but by the greatness of HHis kingdom, working with people “that the works of God might be displayed.”

Jesus sees the man. Jesus sees the man who is not able to go to work because he is considered “non-essential personnel.” Jesus sees the woman who waits on tables, who is now without an income for a yet undetermined time. Jesus sees the man who is anxious and upset about the future. Jesus sees the woman who is trying to figure out how to provide care for her young children while the schools and daycares are closed, and she needs to get back to work at the nursing home. Jesus sees the child who is overwhelmed by all sorts of frightening, mixed messages of doom and despair. Jesus sees the man who is grappling for the first time with poor health and with the realization of his own mortality. Jesus sees the woman who is worried what is going to happen to her vulnerable mother, father, or grandparents during a pandemic. Jesus sees the man or woman who must wrestle with difficult decisions that may affect the health and safety of his community. Jesus sees the woman feeling the loneliness of being shut-in and separated from her loved ones. Jesus sees the person and not just the problem.

Each of these people with each of their problems is an opportunity for the works of God to be displayed. It may or may not be God’s will to provide instant, miraculous healing. But it is always His will to give faith and life and salvation for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Though a diverse group, all these people share something in common. They all need Jesus. Like you and me, they are all sinners and suffer from the consequences of sin—directly or indirectly. They all need to hear of the God who loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. They all need to hear of the Messiah, who brings living water. They all need to hear of Jesus, who gives sight to the blind and light to a world swallowed up in the darkness of sin, death, and the devil. They all need to hear of the One who brings restoration and renewal and resurrection.

But you can’t help them without personally interacting with them. Loving someone includes praying for them and encouraging them with God’s Word, yes, but that is not the extent of our involvement. St. James urges: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:22–24).

Later, he reminds us: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14–18).

One of the ways, the works of God are displayed in this world is through our acts of love. And do we ever have opportunities for this now! The man or woman not able to go to work for a while might appreciate a chance to put some of his or her talents and abilities to work. If you have a need and the ability to pay, offer them a job or project. The waitress who depends on tips for her income might need your financial help to get through the next few weeks. The woman who must still go to work might need help caring for her children. The man dealing with his own mortality for the first time needs a mature Christian to lead him through God’s Word for comfort and assurance. The civic or business leader who needs to make some important, difficult decisions can use your advice, support, and prayers. These are just a few examples of the many opportunities that God provides that His work might be displayed in us even in the midst of brokenness and confusion. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the people you may be able to help.

God’s work is always centered in Christ. We have gathered as the Body of Christ. We have received the Body of Christ. Now in our scattering, let us be the Body of Christ and seek Christ in our neighbor to serve Him. Go in the peace of Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. Christ has come and reversed the curse of sin. For His sake, you are forgiven all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotions & Essays, Uncategorized

A Strange Way to Save: A Devotion for LWML Pipestone Zone Board Meeting

“Moses and the Brazen Serpent” by Luca Giordano

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“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. One of the best known verses in the Bible. But not so many know the sentence that precedes it. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

This short, somewhat obscure reference takes us back to an event in the life of God’s people, the Israelites, as they journeyed in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Understanding that story will help us better understand who Jesus is and what He has come to do for us.

So what happened? Throughout the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness God took care of them. He gave them bread from heaven to eat and water to drink. God had graciously provided for their every need, yet they became impatient. And the people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food” (Numbers 21:5).

The charge was untrue, of course. God made sure they had food and water. They were just discontent with what they had been given. They were ungrateful, forgetting that they had been rescued from slavery. God had provided for them every step of the way. But His provisions weren’t enough; they wanted something more.

To jar the people to their senses, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. Those serpents bit the people, and many died. The people soon recognized that their sin had caused this disaster. They came to Moses and confessed and asked for relief, “We have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us” (Numbers 21:7).

Moses once again acted as mediator between the people and the Lord. God had mercy on the people. He told Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole. He promised that anyone who looked toward it would live. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he or she would look at the bronze serpent and live.

It’s a strange way to save somebody—set a serpent on a stick. Logically, that doesn’t even make sense. Looking at a bronze serpent on a pole cannot remove deadly venom coursing through your veins. It’s scientifically impossible. But if God says it can, it can. His Word has the power to bring about what He says. God spoke. He attached His promise to that bronze serpent and the Israelites looked to it in faith—believing that God would save them through the way He provided. Healing did not magically emanate from the coiled piece of metal but depended on faith in the power of God’s Word.

That brings us back to John 3:14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”  

Jesus came to this world because deadly venom courses through our veins, too. It’s called sin. Adam and Eve, our first parents, were “snake-bitten.” Like the Israelites in the wilderness, God graciously provided for their every need, yet they turned against Him in the desire for something more than what He had given them. The ancient serpent, Satan, tempted them and they gave in, bringing sin into their lives and into creation itself.

The venom of sin has passed from generation to generation. You and I have it. It’s why our hearts are fill with so much hatred, pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, and lust. It’s why we journey through the wilderness of this life often craving something more than God has graciously provided. We have a sin problem. We’ve inherited it and we commit it. This venom is deadly and it’s killing us.

But God has mercy on us. Immediately, after Adam and Eve sinned, God promised a Savior who would crush the head of the serpent, undoing the deadly consequences of sin, while He Himself would be bitten. This Savior, Jesus, the Son of Man, was lifted up to death on the pole of the cross. Just as the Israelites were saved from the venom of the serpents when they looked in faith toward the bronze serpent, so believers of all ages can look to Christ in faith and be saved from the spiritual venom of sin.

It’s a strange way to save somebody, but it’s true! On the cross, Christ exchanged His perfect righteous and obedience for our sin and disobedience. He redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

That promise is for everyone! That promise is for you!

Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Christ’s Glory & the Prophetic Word

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“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

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

God has a history of revealing Himself on mountains. Moses came face-to-face with God and heard Him speak from a burning bush on Mount Horeb. The fire indicated the presence of God. God’s presence was confirmed in the Word that God spoke from the bush. God’s presence made this ground holy (Exodus 3:5).

Later, when Israel fled from Egypt, the glory of the Lord dwelt with them on that same mountain, also called Mount Sinai. Moses assembled the people and told them all the words of the Lord and all the rules. All the people answered with one voice: “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain, where they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings to the Lord. Moses consecrated the altar and sprinkled the people with blood and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord had made with you in accordance with all these words (Exodus 24:1-8).

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders went up, and they saw the God of Israel. “They beheld God, and ate and drank.” At the Lord’s command, Moses went up further on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which God had written for their instruction. A thick cloud appeared over the mountain for six days. And on the seventh day, the Lord called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Similar to the time Moses first met God, “The glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people” (Exodus 24:9-17).

Centuries later, again on a high mountain, the Lord reveals Himself to Peter, James, and John. Jesus is transfigured before the apostles’ eyes. His face shines like the sun, revealing the glory of God. Jesus’ clothes are as white as light. Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets, announcing—in effect—that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scripture.

While the prophets are speaking with Jesus, a bright cloud overshadows them. A voice from the cloud says, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The apostles see, and then they hear. That they had not heard at the Baptism of Jesus, they hear now: “Listen to Him.” Moses had foretold that God would raise up a prophet to whom the people should listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jesus is that prophet. He alone knows the Father, who has handed over all things to His Son (Matthew 11:27). Listen to Him!

Upon hearing, the apostles immediately understand this is holy ground, and they are in the presence of the Holy One. They hit the dirt, their faces to the ground, overcome with fear and awe at what they see and hear.

Jesus comes over and touches them, moving them out of their dazed state with this human gesture. “Rise, and have no fear,” He says. They cautiously lift up their eyes and see no one but Jesus only in His normal, everyday appearance.

Now the disciples know that where Jesus and His Word are, there is a holy place. This is really a glimpse of heaven. Peter and his fellow apostles are eyewitnesses of an awesome sight, and Jesus reveals to them the glory of His presence. God is where Jesus is—in Christ and the prophetic Word.

In our Epistle, St. Peter encourages the Christians of Asia Minor to remain faithful to Christ and His Word in the days to come. He knows his time on earth is not long and he wants to remind them of what they have been taught.

All of us forget things. Information slowly drains out of our brains each day. Sometime forgetfulness is cute or harmless. But forgetfulness can get embarrassing or costly, like missing an appointment, running out of gas late at night, or skipping an important medication dosage.

Sometime forgetting is ugly and dangerous, as when a spouse “forgets” that he or she is married and slides into adultery. Or when church leaders “forget” that they are servants and start bossing people around as if they were lords.

And sometimes forgetting causes spiritual sickness and even death, as when people forget that they are by nature sinful and unclean, forget the expensive rescues by which Christ lifted them out of hell, forget about the prince of darkness and their other spiritual enemies, or forget to put on their spiritual armor and pick up their spiritual weapons.

Peter wants to strengthen and encourage these Christians. Unlike the false teachers, he does this not by bringing in all kinds of new teachings but by reminding them of teachings from God’s Word, which they already know. And he wants to make sure their memories will be continually refreshed even after he dies.

How can this happen? By writing this letter down, for one thing. A written letter can be read and reread and taught to others. For another, Peter might be alluding to the apostolic practice of recruiting and training new workers for the kingdom who will keep the remembering process going. Or possibly he is referring to the remembering he did to help St. Mark write his Gospel of the life of Christ.

The churches in Asia Minor are forgetting the true source of their information about God and are drifting into uncertainty about what to believe. False teachers are exploiting the people with their own made-up revelations and are promising the people pleasure and “freedom.” But there are not many truths; there is only one truth (verse 12). And so, Peter reminds them about a certain event on a certain mountain involving three disciples, two prophets, and one Messiah:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

  All attacks of Satan on the Church sooner or later come around to this—an attack on the apostles and prophets of the Lord as true and authoritative sources of information about the Lord. That attack is as old as Eden: “Did God really say…?” The new breed of teachers who are demanding attention in the Asia Minor churches are disparaging the reliability of Peter, the other apostles, and the written message of the Old Testament prophets.

Peter recognizes the deadly peril. They are denying the power and coming of Jesus Christ. They are leading people to doubt that Jesus really does possess and exercise God’s power, that He really does enter people’s lives and work on their behalf. They are leading people to think that Jesus will never come back, that they are not accountable to Him for their beliefs and lives. The bitter irony is that the very people who are accusing Peter of making up cleverly invented stories are the ones making up cleverly invented stories.

Peter reminds them that he had been present at the transfiguration, surely one of the most significant events in Jesus’ life. The transfiguration is not some cleverly devised myth. No, he and James and John were eyewitnesses. They were allowed to see something no other human being would see before Judgment Day—the true glory of the Son of God.

Jesus was transfigured before them, glowing with the brightness of the presence of God Himself. Surrounding the shining Savior was a bright cloud, which Peter calls the “Majestic Glory.” In the Old Testament, “the glory of the Lord” refers to an appearance of God in cloud and fire to mark a significant advance in His plan of  salvation. In addition to the appearance of God to Moses and the people of Israel already mentioned, God appeared to Abraham in a smoking firepot. On the day of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, the glory-cloud filled the temple. In this way the Lord signified His approval and His actual presence among His people.

When the glory-cloud blazed around Jesus on the very high mountain, the Father was demonstrating His approval of His Son’s person and work. He also showed that through Christ He was present on earth among His people. Peter declares, “I saw those things happen,” not to brag but to demonstrate his authority to speak on Christ’s behalf. Unlike the peddlers of self-invented notions, he was an eyewitness.

Peter was also an earwitness. He saw the glory; he also heard the voice. Three different times during Christ’s ministry, the voice of the Father had boomed over His dear Son: once at His baptism in the Jordan, where John the Baptist anointed Him for His Savior work; once during Holy Week, when the Father confirmed that Christ’s work was indeed bringing Him glory; and once on the very high mountain up north, in front of three terrified disciples and the two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. The glory and the voice forcefully proclaimed the Father’s love, approval, and pleasure and greatly strengthened Christ in His determination to go to the cross for sinful mankind.

They also strengthened the certainty of the apostolic eyewitnesses. The disciples’ faith in Christ was sometimes shaky, as is ours, because we are disappointed by the subtle, hidden way in which Christ comes. The manger, the cross, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper promise the victorious Christ by faith, not by sight. But Peter did see, and hear, once. He never forgot, and he didn’t want his friends to forget either. He wanted them to grow in their certainty of what they believed. Jesus really is who He says He is; He really does what He says He will do; and He really gives what He says He will give.

Peter wants his readers to remember where they will find true comfort and certainty in the years to come: “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19).

At a time when many people claim to be speaking for God, it is reassuring to know that there is a written, unshakable source of spiritual information and authority—the timeless truths of written Scripture.

Satan is the prince of darkness, and everybody who works for him knowingly or unknowingly spreads his darkness. In Satan’s darkness, some people are proud of their own goodness, hostile to the idea of needing a Savior, and satisfied that they can figure out right and wrong by themselves. Some in the darkness feel despair and fear, knowing that they are evil, but not knowing that there is a Savior for them. And some simply do not care about spiritual things; apathy rules their hearts. Like animals, their highest concern is satisfying their appetites. Satan uses false teachers to push Christians into these kinds of darkness.

God’s written Scripture will never lie; it is absolutely dependable; we can lean our lives on it. The best way for Christians to grow in the certainty of what they believe is to go back to God’s written Word. God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place. It illumines our minds and hearts. We do well to pay attention to that Word, for it alone drives back the darkness and confusion of hell. As the Word does its work, the glory that shone from Christ and the Majestic Glory of the Father now shines in us. The day of grace dawns; the Morning Star rises.

In popular astronomy, the planet Venus is sometimes called the morning star. It is, of course, not a star at all. But it reflects the sun’s rays just before dawn, and its light is a sure sign that night is almost over and the day is at hand. Jesus is called the bright Morning Star in Revelation 22:16. His coming into the world signals that the power of the night of sin, sickness, death, and hell has been broken and will soon be over. His Word reflects His light. His people wait longingly for the full revelation of the Son of God when He returns to take us home.

In the meantime, He is still with us in His means of grace.

In the holy mountain of the altar, Jesus comes to you, inviting you to eat His body, which is given to you in the bread. To drink the cup, the new testament in His blood, which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And to do this “in remembrance of Me.” There, in, with, and under the bread and the wine you behold God, eat and drink His real presence.

At the font, Christ washes away your sins, clothes you in His robe of righteousness, and gives you the gift of His Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Through contrition and repentance, you live in your Baptism, daily putting to death the old Adam so that the new many may arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

In Christ’s Word of forgiveness preached to you, in the Holy Absolution applied to you, you have the forgiveness He won at the cross.

Here, in this holy place Jesus reveals the true God to you—that same forgiving presence of the Lord—wherever His Gospel is purely taught and His Sacraments are rightly administered.

Here, in this holy place, hidden in water, wine, bread, and the voice of God’s called and ordained servant you will find Christ’s glory. Here is the prophetic Word more fully confirmed that always points to Jesus. Here is the One who came to save the world by His death on the cross. Here is the One for you, Who brings you salvation and eternal life, in Whom you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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