Our Humble King

December 4, 2017

The soldiers stripped [Jesus] and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. … After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. – Matthew 27:28,31

Who is Jesus? The first Sunday of the Church year (December 3) Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a King only to die on a cross on Good Friday. He is my humble King who freely submitted to the scorn of the soldiers who surrounded him. Christ is the King of kings and Master of all creation. Yet he emptied himself of his heavenly glory and power as he faced the ridicule of the Roman soldiers. Although he committed no crime, he bore the cruelty of a criminal and wore a thorny crown unbefitting his holy brow. My King willingly suffered for me.

In absolute humility, King Jesus willingly walked to the cross, bearing a greater pain than the pounding of the nails that pierced his blameless body. The Sinless One bore the guilt and shame of all my sins. Jesus is the perfect substitute who fully satisfied the just wrath of God as the guiltless God-man. His sacrifice paid the full price to win my forgiveness! My King selflessly died for me.

Jesus is also my heavenly King, who now wears a crown of glory. He arose triumphantly from the grave. His glorious resurrection assures me that all the work of my salvation is complete. After the mockery that led to his death came the victory that brings life to all people. I am ever-confident that Christ the King will return on the last day and raise me from the dead. Then I will rejoice as he brings me to his everlasting heavenly kingdom. My King will mercifully come for me!

Until the day of his triumphant return, my Savior-King lovingly calls me through the gospel to be devoted to his service. He strengthens me to bear the crosses I endure in this life. Why would I not long to serve him each day with the life he has freely won for me? For Christ compels me with a gracious promise—he offers me a glorious crown too! He said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). My King surely cares for me!

Prayer: Jesus, my Savior-King, when you suffered and died, you did it all for me. By your death I now have life and forgiveness. Strengthen me each day to be faithful to you as I await your triumphant return. Amen.


Keeping an Eye for the Last Day

November 27, 2017

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. … Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-2,13

Ten virgins wait for the bridegroom to arrive. Five are wise and bring oil for their lamps and five are foolish and have no oil. When the bridegroom finally arrives, the wise ones are ready to meet him with brightly burning lamps. The foolish ones, however, scramble to find oil and get shut out from the wedding banquet.

Jesus uses this parable to teach about his return on the Last Day. Jesus is the Bridegroom. You are waiting for him to arrive, and he tells you to keep watch. So how do you do that? Look for him to check in on Facebook or post on Instagram? Buy a telescope and study the sky nonstop? No. When Jesus tells you to keep watch, he’s not telling you to stare up into the sky. “Keep watch” is another way of saying, “Be ready.” Just as the wise virgins had to be ready at all times, you also must be ready since you do not know when Jesus will return.

But who hasn’t lived like a fool? Hearing God’s Word one day and then living your own way the next. Hating the same people, giving in to the same sins, finding more ways to please yourself instead of new ways to serve others—all while forgetting Jesus’ pending arrival.

So Jesus speaks this parable to remind you that you need to be ready. Where does that readiness come from? Your readiness comes from God!

On the tree of the cross, God the Son was crushed for your iniquities and paid for your sins. At your baptism, God the Spirit readied you by writing God’s name on you and adopting you into his family. In his holy Word, God the Father constantly calls you to repentance and prepares you to enter the heavenly banquet.

When Jesus returns on the Last Day, you will be ready because of him and what he has given you. So keep watch! Light your lamp and live in Christ.

Prayer: Lord, keep me ready for your arrival on the Last Day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Having the Right Mindset

November 20, 2017

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. – Romans 8:5-8

Some people are openly disobedient. They seem to delight in daring the authorities by finding ways to break the rules aggressively and defiantly. They do whatever they want, whenever they want.

Other people are quietly, subversively disobedient. They are so sneaky that they are not usually caught. They know that no one suspects them, and they get away with a lot.

Both groups of people do not please God. He wants people to follow his laws happily and obediently, even the laws that are counter-cultural or counter-intuitive. God is not even pleased by good people who follow his laws but for the wrong reasons. God looks for perfect integrity.

Instead, everywhere he looks God sees disobedience and hostility. People resent his high standards. But God has a surprising solution to that problem.

Rather than punishing people, God sends his Spirit into their hearts. The Spirit comes by hearing God’s message from the Bible and the Spirit changes things.

The Spirit causes people to believe that Jesus was punished for their sins even though he had done nothing wrong. People are grateful when they hear that they are forgiven and that they are going to have eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus. People like to know that they are at peace with God and that he is not going to punish them because he has already punished Jesus in their place.

Because the Spirit gives people joy and peace, they set their minds on what the Spirit desires, which is faith in Jesus and from that faith flows love and kindness. Hang around those people and enjoy the blessings of the Spirit.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep me this day from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you. Amen.

God Loves Us – No Matter What!

November 13, 2017

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant … I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31,34

Apple, Samsung, Nokia—someone is continually advertising their newest smart phone, tablet, or another device. Do we really need the newest? It may have a few more features, but the changes are only incremental.

What about the Lord’s new covenant? Do we really need it?

Consider our situation without it. How would we gain life with God? Our conscience tells us that we must obey his law. That’s the condition. What does his law say? If you do not murder or steal, you will live. Doesn’t sound too hard. But the conditions don’t stop there.

If you never dream of revenge, if you never feel lust except toward your spouse, if you never feel greed, never gossip, never covet, then you will live. Does it still sound possible? But there’s more.

If you always love your neighbors, helping them in need and speaking well of them, and if you always give the proper respect and honor to those in authority, then you will live. But the law’s not done yet.

If you love God above all, cherishing him more than your stuff, your family, your pride, if you trust him above all, if you hold his commands in highest regard, if you never misuse his name but continually call on him in prayer, if you never slight his word but always gladly hear and learn it.

Need I go on? How miserably we fail! How much we need something new!

Is the new covenant an incremental improvement, modifying the conditions? Not at all! We’d still fail. The new covenant is not incremental, but revolutionary. It has no conditions. That’s right, no conditions at all! Rather the Lord God declares: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Do you see any “ifs,” any conditions?

The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, put this new covenant into effect. His resurrection is God’s signature. You are forgiven. God remembers your sins no more. Jesus erased your record of wrongs.

This unconditional Good News makes our hearts new, so that we believe this promise and desire to do what God commands.

Prayer: How great my sin! How much greater your forgiveness, O my Lord! Amen.

Does Everything Have to Change?

November 6, 2017

If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself… – 2 Timothy 2:13

“That’s just the way he is. He’s never going to change,” Jack explained to his younger cousin who had asked why grandpa had gone to bed at 6:30 pm.

“That’s just the way she is. She’s never going to change,” Sarah said, as she excused the absence of her sister who was over an hour late.

“That’s just the way he is. He’s never going to change,” Bob told the stranded motorist who was shaking his head in awe while Bob’s father, dressed in his Sunday best, wrestled the flat tire off the car so he could replace it with a properly inflated one.

“That’s just the way he is. He’s never going to change.” These words are most true when spoken about God.

People may have certain characteristics that define who they are and dictate their actions, but people do change. God never does. He is faithful. It’s not just what he does, it’s who he is.

God never goes back on a promise. He never fails to follow through on what he has said he would do. When you read a promise of God, you know that it is as good as done because God is faithful, and he never changes.

Your faithfulness or lack thereof does not influence God’s faithfulness one way or another. He has promised that he will always be with you even though there have been times when you have turned your back on him. God has promised that he will always love you even though you have not always loved him with your entire heart and soul and mind.

Most importantly, he has promised that the price for all the sins of the world, including yours, has been paid. Jesus’ blood was shed for you.

“That’s just the way I am. I’m never going to change,” your heavenly Father explains about his love for you and his faithfulness that never changes.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me even when I don’t love you in return. Thank you for your faithfulness that never changes in spite of my failures to be faithful. Help me to live a faithful life to you as the forgiven child you have made me. Amen.

Our Boasting is in Christ! Alone! Through Faith!

October 30, 2017
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. – Romans 3:27

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg is an exciting time for us Lutherans. To some on the outside of the Lutheran Tradition, it might look like we are bragging about our heritage. If we boast it is only of Jesus Christ and His victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. Here is some insight from Scripture.

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) The wealthy young ruler believed he had to earn God’s favor, and he was confident that he was well on his way. In his estimation, he had kept the commandments, but he was concerned that there had to be more. Jesus responded, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The man “went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

When Jesus spoke about “treasure in heaven,” that got Peter’s attention. He gave it a lot of thought and then asked Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you. What then will there be for us?”

The rich young man’s response is devastating. Peter’s response is just as disappointing. Yet, the law drives us all. By nature, each of us believes that God will not bless us unless we prove ourselves to him. The better our efforts, the better God’s blessings. However, this is not how it works. All we earn for our efforts is death, because sin is a part of all we are and do. Thankfully, this is not how God works.

In the parable of the compassionate employer (Matthew 20:1-16), we learn about God and how he relates to us. The laborers are unemployed, but the landowner personally seeks them out to work in his vineyard. He gives the first laborers he hired a fair wage for a full day’s work, and the same wage to those who worked less, even only one hour. The landowner was not being cheap. He was being generous–taking a loss so that he could provide fully for the needs of these desperate men.

In God’s kingdom, the standard of measure is not the labor of our hands but the goodness of God’s heart. Jesus did all the work of salvation for us. In life, he labored perfectly to love both God and people. In death, he bore the burden of sin and suffered the punishment we deserve. He lost his life for us to give his life to us. His work is our work. His perfection is our perfection. His death is our death. His resurrection is our resurrection.

Believe it, and boast in Jesus! We have been doing it for 500 years.

Prayer: May I ever rest and never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Life’s Expectations

October 24, 2017
Godliness with contentment is great gain. – 1 Timothy 6:6

It’s said that, around 40 years ago, a diplomat from the old Soviet Union was visiting the United States. Part of his tour of the country included a visit to a typical American grocery store. The moment he entered the store, the diplomat was astounded. He was astounded because he was looking at something he had never seen before. In that grocery store he was feasting his eyes on food of such quality and quantity and variety that he simply could not believe that what he was seeing really was a typical American grocery store. In fact, it’s said that he convinced himself that his American hosts had arranged to have all the food brought there just to impress him.

At that time the typical American grocery store carried 9,000 items. Today the typical American grocery store carries 39,000.

It’s an astounding thing, isn’t it? Over the past 4 decades, our food choices alone have more than quadrupled. But as marvelous as that is, experience has also taught us that having more and better things does not, in and of itself, guarantee a greater quality of life. In fact, some would make the case that the one has very little to do with the other.

And that’s where the Apostle Paul comes in. Do you want to see your quality of life make a significant jump? Paul says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Imagine a life lived in the full forgiveness earned by Jesus Christ. Imagine a life basking in gratitude and joy for that forgiveness. Imagine a life focused on serving Jesus by serving others. And imagine a life that’s content and pleased with what the Lord provides regardless of changing circumstances. In Paul’s mind, such a life is “great gain.” Such a life is robust and rich and sweet.

Does this mean we can’t go to a grocery store with 39,000 items? Of course not. Go there and enjoy that store. Enjoy it to the glory of God. Just remember where our quality of life really resides. Our quality of life is in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to re-examine my quality of life. Remind me that a life that is truly robust and rich and sweet lies in you alone. Amen.