One Sunday morning, a teacher showed her Sunday school class a picture of famous people gathered around God’s table in heaven. The teacher asked them, “Where are you in this picture?” The children were puzzled. Finally, a child spoke up; “We can’t be in the picture, we’re not dead yet.” Such an understanding presents the resurrection as a distant and future reality.
Jesus’ announcement, “I am the resurrection and the life,” teaches us that the resurrection is closer than we may realize. Because of sin, every moment of human life occurs in the face of death. Yet, by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, our sins are forgiven and death has lost its sting. Therefore, the resurrection is not some far off point in time that we await; it is a present reality for those who know Christ as Lord and Savior.
In their grief, Mary and Martha saw only the earthly picture, the one in which their brother Lazarus was missing. They could not imagine life without their brother, nor understand that in Christ, death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus invites us to gaze upon the heavenly picture and realize our place at God’s table. As we do, we have fellowship with the saints of every time and space, because we are in Christ, the resurrection and the life.
Prayer: Keep us in fellowship with all your saints, O Lord, as we gather around your table of grace. Amen.
1 John 5:1–12, John 15:1-10
In one of his songs, Christian singer and songwriter Steve Bell points out; “Whoever loves God loves all that God loves. Think about that.” Truly, think about it. As Christians we learn from scripture that indeed God is love, and if we are to love God we will keep his commandments. We will strive to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. It is as simple as that. Love is the key to keeping God’s commandments. Unfortunately, our sinful nature continues to present a stumbling block to love.
Self-centeredness, greed, violence and contempt are such stumbling blocks hurled into the path of faithfulness. Overcoming these obstacles is well out of reach for sinners. On our own we are no match for the devil and his minions. We need strength. We need rescue. We need a Savior whose love overcomes the powers that defy God. Thankfully, we have such a Savior.
John reminds us that through the power of God’s love, Christ has overcome the world and all its evil powers. Through the waters of Baptism, God has poured out his grace and given believers life in his Son Jesus Christ. Living in this life and light, and because he first loved us, we can finally strive to love all that God loves. Think about that.
Prayer: O God, give me the will to love all that you love. Amen.
As Jesus taught in the temple, many heard his words and were amazed. Some Pharisees, however, were not so pleased with Jesus’ teaching. They often found themselves to be the subjects of his lessons which pointed out to them their failure to live up to God’s expectations. Instead of hearing the prophetic voice calling them to repentance, these Pharisees took exception and tried to trap Jesus with their trick questions.
Jesus’ teaching continues to confound those who live as the world lives. It seems we no longer live in an age when authority is not socially recognized, but questioned. Even within the community of believers, biblical authority is often called into question. The Holy Scriptures, however, remain God’s authoritative source and norm for faith and life.
The Pharisees who questioned Jesus did so because their hearts were hardened to the truth of God’s Word. Those who question the authority of scripture today, do so with hearts turned toward human understanding. Yet, Jesus is the one who calls us all to repentance. His is the authority handed over to him by the Father. Through him only is there forgiveness and eternal life.
Prayer: Open my heart to your Word, O Lord, that I may receive your grace. Amen.
As it is with most fathers, I have gotten used to the fact that when my kids call, it’s not long before the conversation gets to the point when money becomes involved. I can usually tell when the request is about to be made. Suddenly, the tone in my child’s voice becomes just a little bit sweeter. I am then reminded just how much I am loved. Then, at the point of opportunity, “So Dad…you know that thing I told you about?” In all honesty, I am happy to help as much as I can, when I can. It’s truly a father’s joy.
Jesus teaches his disciples, and so he teaches us as well, that it is our heavenly Father’s good pleasure to provide for his Children. As we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” our Father graciously provides that which we need. We have the assurance of daily bread, for God is also the one who has provided his grace through the Son given for the sake of the world. So in faith, ask, seek, knock. Those things that are needed will be provided by the hand of your Father.
Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread, O God, and fill us with your love. Amen.
Luke 21:5-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Alongside the road there is an old VW van with a sign propped up against it; “Repent, the end is near!” The car in front of you in traffic has a bumper sticker warning that, “In case of RAPTURE this vehicle will be unmanned!” Finally, in bold letters, the theater marquis assures you that you do not want to be “LEFT BEHIND!” It seems someone at every turn is attempting to decipher the signs and sift through the hidden clues in Holy Scripture in order to determine just when the end will come. Even Jesus’ disciples wondered openly about the end times. “When will all these things take place?” “What will be the sign?”
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. In Matthew’s gospel, he speaks of the reality of earthly life. In both of these, our Lord instructs God’s people to pay little attention to such events. They must happen, but they are not the indicators, merely moments in history. Only the Father knows when he will make all things new. Until then, we have assurance that even as such events occur, Christ is present among us, even to the end of the age.
Prayer: Christ our Lord, give us faith to persevere and to patiently await your coming in glory. Amen.
Matthew 26:57-68, Romans 14:13-23
Confronted by our sin against others, sometimes all we can do is remain silent. Our shame is too great for words; the hurt we have caused cannot be erased by speaking. We all suffer from the same condition. Ever since Adam and Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit, humans have struggled under the weight of sin and disobedience. We continually find ourselves at odds with one another, leading people astray with our lies, and cheating others because of selfishness. Paul reminds us that we are never to put a stumbling block or a hindrance in the way of our neighbor. When faced with the realization that we are indeed guilty, there is nothing left that we can say except, “Lord, have mercy.”
Jesus stood before Caiaphas, as Isaiah prophesied, “like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7). He did not remain silent because of guilt, but because his actions would speak louder than any words uttered by human lips. Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world remained silent before false testimony so that he might save even those who accused him wrongly. Living without sin, the Son of God offered his life and died the death we deserved so that we might live.
Prayer: We give you thanks O Lord our God, for your mercy and grace that is through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Following the martyrdom of Stephen, Scripture tells us persecution arose against the Church. A great number of Christians were thrown into prison for their alleged blasphemy, while others, including Saul the Pharisee, stood by in approval. He too went from house to house and dragged believers away because of their faith.
In the far reaches of our present world, brutal persecutions against Christians still exist in terms that are all too real. Across the globe, Christians are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed because they confess Christ crucified and risen. Yet, just as it was in for the earliest Christians, the gospel of Christ Jesus has the power to overcome the powers of evil and the Church continues to grow.
Wherever the gospel travels, there are challenges to faith which give rise to unexpected joy. Following the stoning of Stephen, many Christians escaped similar fates by fleeing to neighboring lands. Those who fled did not remain silent. Philip traveled to Samaria, preaching the gospel with boldness and passion, leading a great number of people to be baptized. And lest we forget, along the Damascus Road, the power of the risen Christ overcame the greatest persecutor of all.
Prayer: Almighty God, keep safe, those who proclaim your Word. Amen.