The Lord is the Answer to Our Woe

 

The book of Job is one of the earliest Old Testament books. In it is found the earliest use of “woe” to express one’s feelings. Job used the expression in a down time. He complained in his affliction. He was a man of flesh who in weakness thought that whether he did right or wrong, God was out to get him. He said, “ Woe to me.”  Job was wrong in his complaint, but before we take him to task, we do well to ask if we ourselves do not frequently have the thought.

The expression as we use it, “woe is me”, is one of sorrow or distress. It describes a feeling of personal misery, despair, sadness as an explanation of grief. It might even express frustration.

Though he does not use the word, the prophet Habakkuk, in the first chapter of his book,  implies some of the same sentiment expressed by Job. What Habakkuk wrote could well have been written for and about us today. “ O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save.  Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises.  Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (1:1-4). Have such thoughts perhaps crossed our minds recently?

When God’s people no longer respect Him or listen to His Word, He may choose to use the ungodly as instruments to bring the wayward to repentance. Even those who believe that God is love may sometimes wonder where He is, as the prophet did. Does He not care? Does He not see what is happening? Does He not hear our prayers? Does He not love us? This is when we might have our “Woe is me” moments.  God is love; just because He is, as a loving Father He sometimes finds it necessary to use “tough love” to accomplish His purpose.  “Whom the Lord loves He chastens…” (Hebrews 12:6), in order that He might save some!

Habakkuk lived in Judah during a  time when worship in Judah was defiled by corruption and wickedness invited judgment. The Lord would use the Chaldeans  as instruments to  punish Judah. At the same time for the comfort of the faithful the  prophet told them that the Lord would bring judgment upon the Chaldeans.

In just such circumstances, Habakkuk said, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He [the Lord] will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected” (2:1). What the prophet heard was the announcement of judgment against the godless Chaldeans. It would happen in the Lord’s time. Patience was called for, “Because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (2:3). The ungodly, the wicked, the greedy, the proud, the oppressor, the server of self rather than of God will suffer destruction. On the other hand, “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The Lord works in His own way, in His own time, and for His own purpose. In times of pain, grief, or uncertainty the oppressed among God’s believing children often think the Lord should work more quickly. Yet the prophet catches himself and tells himself to wait quietly, patiently, in faith for God’s deliverance. Whether for  salvation of the righteous, or judgment upon the wicked, the Lord keeps His promises! As the prophet, we may have to wait to see.

The just shall live by his faith.” This is the only time the word “faith” is used in this book. [Forms of the word (faithful,-fully, -fulness) are used often in the Old Testament, but the word as such is used only twice in the Old Testament—here, and Deuteronomy 32:20]. In Romans 1:17 the apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4. When Luther read Romans 1:17, it was a turning point in his life. The Gospel is foolishness to  the world, yet it is the power of God unto salvation to the sinner burdened by his sin, troubled in His conscience, and oppressed by the world. Said the apostle, “ I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” “By grace you have been saved, through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8).

What Habakkuk heard left him in awe. “O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid” (3:1). Judah for the moment had to endure the tyranny of the Chaldeans who in turn would suffer God’s wrath. Deliverance would come. Now there was no “Woe is me.”  Habakkuk believed the Lord. He closed the second verse of the third chapter with a plea of confident faith, “In wrath remember mercy.” It is ever true. The Lord’s exercise of  love, judgment and mercy, come together.

The prophet believed it, but he was also moved to look at things from a broader  perspective. He saw things from the perspective of eternity. The third chapter concludes with words of faith and confidence. “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills” (3:14-19). Might not His believing children even  say, “The hills are alive with the sound of faith!?”

The Lord Jesus Christ, according to His humanity, was  tempted as we are, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was oppressed and afflicted (Isaiah 53:7). He felt the forsakenness of God (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46). Our Lord  knows our circumstances and also our fears. He sympathizes with our infirmities. He hears our cries. While in our waiting we are frequently impatient, He gives strength to bear the burdens. He will deliver His people from their trials and afflictions according to His gracious will—in His way and time. If deliverance does not come when we think it should, it will surely come when we receive the promised inheritance laid up for us in heaven. Our Father is faithful!

The prophet could lean on history to confirm the Lord’s faithful Word. He knew how the Lord had delivered Israel from Egypt and how He had led them through the wilderness to the Promised land. The prophet was also acquainted with how the Lord had accompanied David. He knew the Lord is not slack concerning His promises. God’s children who know history– His-story — have the same confirmation of the Lord’s faithfulness.

But we have an advantage the prophet did not have for we have the fulfillment of what he believed through faith. Habakkuk knew the prophecy of the Savior. But he lived before it came to pass. We live in time of the fulfillment of Jesus’ birth, as well in the glow of the resurrection of our Lord. What we wait for now is the final deliverance. “… Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you shall rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). “The just shall live by faith.”

In 2021, as Christ-believers we have a far greater concern on our heart and mind than what is happening in and to the nation. It is the unveiled attacks that are being made and will continue to be made upon the Christian Church, and the Christian faith. Keep in mind that attacks on the Church, the Body of Christ, and upon the faith, are attacks against the Lord God Himself. This is nothing new in history. True to His Word, the gates of hell have not prevailed against the Church (Matthew 16:18). The Psalmist said, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people plot a vain thing?… He who sits in the heavens shall laugh…” (Psalm 2).  At the same time, the Psalm concludes, “Blessed are those who put their trust in Him.” As to ourselves we are called upon with Habakkuk to  watch for what God has in mind, meanwhile being faithful in our worship, in our teaching, and circumspect in our life.

Our weapons against the devil’s insidious attacks, some perpetrated within the church itself, are not political, secular, or physical. The single weapon with which the Church fights evil, false doctrine, and efforts to destroy it is the Word of God, His Truth. The Church is not to curry the favor of the world in an attempt to preserve itself. The Church is to preach the Law of God which uncovers sin; it is to preach the Law to bring people to a knowledge of their sins and the eternal consequences of sin, that they may see their need and ask as did the jailor of Philippi, “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)?  The faithful are to go forth then with the Gospel to bring peace through the message of Jesus’ atonement to those who confess their sins and are troubled. Paul told the jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

Furthermore it is the Truth, the Gospel, which alone changes hearts and turns them from evil to reflect the mercy and love of God, qualities the world cannot and will not find without the Gospel. To the changing of hearts  and transformation of life, the Word of God is stronger than might of arms,  money,  politics, or human schemes.

The first chapter of Habakkuk is a fit description of our society and our world. Habakkuk’s questions and fears are ours. Yet as he communicated with the Lord in prayer and was given a new perspective, so we can pray to the Lord, and find His answer to our prayers in His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

Of the prophet’s  conclusion, Theodore Laetsch wrote: “Once more Habakkuk is sure that the Church of God, of which he is a member by faith in the Redeemer, shall not be vanquished by the enemies. Rather it shall go on in its conquest of the world for the Lord and His Anointed. On this note of joyous confidence ends this remarkable psalm. It was written not only as a private memorial of conflicting emotions, but also as an encouragement for his fellow believers who were [and we might add, are] harassed by misgivings similar to his own” (Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets, p. 353, CPH, 1956).

 

Whatever the future holds, whatever the circumstances in nation or Church, trusting in the Lord,  rather than lamenting “Woe is me,” let us join with the prophet and say, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord is my strength…” ( 3:18-19). In the Lord we are secure. We have a future.

 

“How blessed are they who hear God’s Word,

And keep and heed what they have heard!

They wisdom daily gather;

Their light shines brighter day by day,

And while they tread life’s weary way,

They have the oil of gladness

To soothe their pain and sadness” (TLH 48:1).

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Our Treasured Citizenship

 

Sitting in a Roman prison the apostle Paul wrote to the  Philippians to walk a different path than those  who are “the enemies of the cross of Christ whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly [they live to satisfy the pleasures of their flesh], and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). Those of whom he spoke would have been fellow citizens of Philippi in Macedonia, a region  north of Greece. In a broader sense they were fellow citizens with others of the nations round about. So while they identified with other citizens in a legal and cultural sense, they were citizens of “better country” (Hebrews 11:15-16). They to whom he wrote were members of the Body of Christ. Through faith in the Lord Jesus their citizenship was in heaven. They were to walk differently than others, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” They had a different mind-set, a different future from the belly servers, as they were of those “who eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). The apostle Peter addressed the same subject  when he wrote to “pilgrims of the dispersion” living in an unbelieving world. He addressed the exiled Christians dispersed through  provinces of Asia Minor as “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11).

In our temporal existence on earth certain rights are possessed by all individuals of whatever nation they are citizens  because they are given us by our Creator God. The United States Declaration of Independence says, ““We hold these truths to be self-evident…all men are… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Chief among these rights are the right to life [abortion is a denial of this right], and freedom of speech which is increasingly under attack in our nation. The First Amendment of the Constitution states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The guarantee of freedom of religion has been subject to  different interpretations for generations. As attacks on free speech have increased in this country so have attacks against free exercise of  conscience based on one’s religion.

In addition to those rights given us by our Creator, there are certain legal rights, e.g., the right to vote that citizens by virtue of their citizenship enjoy  within the country in which they hold citizenship. It is the responsibility of government to protect these rights.  The apostle Paul made use of his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11).

The United States recognizes dual citizenship. Someone may hold citizenship in two or even three countries concurrently. There are certain legal requirements under which a citizen of another country may hold citizenship of the United States.

But as part of this duality of citizenship, there is one sort that is exclusive to Christ-believers. While citizenship laws and enforcement in the country are debatable and contentious, such is not the case with the citizenship of which the apostle spoke when he said of Christians that “our citizenship is in heaven.” It is not recognized by the country. Citizenship in heaven conferred upon us at our baptism. It is conferred upon children of God through faith in Christ. It is confirmed to us  through the everlasting Gospel. It  is our treasured citizenship!

As citizens  of the United States we have a responsibility to use our God-given rights as well as those granted by the state responsibly. Peter wrote: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,  having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,  or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—  as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.  Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” 1 Peter 2:11-17).

We in our walk of faith are pilgrims and sojourners passing through an alien land. We are called to be lawful and respectful citizens of the temporal country in which we now live, remembering whose we are. We are called to live responsibly in this world because we are citizens of the heavenly. Through the sanctified life we glorify the Lord, Who by His claim upon us in Christ Jesus has made us members of His family, His kingdom of grace, as well as His kingdom of glory (Heaven).

The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). “The Gospel, which sheds abroad in man’s heart the mercies of God, turns man from conformity to this self-seeking and dying world and transforms him into the true worshiper living his renewed  life to God in faith, love, and hope” (Concordia Bible with Notes, Franzmann, p. 279). Morally and spiritually Christ-believers according to the new man are different from the world.

This exhortation of Scripture presents Christ-believers with challenges  sojourning “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). It is a challenge because we must continually fight against  our own flesh as well as the evils of the world.

Concerned Christian citizens of a nation grow weary, troubled, and frustrated when evil is called good, and good is called evil and when corruption in high places is unchecked. Part of the challenge is continuing to hold forth the moral imperatives of Scripture before those to whom the Word of the Lord is meaningless. In this foreign environment, we should expect to be shunned and mocked by those whose belly is their god and who think us strange and aloof with a holier than thou attitude because we will not run with them in sin.

What is a Christ-believer’s option as a citizen in a foreign country? First of all, in recognition of one’s own sins, repent and thank the Father for His Son Who has redeemed us “not with gold and silver, but with His [Jesus’] holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom [His gracious rule] and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” Jesus has called us by our name and made us His own (Isaiah 43:1). As many as call on the name of the Lord are called the children of God (Galatians 3:26) and are possessors of eternal life. Therefore, thank our Father for the  Holy Spirit Who has called us by the Gospel and Who by the same Gospel is the surety of our citizenship in heaven.

Second as  we live our faith, pray for the country in which we are passing guests. Pray that the Word will touch the hearts of the people of this nation that they will repent and confess the Lord Jesus. Jesus said to His disciples whom He sent with the call to repentance and the Word of life, “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Disciple, confessors of Christ, faithful sharers of His Word should expect to be treated as He was.  But in the process, before prosecutors, governors, kings, believers will have the audience in front of whom they can testify of the reason for their eagerness for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That eagerness speaks to the attitude we should  adopt as citizens in a dying world, and in a nation in disarray.  Let us turn our attention away from the storms about us, and look to our Lord Jesus whose hand plucked the sinking apostle Peter  from the deep (Matthew 14:31). Jesus ushered him back to the boat. Our Lord Jesus has by our baptism sealed to us our citizenship in heaven. When we tremble, fear, or fall, as we call on Him He extends His hand to us; He will preserve us and bring us to the safety of the better country. Unlike the self-serving and untrustworthy keepers of our citizenship on this earth, the Heavenly Father is faithful and through His Spirit will receive us into the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Many other strangers and pilgrims have walked the same path before us. It was the goal of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob who confessed they were strangers and pilgrims seeking after a better country.

What did they desire, and why do we eagerly look for the return of our Lord Jesus? Because the Keeper of our heavenly citizenship has prepared for us peace and joy in His presence beyond anything temporal citizenship can confer.

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). In the better country, “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.  Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).  And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:23-27).

There is no benefit of citizenship on this earth that can match that  inherent in citizenship in heaven. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” ( Revelation 14:13), for the pure of heart through faith in the Lord Jesus “shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). So, where would you prefer to live?

Fellow citizens, as you treasure your citizenship in heaven the apostle Paul, writing from prison says to his beloved, “Stand fast in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1).

 

 

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SOME CAME WITH HASTE … OTHERS FROM AFAR

Epiphany, January 6

Pause a moment to imagine the scene. Put yourself in that field when the first announcement of the birth of Jesus was made – not to kings and potentates, not to priests and city dwellers, but to the most common of commoners, to nobodies in society. In the silence of that night an angel of the Lord appeared, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. We can understand why they trembled, and the angel said, “Do not be afraid…”.  A message for the world fell first upon the ears and hearts of simple shepherds. “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Then a host of heavenly messengers chimed in, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).

Over 2000 years later we hear echoed on the street corners, in the malls, from seats of power “on earth peace, good will to men.”  The words sound hollow; they hurt the ears and disturb the heart when they are a merchandising tool, as does the mouthing of those who have no respect for God and no concept of the peace of which the angels sang. Luther said, “Because they do not know and revere this Child, they rage and devour each other.” Without Christ, he wrote, and we witnessed it in spades the Christmas season of 2020, “What is the world if not a downright hell and nothing but lying, greed, gluttony, drunkenness, adultery, assault, and murder, that is, the very devil. Friends can no more be trusted than foes” (The Martin Luther Christmas Book, Fortress Press, p. 47,–tr. Roland Bainton, 1948).

Scripture does not say how long the messaging angels were present.  That is of no consequence. Keep in mind that not only were shepherds to lead their sheep to green grass and still waters. It was their responsibility to  guard the sheep from attacks of wolves and other predators. When the angels had departed, the shepherds set out for Bethlehem. They did not hem and haw. They did not wonder what would happen to the sheep. They left their flock, surely entrusting their care to the Lord. “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15).  They went with “haste” to see and worship the Child Who was their Savior from sin, death and the power of the devil. That is the message of peace the angels brought.

Since the fall in Eden, all people  are born in sin and are under the wrath of God. The shepherds were by nature no different than we, and we are no different  by nature than our neighbors. Unless one ensnared by sin repents of his sin, he cannot know, understand, or appreciate the peace the angels announced. On the other hand, all who recognize their sin and know the horrible eternal consequence of unrepented sin (unbelief) will feel compelled to hasten with the shepherds to the manger, as well as to the cross, to worship the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:7).

“… And what a wealth of meaning lies not here!

The peace He came to bring all burdened souls

Is not a makeshift earthly armistice in carnal wars—

Ah no, ‘tis peace eternal, made twixt God and man,

A peace which brings surcease from every ill,

A peace surpassing far all human ken—

The angel-promised “Peace—good will to men!”

(Evening Bells at Bethany, p. 41, chapel devotion by Norman Madson, Christmas, 1946).

A week before Christmas, 2020, we attended a funeral. At a funeral we are confronted with the reality of sin and its consequence. In the quiet contemplation of our Savior’s birth, His cross, and His eternal promise, there is a voice louder than  the noise that surrounds us in this out-of-control world. It is from the lips of the Savior Himself, “My Son (daughter), be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2). With that assurance is also His promise, “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3).

 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  This is the Christmas peace, the Easter peace, the peace that attends our death bed that the world cannot know. It is the peace that translates to eternal peace.

“God so loved the World,” both Jews and Gentiles — the shepherds on  Bethlehem’s field and the Gentile wise men (Magi) from the east. To the shepherds, light shown as an emanation of the glory of God. The Magi saw a Star. The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem the same night, and the wise men set out for Jerusalem to “worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-12). Both were directed by the light of God’s Word.

The Magi came from the area of Persia (today, Iran). Obviously, they did not arrive the night of the Savior’s birth. They were of the priestly type who practiced the heathen art of astrology. Among astrologers, there was a general expectation of a king who should arise from the Jews. Perhaps this expectation traced to the time of Daniel in Babylon. Their coming to worship Jesus was foretold by Isaiah, “The Gentiles shall come to your light. And kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3).

They came to Herod, a cruel and ruthless potentate. He was an Idumean of the Jewish faith and ruled in Jerusalem. Upon the inquiry of the wise men as to where Jesus was born, he consulted his advisors who acquainted him with the prophecy of Micah that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Following the special star, the wise men came to the house where  Jesus was. They kneeled and “worshiped Him” (Matthew 2: 11).

Suggesting he wanted to worship Jesus, Herod had commanded the Magi to return with information where he might find Jesus. But the wise men were warned by the Lord not to return to Herod who intended to kill Jesus.  When the wisemen did not return, Herod in a rage “put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16). By so doing, he thought he would be rid of Jesus whom he considered a threat to his authority.

Jesus came into the world to die for sinners, to rescue us from the judgment to hell. He would die, not by the edict or hand of some deranged king, but at a time determined by the Father, and in His own time.

Here then follows a remarkable event in the life of Jesus Christ, true God, Who to identify with us and die for us took on Himself humanity, yet without sin.  Jesus humbled Himself in our behalf. At the command of God, Joseph “took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt and was there until the death of Herod” (Matthew 2:14-15). Herod eventually died a horrible death. Thereafter, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Matthew 2:15), Joseph returned with Jesus and Mary.

The common shepherds and the priestly magi had some things in common. The shepherds went immediately with haste to worship Him. The wise men expended themselves and journeyed from afar to worship. The shepherds and Magi were moved uniquely by the Lord to seek out what they had heard and seen — the shepherds by the angels, the wisemen by the star that appeared.  The shepherds were not ignorant of the prophecies. The wise men were led by the Spirit to associate the star with what they had heard passed on through Jews who had been dispersed. Both worshiped the newborn Child, their Savior. The shepherds became the first missionaries of the Lord’s birth  as “they returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told to them” (Luke 2:20). The wise men were the first Gentiles to worship the Savior of the world.

We through eyes of faith also have seen the Savior, but through the light of the   Word of God. We have seen our Savior in the depth of His humility bearing our sin, paying our debt, suffering our death and condemnation. We have through faith seen the Lord Jesus in His exaltation from His resurrection to His ascension. Ought we not have the same eager anticipation as the shepherds and Magi who rushed to see the newborn Savior of the world? Ought we not eagerly worship Him Who has won for us and prepared for us a place in heaven?

In the period of waiting during which we hope and look forward to being with Him where He is, how shall we respond to the Lord for His manifest grace by which we live?  “My son, give Me your heart, and let your eyes observe My ways” (Proverbs 23:26). He delights in our response: “To Thee my heart I offer, O Christ child sweet and dear” (The Lutheran Hymnal – 89). Each day we can bring our thanks for His blessings — spiritual and material. We can confess Him before the world, and through the preaching of the Good News invite others to join us in our travels to Bethlehem and the cross which end  by faith in the new Jerusalem.

What can we bring? Our penitent hearts, our broken spirit, our fears, our concerns, our ills, our cares. Our Heavenly Father values our trust and confidence as we come to Him in the name of His Son.

“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly,–Wash me, Savior, or I die.” Amen. (TLH-376).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do Not Fret, But Wait On The Lord

 President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy.” It was the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and drew the United States into World War II, a war that lasted 4 years. The country reacted in  a unity of spirit and purpose.

Of the many battles of that war, the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944, was called by one historian the longest day of World War II. Of that long war, he called 1944  “the longest year” for Americans, both in terms of casualties and deciding the outcome of the war. Though the number is decreasing, there are still some who remember WWII, and fewer yet who fought in it.

Whether history is good or bad, nations and people are the losers if we forget it. Today we are a nation at war within itself, and with one another. In part that is so because in our present deranged mentality many do not know history, have chosen to ignore it, or choose to  rewrite it. Some may consider it arguable whether a nation that forgets history replicates the good of the past, as much as it repeats the bad.

Today political machinations, as well as rampant deterioration of morals and other untoward activities common to a world enslaved by sin, are indicative of forgetting the Lord. Add in the pandemic. Years are years. But 2020 seemed longer than normal, one   most every thoughtful person would like to forget.

Hardly can we forget the past year as we look to 2021, a year that will bring its own challenges. In contemplation of the year past we were led to Psalm 37. (Read the entire Psalm which is apropos to our existing circumstance). King David,  addressed the circumstances of the righteous in a world diametrically opposed to Israel and its God, not unlike our present world. David set the tone for us as he calls upon the righteous to wait upon the Lord Who will stay the hand of the wicked, will judge the wicked in His time, and will deliver those who wait on the Lord.

The Psalm encourages us to something that is most frequently in short supply –patience. Our flesh says, “I want it, and I want it now.” The apostle James exhorts, “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).

“Lord God, Heavenly Father, for Jesus’ sake give us strength of faith, and patience to wait on You. In Your time You delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, and again from captivity in Babylon, and according to Your Word sent the Savior in due time. Lord, we have sinned. We are not worthy of Your love. Yet by Your grace You have redeemed us from sin, death and the power of the devil through the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. By the power of Your Spirit, You have made us Your dear children. As you have promised to  keep us in Your care and to save us, give us patience to wait on You for every blessing in time and in eternity. Lord, we thank You for Your empowering and comforting Word. Amen.”

 “Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.

 “Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
 Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

 “ Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.

 “ Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.

“For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the Lord,
They shall inherit the earth.

 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.
But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psalm 37:1-11).

In this Psalm we cannot overlook the reference to the judgment that will befall the wicked who set themselves against the Lord and His people. The wicked may mock this word of the Lord because they do not know history. History records how the crucifiers of the Lord rejoiced at His crucifixion, but through the whole process could not escape the feeling that perhaps their victory was  hollow. They asked for guards to be deployed at the tomb because “We remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead’” (Matthew 27:63). They rest uneasily who know the truth but rebel against it!

As confessors of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, we should expect that life will not be easy on this side of eternity. It has ever been true since all the disciples of our Lord, save one, John, who was living in exile, were executed for the faith. Children of God in the flesh are not super-heroes. We face mockery, ridicule. We are considered off-fall by society. We weep, we have  weaknesses, fears, discouragements. Our own sins give us alarm. As we look at the world furthermore, we are tempted to say with Asaph, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:1-3). But for the grace of God who loves us in Christ, and the Spirit Who strengthens us  by the Gospel, envy and hopelessness would overwhelm us.  But again we identify with Asaph, who after delineating other things that troubled him in relation to  the wicked, said, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I understood their end” (v.17). “For evildoers shall be cut off.” Envy of the wicked is a waste of time.

We turn to the Scripture for assurance in the New Year. Whate’er befall, our life is not without hope, even in death if that should be our lot. Asaph’s heart was “grieved.” His mind was “vexed.”  But as he had not turned away from the Lord — “Nevertheless I am continually with You” — he found comfort and strength in God: “You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:23-24).   

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
 Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

“ Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday” (Psalm 37:3-6).

As He wills, the Lord out of love will give you “the desires of your heart.” What are the desires of our heart? In the temporal sense they are similar to anyone else’s – peace, quietness, freedom, health. However, when the Spirit brought us to faith in Christ, regenerated hearts were filled with new desires.

Hearts of faith gladly feed on the Lord’s faithfulness. “The Lord, He is the One Who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed”(Deuteronomy 31:8). Notice what the Lord says. “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:11, Matthew 5:5). Though the wicked seek to deprive the child of God, the reality is that the meek who commit their way to the Lord and trust in Him will enjoy the bounties and blessings of the earth. The Lord will see to what He promises. Furthermore the deepest desire of the heart will be satisfied — the assurance of  the love of God, the grace of the Lord’s presence in Word and Sacrament, the faith to persevere, the forgiveness of  sins, the peace which passes all understanding, the promise of life with the Lord, confidence of salvation, the fulfillment of life in heaven. Daily we experience that not one good thing He has promised has failed (Joshua 21:45).

In God’s plan there was purpose to the past. It was a year of learning and confirmation. Immanuel — “God with us” — has preserved us in the faith. He guided us through the minefields. He preserved His Word to us. He increased a yearning for heaven. So it will be in the next year, come what may. “The Lord is faithful, Who will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

As you are redeemed, and as a confessor of your Savior, commit your way to the Lord. In faith, rest in His arms. Of all the things we do not know, this we do. He Who is faithful seals to us what we desire most of all.  He will accompany us until the time of our treasured inheritance in heaven.

“Wait on the Lord, and keep His way,
And He shall exalt you to inherit the land;
When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.

“ I have seen the wicked in great power,
And spreading himself like a native green tree.
Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
Indeed I sought him, but he could not be found.

“Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright;
For the future of that man is peace.
“But the transgressors shall be destroyed together;
The future of the wicked shall be cut off.

“But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
He is their strength in the time of trouble.
“And the Lord shall help them and deliver them;
He shall deliver them from the wicked,
And save them, because they trust in Him” (Psalm 37: 34- 40).

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What’s In A Name?

 

“IF WE CONFESS OUR SINS” …

“ …And the whole WORLD lies under sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).

“For I know that in me (that is in my FLESH) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find…” (Romans 7:18).

SOCIETY  has jettisoned God and His Word. Under sway of the wicked one and the corrupt flesh, it manifests a life of “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5)… “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language. . . lies….”(8,9). “Because of these things  the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” The apostle Paul exhorts us to put away the sins characteristic of the unregenerate flesh “in  which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them” (6,7).

With the apostle we confess, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice…” (Romans 7:19). That describes the struggle between the old man (the flesh), and the regenerate new man born of the Spirit. “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man… O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord… (Romans 7: 19-25).

“When  confronted by the Law,” the Christ-believer is “rent by an agonizing inner struggle from which only Christ can and does release him”  (New Testament: Concordia Bible with Notes, CPH 1971).

A practical suggestion — pull the plug on the radio. Shut off the TV.  Quit reading the newspaper. Instead, Open your Bible!

In the Bible we find Christ Who releases us from our “agonizing inner struggle.” We are assured of forgiveness through the blood of the Lord  Jesus. We find quiet from the raucous noise, and protection from the ungodly influences of the wicked one who walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

… “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), through  the “only name under heaven given among men by which we must be  saved (Acts 4:12).

THE NAME ABOVE ALL OTHER NAMES

declares the love of the Father and the promise of  salvation which gives peace to heart and mind in the Christmas season, as well as in the hour of death.

Unlike our names which only identify us, every name of the Lord Jesus which identifies Him also describes some attribute, some characteristic unique to Him. They tell Who He is, what He is, and of themselves describe the blessings that accrue to all who call in faith upon the name of the Lord.

God (John 1:1, 14) – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”.

The Eternal God (Revelation 1:8) — “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

Lord (Isaiah 41:13)“For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ’Fear not, I will help you’.”

Son of God (Matthew 3:17) – “And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, ‘This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased’.”

Son of Man (Matthew 9:6) –– “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.”

[Jesus Christ – “True God begotten of the Father  from  eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord”].

Jesus [Savior] (Matthew 1:21) – “… You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”

Christ [Messiah=Anointed One] (Daniel 9:25) – …Until Messiah the Prince….” (Acts 10:38). “…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power… (John 4:25-26) “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (Who is called Christ…’). Jesus said to her, ‘I Who speak to you am He’.”

Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14) – “…And you shall call His name Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23)  “which is translated, ‘ God with us’.”

Good Shepherd (John 10:14-15) – “I am the Good Shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Lamb of God (John 1;29) – “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world!”

Redeemer (Isaiah 60:16) – You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer…”

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace –(Isaiah 9:6) – “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given… And His name  will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 

The Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6) – “Now this is His name by which He shall be called, ‘The Lord our Righteousness’.”

Advocate (1 John 2:1) — “My little  children, these things I write  to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous.” 

Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) – “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 

Light of the World (John 8:12) – “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall  never walk in darkness, but  have the light of life.” 

Resurrection and the Life  (John 11:25-26)“I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though He may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

Reconciler (2 Corinthians 5:19)“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses to them…”

Substitute (Isaiah 53: 4-9) – “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”

Propitiator (1 John 2:2) – “He Himself is the propitiation [blood covering] for our sins; and not only for ours but also for the whole world.”

Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15) “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet …Him you shall hear.”  (Matthew 17:5) “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

 Priest (Hebrews 7:26-27) “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; Who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”

King (2 Timothy 4:18) “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil world and preserve me for His heavenly Kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

 KING of kings (Revelation 17:14) “These [His enemies] will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of Lords and King of kings…”

 (Psalm 8:1) “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” 

 (Psalm 72:17) “His name shall endure forever: His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed.”

 (Psalm 102:12) “But You, O Lord, shall endure forever, and the remembrance of Your name to all generations”

 (Psalm 135:13-14) “Your name, O Lord, endures forever, Your fame, O Lord, throughout all generations. For the Lord will judge His people, and will have compassion on His servants.”

And so it is through all generations into eternity; whoever calls upon the Lord in penitent sorrow over sin, and in faith in the Father’s Gift Whose birth we celebrate,  shall find that the Lord God is faithful Who has promised,

 “WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED” (Acts 2:21).

 May the comfort and the peace found in preparing this devotion be yours. How much we need it in this Christmas season and each day we pilgrim through this vale of tears to the blessed peace and joy of heaven.

With the prayer that you will know the shepherd’s joy (Luke 2:15-20), Simeon’s confidence (Luke 2:29-32), and Anna’s gratitude (Luke 2:38), may you and yours have a most blessed Christmas and New Year, in the name of our Savior.

 

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“Savior, of the Nations Come”

The Advent hymn of the above title (The Lutheran Hymnal [TLH] — 95) was originally written in Latin by St. Ambrose (c.339-397), the bishop of Milan. It was written  some 300 years after the birth of Jesus. In 1524 Martin Luther translated it from Latin (Veni Redemptor Gentium– “Come, Redeemer of the Nations”) into German. What we sing is a translation of Luther’s German. The title could well have described the attitude of the Old Testament believers who believed the Father’s promise of the birth of the Savior. It could be said of them as it was said of Abraham, “He believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful waited for 4000 years. Anna and Simeon were among those who waited patiently for the birth of the promised Savior Who would bring hope of salvation to the longing believers. When John had prepared the way and the fulness of time had arrived, in the quiet darkness, Christ, the Light of the world Who took upon Himself human flesh, born of a virgin as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 7:14) and was born in Bethlehem as foretold by the prophet, Micah (Micah 5:2).  Our Heavenly Father is faithful.

Those who believed and who looked for the salvation of Israel rejoiced at the Savior’s birth. The majority did not care. The Child had nowhere to lay His head, but in a manger in a stable.

As in the Old Testament, the majority today do not care; at best they give lip service. But all who trust in the Lord sing with joy and celebrate the faithfulness of the Father Who kept His promise. We rejoice in the faithfulness of the Father, and the faithfulness of the Savior in fulfilling His purpose as we sing, “Savior of the Nations Come.” We raise our hearts and voices in acknowledgement of  Jesus’ birth as we sing, “We Christians may rejoice today, when Christ was born to comfort and to save us…” (TLH — 107).

The season of Advent is a celebration of the past, as well as anticipation of the future. The fulfillment of Israel’s hope, as well as ours, which we celebrate each Christmas has  further significance as it bespeaks the believer’s attitude of hope for the future. He Who came in lowliness will come in glory and triumphant revelation for all the world to see. Indeed, unbelievers will cringe with  wailing fear, but all who rejoiced at His birth and looked for His return will welcome Him with unparalleled joy. The apostle John expressed the believer’s anticipation when he wrote at the end of Revelation, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Bishop Ambrose was recognized for his contribution to church music, hymns and liturgy. Though toward the end of  his life he espoused practices (celibacy, voluntary poverty), contrary to Scripture, he is quoted frequently in the Augsburg Confession as well as in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. . “He was distinguished for his defense of the orthodox faith and for his firm stand in all matters of Scripture, opposing both paganism and heresy with equal zeal” (The Concordia Cyclopedia, CPH, 1927). He opposed Arianism which denied the divinity of Christ and is anti-Trinitarian. He was a staunch advocate of and defender of the chief doctrine of Scripture, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Ambrose said, “ We are not justified by works, but by faith.” Again, “Not by works, but of faith, each is justified by the Lord.” “I will not glory because I am righteous, but I will glory because I am redeemed. I will not glory because I am free from sin, but because my sins are forgiven.” In an interesting statement of faith he said, “In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of paradise, in Adam I died. How shall God call me back, except He find me in the Second Adam justified in Christ, even as in the first Adam I was made subject to guilt and destined to death” (Our emphasis).

[Ambrose quotes from heavily “end noted “Ambrose on Justification: A Study in the Catholicity of Lutheran Theology, David Jay Webber, published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, ELS, Vol. 28, No. 3, September 1988].

The bishop’s quotes emphasize what Christmas is about. Today many see and speak of Jesus as nothing more than an example of the Christian life. The Savior surely is an example to believers. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5). But they are lost and without hope who see Jesus as nothing more than an example because no one can measure up to the absolute perfection of Christ. They are  lost unless they first of all see Him as the Son of God born into the world expressly to be our Savior from sin. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, to be our Substitute under the just wrath of God, to rise again and restore hope and life. He came into the world that He should reconcile us unto the Father. Jesus “redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death” (Martin Luther—Second Article).

The redemptive work of our Lord Jesus incites Christ-believers to look with hope to the future. Martin Luther translated stanza 5 of the hymn:

Thou, the Father’s only Son,

Hast  o’er sin the victory won.

Boundless shall Thy Kingdom be;

When shall we its glories see?

As many as believe in the Savior, “conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary,” possess through faith what the words and promises of God declare. The blessing of being members of His kingdom now is that we who wait with longing hearts shall see the fulness of the glories of His Kingdom in His time!

During His ministry, the Lord Jesus prepared His disciples to be His representatives in the world after His Ascension. They were to go forth with the message of life. He forewarned them that as He was hated in the world, so they would be hated. In addition the Church with the apostles had to contend against false teachers who weaseled their way into the church.

The faithful suffered persecution as a consequence of their confession of Christ and His Word. Through the ages nothing has changed. While the celebration of the birth of the Savior Who has come gives us a time to reflect on our blessings together with a reason to rejoice, the reality is that the battle will intensify; in our increasingly godless society it will be necessary to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” for “in the last days perilous times will come” for “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 2,3).

Fighting against our own sinful flesh, as well as bearing the tribulation and affliction we are called to bear in this world, we have this assurance, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

As we follow the thread through Scripture, we see and are convinced of the truth that what the Father determined in eternity and brought to pass in time from Jesus’ birth to His ascension will reach its culmination in eternity. Every believer in Christ will enjoy eternity in which we shall be with the Lord forever.

“Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God…Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us…Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him…And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5).

Of this we are confident, and in this we greatly rejoice, “though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested with fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

(Melody, TLH- 95)

Savior, on this darkened sphere

Shine the Light of truth and love.

From the nations, far and wide,

Draw hearts still in throes of death.

Thank you Savior that You’ve come

By Your Spirit and Your Word,

Filled my heart with peace and joy,

And inspired hope of heav’n.

Though on earth, I’m troubled oft,

Justified by grace I am.

Come, O Lord, as once You came,

Lowly then, but Victor now.

Anxiously I wait for You,

When in glory You return.

With Your children, home at last,

I will then heav’n’s glory see. (df/2020)

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Just Another Christmas?

 

In a difficult year, for a number of reasons, Christmas season 2020 will be different. Unlike the past, there are government recommendations, if not restrictive mandates on office parties,  family gatherings, caroling, travel. Citizens will be expected to walk about masked.   Shopping habits will change. The number of  people who can attend church will be capped. Some will stay away out of fear. The feel-good emotion of the season will be diminished by the continuing counts of cases of illness as well as the incessant daily reports in newspapers and on television news of deaths in the city, the state, and the world. The sounds of a tumultuous and ignominious election year will echo into the next. This will be a different Christmas season. Some may wonder why there should even be one this year. Still others will see it as an opportunity and excuse for a party of whatever magnitude it can be.

Yet it will also reflect sameness and continuity though gatherings may be zoomed.  Santa with Rudolph and his red nose will still come sledding from the North Pole and drop himself down the chimney. There will be enticements to purchase  gifts which in turn will foster gift exchanges. Greetings most probably will be sent by text or email. Little children will sneak a peek under the Christmas tree. There will be cookies. Homes are decorated inside and out. The malls and radio stations will play music of the season to inspire buying and provide entertainment.

“Peace on earth” will echo into a world at war with itself  from  people at war with one another.  “Silent Night, Holy Night” will waft across the airwaves to a noisy, raucous world. We will hear, “O come all ye Faithful” sung to and by people who don’t know to Whom they are called to be faithful.  “Joy to the World” will be heard in a world in which many feel no joy. For the unbelieving world, without Christ the Christmas season will indeed be  different because of the pandemic, yet similarly empty as in past years.

Similarity of the world to Christmases past is the result of  unbelief which, if it does not reject Christ Who gives Christmas its substance, diminishes and uses Him. Its  celebration continues to be an excuse for fun and frolic.

For the Christ-believer,  Christmas season activities this pandemic year will also be a bit different. However, penitent sinners, Christ-believers, celebrate the sameness or similarity. Whatever the difference this Christmas season, the similarity we treasure is rooted in Christ, the eternal Word Who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God whom we worship, the Savior whom we praise, confirms and inspires hope for:

Christmas is the celebration of the faithfulness of the Heavenly Father.

Our Father, in response to man’s  sin, from the depth of His heart  desired to redeem all mankind from sin and judgment. He promised a Savior and nourished and preserved that promise until the fullness of time.

Christmas is the celebration of the promised Savior from sin.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).”

 

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel “ ( Isaiah 7:14), being interpreted “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

 

“[Mary] will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will  save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

 

 “There is born to you in the city of David a Savior Who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). 

 

“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He should destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8)

 

“Christ came, Who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen” (Romans 9:5).

 

Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s life.

 

[Christ] committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22)

 

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

 

Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s substitutionary death.

 

“…But He was wounded for our transgressions…He was smitten by God and afflicted, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes  we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53: 4-6).

 

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46).

 

“…[He] was delivered up because of our offenses” (Romans 4:25).

 

Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

 

“He is not here; for He is risen, as He said, Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6)

 

“…  [He]was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

 

“…As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3). “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6:8).

 

“ I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11: 25-26).

 

Christmas is the celebration of the reconciliation of sinners who through faith are reconciled unto the Father.

 

“Now all things are of God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Not imputing their trespasses to them…(2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

 

Christmas is the celebration of God’s grace unto salvation.

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

Christmas is the celebration of the restoration of hope in a world otherwise without hope.

 

“ And now, Lord what do I wait for? My hope is in You” (Psalm 39:7).

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)

 

Just another ho-hum Christmas?

 Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. Taking  our flesh upon Himself, Jesus humbled Himself unto death. Without the faithfulness of the Heavenly Father Who promised His Son out of  the depth of His love for fallen mankind, and without the Savior in Whom the Father  reconciled us to Himself, there would be no Christmas. Without Christmas there would be no Good Friday, no Easter, no Ascension, no life eternal! We would be without hope in the world. Without the Spirit Who is the Generator and Preserver of faith, we would be lost in our sin and with the world  condemned.

At Christmas penitent sinners declare, “Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” Whatever the circumstances in the world or in our personal lives, we do not know how things will shake out in this life, the next hour, the next day, or the next year, if there is one. Yet our hope is in Christ, our Immanuel, Who will accompany us through every moment of joy or affliction, of exultation or tribulation, until we who celebrate Jesus’ birth hear the invitation, “ Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world “ (Matthew 25:34). In the meantime “Cast all your care upon Him for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), redeemed children of God, each  of whom is known by name to Him.

Penitent sinners in faith recognize that Jesus’ birth speaks to their  deepest need. With  joyful and thankful hearts they emulate the shepherds who at the  announcement of the Father’s faithfulness  “hastened” to the manger bed of their Savior and returned to their fields “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:20).

The year is different, but the message is the same. Thanks be to God! Unlike the world dead in sin, with Simeon the Christ-believer looks ahead with hope and says, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation…” (Luke 2:29-30)

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Impact of Christianity in a Post-Christian Society

A friend and correspondent wrote, not in a challenging or adversarial manner, “I do believe ‘religion’ is in decline and people like you — people of faith — better start looking for why that is happening. … my guess is that religion is no longer relevant to the day-to-day lives of people. Religion has to become part of people’s lives, not just something they ‘have’ to do on Sunday.”

Religion in the broad sense encompasses every form of heathenism, paganism, secularism, and socialism. Christianity as  a “religion”,  in no way or fashion equates with the anti-Christian religions. To even hint so would be blasphemy against the Author and Foundation of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.

From our perspective as confessors of the Christian faith, we cannot gainsay that  Christianity (Not the Word of God) has little influence on our post-Christian  society. The extent to which Christianity has become irrelevant in society is a consequence of hearts and minds that have no respect for the living God. Such lack of influence is a natural consequence of evolutionary philosophy and teaching that has excised God from the consciousness of the majority. The disrespect for the Lord and His Word is not a new phenomenon in the world. Jeremiah records the Word of the Lord, “I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination.  The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that do not profit” (Jeremiah 2:7-8). Proverbs says, “ They would have none of My counsel, and despised My every rebuke” (1:30).

As Christianity becomes irrelevant in society, heathenism and paganism, secularism and socialism, become the standard.

The practice of biblical Christianity (Sanctification) born of the Spirit and built upon the foundation of the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), is diametrically opposed to the prevailing attitude which touts everyone doing what is right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). Doing what is right in one’s own eyes is the result when the Law of God is rejected as the standard of holiness and right and wrong from which it follows that there is no acknowledgment of sin or its eternal consequence. In as much as the Gospel of redemption through faith in Christ Jesus is the source of holiness, and the generator of the sanctified life, there is no will or power to do what is right in the sight of God. “Without faith,” which is the fruit of the Spirit working through the Gospel, “it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Consider some indicators of the post-Christian irrelevancy which will continue unless there is repentance and a return to the Lord:

  1. “In clear text, for all the world to see, the Human Rights Campaign summons the Biden administration to deny accreditation—or, at the very least, to facilitate the denial of accreditation—to Christian institutions, Christian colleges and universities, and, for that matter, any other religious institution or school that does not meet the demands of the LGBTQ orthodoxy… It would mean that Christian schools are no longer Christian” (Decision Magazine, November 20, 2020). Under the same threat other agendas likely will be foisted on Christian colleges (evolution and climate).

 “The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that LGBTQ rights were more important than religious rights in regards (sic)to allowing a law school to open at a private Christian institution. The Supreme Court of Canada made a big ruling today, clearing stating that LGBTQ rights outweigh religious freedom. In an unprecedented move against religious freedom in the country…” (JD Journal, June 2018).

  1. “The Illinois State Board of Education is proposing a rule that would force teachers to promise they would “embrace and promote” “progressive” views starting in October 2021.

The rule published in the Illinois Register on Sept. 11, titled “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards for all Illinois Educators,” requires that educators “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives that leverage asset thinking toward traditionally marginalized populations”

“… The culturally responsive teacher and leader will: Understand and value the notion that multiple lived experiences exist, that there is not one “correct” way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as “correct” is most often based on our lived experiences … Recognize how their identity (race/ethnicity, national emotional ability, socioeconomic class, religion, etc.) affects their perspectives and beliefs about pedagogy and students. …”

Teachers working,  “to reform these institutions [in which they work] whenever and wherever necessary. … Assess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism)….

“It further state to address ‘systems of oppression’ a ‘culturally responsive teacher and leader’ will ‘be aware of the effects of power and privilege and the need for social advocacy and social action to better empower diverse students and communities,’” as The Center Square reports” (Source: Online).

The sound of “God bless America” is empty when words and actions reflect little if any respect for the Word of God, or when reference to god is simply a “higher power” of choice. The talk of diversity in society is deceitful when it denies a Christian of conscience the right to express and live his faith grounded in Holy Scripture!

That the Christian “religion” (Christianity) is not relevant in our society can in part be attributed to the sad reality that the apostate church of our day has let the world into the church. The Lord does not force Himself on the church or into hearts. He calls and influences through His Word. Christianity becomes irrelevant when allegedly Christian churches and pastors do not nourish the sheep who then without the truth are left to wander about without a shepherd.  Further, the irrelevancy of Christianity is a consequence of corrupt hearts no longer listening to the Word, of hearts who think they know better than the Lord. The toxic winds of social media and internet also contribute significantly to undermining Christian influence.

People of faith know why this is happening at this stage in history. In his last prison epistle the apostle Paul wrote, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,  traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!  For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,  always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-7). On the way to Rome and eventually prison, Paul said to the Ephesians, “I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock, also from among your own selves men will rise up speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).

“Religion has to become part of people’s lives, not just something they ‘have’ to do on Sunday.” Our friend is correct. Membership in a Christian church is meaningless if one does not faithfully sit at the feet of Jesus as the Gospel of forgiveness in Word and Sacrament is shared. Worship in which our souls are nourished and our praises are offered in thankfulness to the Lord, is more than habitually gathering in worship on Sunday. Faithful Christian worship translates into personal witness at home, on the street, at work. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Unless individuals who profess to be Christian  confess the truth in Christ, and live it, they by their hypocrisy   contribute to the irrelevancy of Christianity in society.

In the same prison epistle to Timothy Paul wrote by way of encouragement, “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (Timothy 4:5). Yes, there will be afflictions; endurance will be necessary, for the evil world to this day hates the truth even as it hates Christ. Nevertheless, Paul speaks to us as to Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long- suffering and teaching. For the time will come when…they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

The Christian life is a fruit of sound teaching; unless the Christian Church teaches “Thus says the Lord” in matters of doctrine and faith, sin and grace, Law and Gospel, it  contributes to the irrelevancy of Christianity in society!

As bleak as circumstances may be in our society with respect to personal freedoms as citizens and particularly as Christian citizens, we are confident in the Lord, and in the power of His Word. Each believer is evidence of the truth and power of the Word. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void. But it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11-13). When others walked away from Jesus (His Word was irrelevant to them), the Lord asked Peter, “Will you also go away?” Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Peter gave voice to the relevancy of God’s Word unto sanctification in time and  salvation in eternity. But this same word is foolishness to them that are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The blessing of the Word is manifest in the birth, the life, the death, the resurrection of Christ Who is our righteousness. As Jesus died to pay our debt, rose to give us life, and thereby reconciled us unto the Father, the Lord’s promise is ever true and unchanging. “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish,” come what may, “but shall have everlasting life” (John 3:16). No one and nothing can rob the penitent believer in Christ of life with Him in glory. And that, is the most relevant fact. Day to day, never is our faith, born of the Spirit, or  our preaching, vain or irrelevant to those whose eyes are focused on Jesus, and whose voices are tuned to sing, “Heaven is my Home.”

Can we make Christianity relevant again? No. But we are called to preach faithfully repentance and remission of sins and thus be relevant to souls with whom we come in contact. We leave the result to the Spirit.

“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,  make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13: 20-21).

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Come Quickly, Lord Jesus

 

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, Who establishes nations, Who is the Provider, the Overseer, and Ruler of the nations, and Who causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the just and the unjust blesses nations that exhibit civil rectitude and virtue. At the same time there are no activities of individuals or nations that are not witnessed by Him; there is no word that is not heard by Him. So the opposite is also true. Censor, condemnation, judgment and destruction are real. Though individuals and nations suffer them, God is not the cause of them. They come from Him, and by His permission, but men and nations are responsible for their own troubles and eventual demise. God is faithful to every word and promise whether it is a word of promise or a word of judgment. Sinners by their unbelief, depravity, and evil, force the hand of God as Habakkuk said “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (1:13). “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the people of no effect” (Psalm 33:1).

After the fall into sin in Eden, God in His love promised a time of grace. To give substance to  this time of grace, in due time the Heavenly Father chose the descendants of Abraham as the nation from which the Savior would be born. Through them Christ was born as manifestation of the Father’s desire and will to save all people of every nation. His will He made known through the prophets. They spoke the Law which brought  people to a knowledge of sin and its consequences. Through type and prophecy they proclaimed the Gospel. As God promised, in time He brought forth His Son, born of a virgin. That Son was called Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins. And who are His people? “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). “I have redeemed  you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1)

How then, unbelief asks, “If  God is a loving God, how can He send anyone to hell?” The answer is simple. They who are in hell are there because of unbelief. They reject Christ and do not receive His words (John 12:47). Nations in the Old Testament rejected the Lord God and turned to idols. People and nations through the corruption of their mind established their own religion. They are not in hell because God rejected them. They are in hell because they rejected God.

Through the Old Testament the Lord nurtured Israel who itself frequently turned from the Lord and walked in its own paths. Yet the Lord continued to instruct Israel and Judah through the prophets; He called them to repentance. We have here an interesting contrast. Israel was no less sinful than nations round about. The Lord had mercy on Israel, not  because Israel was deserving in its own right, but because He had chosen it as  the people from whom the Savior of the world would be born! To bring Israel to repentance so that through it (Judah) He might fulfill His promise, the  Lord used heathen nations as instruments. The Lord God is faithful, be it judgment upon evil, or blessing upon the penitent who through faith He calls His own. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). What a comfort that word was for the remnant.

We can translate that divine word to our circumstance. But we must understand, the nation is not a political, circumscribed political nation such as our nation or any other, including modern Israel. Frequently we hear our nation described as a Christian nation. The Lord has not chosen America “as His own inheritance” over any other nation in the world. While evil is not a recent occurrence, the recent ongoing mudwrestling we are witnessing confirms this is not a Christian nation. Because there are Christians in a nation does not make a nation a Christian nation. The Lord defined His inheritance when He said, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy  nation, His own special people…”(1 Peter 2:9), who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Christianity is already under the gun. Christians in  this allegedly “Christian nation” are already being denied the right to exercise their consciences in accord with their Christian faith. In a nation in which competing parties are right in their own eyes, there is no middle ground. This leads to no good in the political arena; however, it is fatal and invites divine judgment when Scripture,  the final authority in matters  of faith and morals, is rejected!

Some claim this nation is Christian because it was founded upon the “Christian Worldview” principles. We need not debate what that meant when this country was founded. Whatever Christian core values and principles  contributed to the founding of this country were, they are long gone.

A Christian worldview suggests that  Scriptural principles form thoughts and actions. Today, God is not even permitted in public discourse. Scripture, the divine, inerrant Word of God, is nothing more in the public square, if not in some churches, than just another philosophy among many. Recently an elementary grade student in a public school wearing a mask that said, “Jesus loves me” was told to remove it, while other mask comments were permitted.

The concept of the so-called Christian worldview is purely of this world.   Neither the nation, nor the “Worldview” addresses the issue of sin, or the way of eternal salvation by grace through faith in Christ which is the core of the Christian faith. The heart and core of Biblical Christianity is the blessed fact established upon the foundation of Christ Who gave Himself for the sins of the world, and Who gives eternal salvation to as many as believe on Him. The confidence of salvation is a fruit of the Spirit in the hearts of all who believe the Gospel. The proper Christian view is declared by the apostle Paul who said, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth”(Colossians 3:2). Members of the holy nation look heavenward.

Inasmuch as children of God  are for a time in our temporal home in these United States, we pray the Lord for its welfare. We pray that peace and decency will prevail. We pray for wise and prudent leaders. We pray for the faith to love one another, be helpful, caring, and concerned about one another. However, in practice the heathen  and pagan exhibit some of the same virtues – love, helpfulness, care for others –  though from a different heartset.

Speaking of the “Christian Worldview” concept, someone correctly said, “There is a massive difference between a worldview inspired by Christianity or developed from Christianity and one that is actually Christian.” So then:

“Is the Holy God universally revered and respected as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?

Is the Bible respected as the Word of God?

What is Christian about abortion and the official promotion and sanction of it?

How does homosexual promotion and practice fit the Christian mode?

How do same-sex unions (the perversion of marriage) reflect the will of God?

What is Christian about gutter language and abuse of the name of God?

How does the socialist principle which says, “Socialism, both as a philosophy, and as a form of society, is the antithesis of religion,” reflect divine truth?

How is toleration of sin  an expression of God’s Word?

How does denying Christians the exercise of conscience, or denying the right  to confess Christ in the public arena reflect a Christian attitude?”

How do nations of the world,  as political and national entities, with sin, greed, war, deceit, immorality, reflect Christianity?

Christians should expect sorrow and tribulation. We should be ready to identify with the apostle Paul who said, “We have been made as the filth of the world, and offscouring of all things until now” (1 Corinthians 4:13). If that is our reputation because we confess Christ, preach Christ, and glorify Him as our Savior, rejoice.

Evil is evil. It will reap its reward in due time. If what we see around us drives us more deeply into Scripture for instruction and comfort, even evil must serve God’s purpose. If the evil of this world – “God, forgive us our sins” – causes us to focus our attention on heaven, and long for the blessing and  perfect  peace of heaven with our Savior God, the devil is turned on his ear. Paul had a desire to depart and be with the Lord, which is far better (Philippians 1:23). The rampage of the devil and his minions show the deceit of this fallen world and make the Christ-believer yearn for the holy city, into which “there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Our Savior says, “ Surely I am coming quickly.” Not as a world view but in confidence of faith the Christ-believer says: “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

 

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Beat the Quarantine

 

The government in Washington D. C. as well as state governments have in the age of Covid-19 issued guidelines on how citizens should  behave. Frequently the guidelines change, as might be expected, dealing as we are  with a virus that is relatively new. At the same time, some changes may be driven perhaps by politics and personal agendas. While the latter assertion is arguable, in light of political corruption and personal agendas, the assertion is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Though one may feel the present government restrictions on our personal and religious freedom are overreach, unless we can clearly identify them beyond personal opinion as illegal, Christ-believer will accede to them. That we do not like something is not reason of itself to cast aside what others feel  serves the common good. If so minded, we can join in efforts to overturn restrictions through the legal process, even as Paul turned to Caesar (Acts 25:10).

It is undeniable that the Covid virus should be taken seriously and should not cavalierly be dismissed as of no consequence.  Bible-believers are neither less nor more concerned than the heathen neighbor about the virus threat. Guidelines or no, everyone who has a concern for one’s own health  should as well have concern for that of his neighbor, and therefore do what can be done to help rein in the virus. However, beyond the common desire to stymie the virus spread, Bible-believers recognize that  Scripture enjoins love for the neighbor as we love ourselves. Such love is energized by the Gospel. There is no restriction on Jesus’ word, “…Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “I say to you, ‘love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully persecute’” (Matthew 5:44).  That we fail so often in this regard does not change the fact that it is the will of God.

The state of Minnesota has issued Guidance for gatherings: Faith-based Communities, Places of Worship, and Ceremonies. It addresses mask-wearing, social (physical) distancing, service attendance, etc. Some guidelines are burdensome, some  may border on tramping on our legal right to worship as our Lord instructs and invites us.

What is the Christian response? We cannot look into the hearts of those who impose restrictions on us. Is there more to their restrictions than legitimate health concerns? To put it another way, under the “let no crisis go to waste” mentality espoused by some, is the virus concern we all have being used as a veiled attack on religious practice in general, and Christian worship in particular? We do not know. We do know the Lord God is the ultimate Judge.

In the meantime, unless we can clearly demonstrate what we fear may be the case, Christ-believers will in love and concern for the common welfare accede to the guidelines, and as much as one may detest and question the worth of masks, wear them. Christian love chooses not to make a point, however valid it may be, and thereby offend someone who is convinced of the worth of masks or physical distancing. While the issue is not of the same magnitude as that  addressed by the apostle Paul, he set forth a Christian principle, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8: 13). Faith, conscience, and salvation are not at stake in the present circumstance, but the principle applies. In the exercise of a right we want to be careful so as not to offend a brother. Beware. Do not let Satan succeed in his effort to divide brethren.

 Covid guidelines deal only with this life. Look at the guidelines from a different perspective, applying them to our daily Christian life as well as our worship life as the latter relate to our spiritual life and our eternal welfare,  (State Covid guidelines or excerpts thereof in italics).

 

1.The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. There is a more serious virus than Covid. It is called sin. Sin is in our own flesh inherited from Adam and Eve. Avoid exposure to temptation. Scripture says:

 

“ My son, if  sinners entice you, do not consent” (Proverbs 1:10).

“Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

 

  1. Social Distancing: Occupancy must be reduced to allow for the required social distancing of at least 6 feet between people who do not live in the same household at all times. Concerning spiritual distancing Scripture says:

 

“Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

“The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).

“Blessed is the man, who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners…” (Psalm 1: 1).

 

  1. Preparedness Plan- Mask and face covering: Scripture tells us to take off the mask and face covering of hypocrisy.

 

“Lay(ing) aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking…(1 Peter 2:1).

“When you do a  charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do…” (Matthew 6:2).

“These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).

 

  1. Stay home if you or anyone in your household is sick or has symptoms… Stay home if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Every human being is a carrier of the sin virus. Since we are in daily contact with sinners (if only ourselves) we need contact with our Lord in regular worship and personal study to identify the symptoms, address the sin problem, find the strength to fight sin, as well as to find the spiritual vaccine for healing.

 

To the building of hope in eternal life, God “has in due time manifested His Word through preaching… (Titus 1:2-3).

“Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name” (Luke 24:47).

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” ( 1 Timothy 1:15).

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

“Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25).

 

  1. Practice good hygiene…has a spiritual application:

 

 “… Cleanse your hands, you sinners” (James 4:8).

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“Be baptized and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16).

“…the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7)

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

  1. COVID-19 can lead to serious medical conditions and even death for people of all ages. We cannot predict who will become severely ill, although we know that older people and people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk. We do not yet know what the long-term effects of infection from

COVID-19 are; even people with mild cases may experience long-term complications. Unlike the Covid and projections of it which change, our Father’s analyses, His warnings, and His promises do not change.  We know who is severely ill. Everyone! No one, regardless of age, is at  higher risk than another. The risk is Death! We know the long-term effects if the sin virus is not treated and removed. Eternal death! We know the solution to the long-term risk. Christ Jesus, Who bore the sins of the world.

 

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

“He who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 10:16).

“Whoever” in penitent sorrow over  sin and in faith believes and “calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

 

  1. Post signs and instructions to: stay home if you are sick or at high risk…

The Lord tells us to post the message – Law and Gospel – into the world.

 

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).

“The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore,

“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:16).

 

However long the Covid quarantine lasts, we know the God of grace and mercy has the welfare and future of His children in His heart. “No temptation (adversity) has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Pray for an end to the Covid so we soon can attend worship, hear the Word and attend the Sacrament together. Pray for the good and gracious will of God to be done. In Jesus we are victors over sin, death, the devil, the world, and sickness. Meanwhile the LORD SPEAKS TO YOU IN YOUR BIBLE. READ IT and BEAT THE QUARANTINE being assured nothing “ shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

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