Monday, October 20, 2014

The Birth of the John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Reflection: Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple, offering incense before The Lord, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. His name in the original is "Gabor" with the idea of a strong, powerful and intimidating presence. Obviously Zechariah felt that, as he was gripped with fear. The angel, which means messenger, gave him his message. His wife Elizabeth was to give birth, even in her old age. This reminds us of the story of Abraham and Sarah, when they were very old and conceived Issac against all odds.

Not only would this child, which they would name John, be great in the sight of The Lord, but he would call the people back to God. This was the function of the Old Testament prophet, though John would be pointing and leading the way to a far greater prophecy. As the child grew, he would never drink anything fermented and would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. This will be a theme in Luke, as he mentions the Holy Spirit quite often. He also has a concern for women, and uplifts the faith of Elizabeth, who acknowledged that, "The Lord has done this for me." It is one thing to hear a prophecy, it is quite another to believe it has come from The Lord!

As Abraham and Sarah brought in the chosen one, Issac, as a sign of the Promise, so Elizabeth and Zechariah brought in the One who would point to the Promise fulfilled. And while we may not see a Gabriel in our lives, God calls us into the Promise as God's chosen ones. We too are filled with the Holy Spirit, since our spiritual birth. The Holy Spirit calls us to faith and empowers us to work with others to being the Promise to all nations. We are in a sense like John, messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You might say, well I am in my old age, God couldn't use me. Or, I am not religious enough God for to use me. Or I am too young. Whatever excuse you would use, God uses ordinary people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and me and you to bring God's message of forgiveness through His Son. Most importantly may we acknowledge like Elizabeth, "The Lord has done this for me!" Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Introduction of Luke

Introduction
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.


Reflection:
Almost all scholars are in agreement that the author of the third gospel is Saint Luke, the physician Paul refers to in Colossians 4:14. It is also assumed that Luke wrote the companion book Acts, although they are separated in order by the Gospel of John. Luke resided in Antioch, where the early believers were first called Christians. The church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to teach and encourage the new Christians there, after a good amount of Gentiles were converted to the Christian faith. Barnabas stayed there initially, then went and got Paul, who was in his home town of Tarsus. This might explain why Paul and Luke went on so many mission trips together. Many times in Acts while Luke is describing the mission and work of Paul, he uses the word "we". Since Paul went to Antioch for a whole year, it makes sense he met Luke there. We also know that Antioch was a hugely important port of the a Northwest tip of the Mediterranean Sea, and even more good reason for God to use an orderly presentation of the Gospel to spread in this strategic location.

Luke starts out the second longest gospel (Luke and Acts represent over 25% of the whole New Testament) with his purpose, which was to give an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled among us. He refers to the eyewitnesses as if he were not one of them. No one has figured out who "Theophilus" is, but His Greek name means "lover of God". He could have been Luke's benefactor, or representative of the Gentile audience Luke was looking to teach the Good News of Jesus Christ. And we see his objective is that Theophilus would be certain of what he has been taught. Notice Theophilus being taught infers he is a person, and a Christian who needed a more formal presentation of the gospel. And again the purpose is that he would be more confident of what he was taught. The great need of new believers is to be taught so they may know the one in whom they have believed. We also call this, "faith seeking understanding".

So welcome aboard as we get on the Lucan train and journey through a faithful presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that has saved we who believe. It is my prayer as we go through Luke that we too, like Theophilus, might know the certainty of what we have been taught. In a world that is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith and teaching, we would do well to be prepared to give the reason for the hope we have within us. On top of that it will give us more confidence in what we believe, so that when trials come, we might stand on and in our faith. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Resurrection Appearances!

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. 14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Reflection:
Many believe these last eight verses were added to Mark's gospel because of the awkward transition from verse 8 to verse 9, in chapter 16. Regardless, I am glad they are included. And because we know all of God's word is inspired and useful for teaching, these verses give us much to learn. We see in this story the appearance of Jesus to Mary, and to the two men walking from Emmaus (this story is recorded in Luke), that the eleven disciples (twelve minus Judas) were stubborn and slow to believe. This is consistent with their lack of belief and failure to see the cross as the way Jesus had told them salvation would be accomplished.

But in spite of this, he commissions them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all of Creation. And then he says simply, "whoever believes and baptized will be saved". Notice the combination of belief and baptism. We see this also in the Great Commission where Jesus tells the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all He has commanded. So the question would naturally be does baptism save us? And the answer would be faith in Jesus is what saves us, but baptism is the visible sign of that faith. As Martin Luther said in the Catechism, "it is not water or the amount of water that saves us, but water connected with the Word." And the Word is Jesus Christ, who brings us the Good News, which we believe in by faith.

Finally, we see that those who believe in Jesus, not only are saved by that belief, but will produce signs. These signs done in Jesus' name show that if we believe in a Jesus, we will do many of the same works as He did. Some might say these signs were only relegated to those first generation of believers to kick start the Church. I find that argument pretty hard to buy into. Would that mean only the believers of a certain time get to do the things that Jesus did? I think not. After all does the world today need any less evidence of the power and authority of Jesus' name? I think not!

How about you? Do you see yourself doing the things Jesus did? Why or why not? If we have the power of the Holy Spirit given to us as we believe and are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; how could we expect any less? Something to think about for sure!!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jesus Has Risen!

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Reflection: Yesterday we left off with the story of Joseph of Arimathea, who rolled into place the stone for the cave like tomb he had purchased for Jesus as an act of devotion. In similar fashion today, the three women go anoint Jesus' body for similar reasons as Joseph. But as they went to perform their act of devotion to their Lord, they had one very practical question on their minds that day. Who would roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb? We know from all accounts that this was a very large stone and Joseph had likely needed help to roll the stone into the tomb. But instead they saw the stone had been rolled away.

And when they went into the tomb (the tombs were very large so much so that you could walk into them) they saw a young man dressed in a robe. In other passages this is said to be an angel, but not this one in Mark. Generally the commentators think it is an angel because often angels appear to be male, young and vibrant. Some think is a representation of youth and vitality and the eternal state in heaven where nothing decays. Being dressed in white is also consistent with heavenly beings. The white being described as white as snow, just like we have been washed by Jesus and are whiter than snow.

Whatever the case the significance lies in the fact that he is not there and the angels tell them that Jesus the Nazarene (a reference to his human origin), who was crucified is now risen. And importantly they say, "He has gone ahead of you and will meet you in Galilee." I love the saying, "He is ahead of you." Jesus is waiting for the disciples to come to him after the women have told them the Good News. Notice he doesn't go straight to them, but calls them to go to him where they will see him just as he told them.

But it would take one thing for them to go. They would need faith to go and check out whether it was true. The last time they had seen Jesus they had betrayed him in fear. Now Jesus invites them to come to him. What would you have been feeling if you were the disciples? Peter? In other versions we find out that Peter runs to the tomb to inspect the evidence. Yet in this version it ends by saying, "the women were trembling and bewildered and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid!"

This would explain why Mary says to Peter in John 20, "they have taken The Lord out of the tomb and we don't know where they have laid him." What makes these resurrection accounts so believable is that women are the first witnesses of the resurrection. In those days women would have not have have been seen as reliable either personally or in a court of law. So having the women as the first witnesses gives these accounts even more reliability.

And the end of the day we like the disciples are given the challenge, "go and find Jesus, he is ahead of you just like he said." Jesus was excited to reveal himself to these disciples who had forsaken him and given up hope that Jesus was who he said he was. So Jesus invites them to come and see him, and see that He is risen just as he said he would.

Jesus today gives us the invitation to come and investigate whether he is risen from the dead. Many people have written wonderful reasons why the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the greatest proof that Jesus was who he said he was. That he was and is the Son of God. The evidence is there, and maybe like Peter others have reported to you that Jesus has been raised from the dead. But just as Jesus meets each of them as he has gone ahead of them, he meets us as we go to the tomb see it is empty and conclude, "He is Risen, He is risen indeed!"

No matter how much you have denied Jesus in this life, he waits ahead of you calling you to check out the evidence. And just as the disciples went to him in spite of their earthly denial, we too can go to him in faith knowing that he waits for us and welcomes us into His kingdom. Amen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Burial of Jesus

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Reflection: We see the generosity of Joseph of Arimathea, who was part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews. He wanted to use his resources to give Jesus a decent burial. Notice he was waiting for the kingdom and went in boldly as if to bring in the kingdom more quickly. Notice too Pilate noticed Joseph's sincerity and released the body after being assured he was dead. The linen cloth represents a dignified burial given in the Jewish and especially for kings.

He also presumably bought the tomb that was hewn out of the rock. Jesus who was the rock was laid to rest in a rock. So even though Joseph had a hope of Jesus rising from the dead, he made sure in the meantime he used his resources to be taken care of before the resurrection. Finally, he rolled the rock against the tomb sealing his final destination. It reminds me of the saying, "we can be so heavenly minded we are of no earthy good."

The question for us today is number one, do we long for the kingdom? Number two, do we, regardless of our worldly status willingly offer our resources to the ministry of Jesus here on earth. Even though we long for heaven some day, do we invest and offer our resources now for Jesus' sake. Despite Joseph's power and status, he boldly offered his resources for Jesus. One day Joseph would meet the Risen and Resurrected Lord and himself be clothed with the white linen robes of righteousness, but for today he rolled the stone into the tomb knowing God would roll it away as He promised!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Good Friday?

The Death of Jesus
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Reflection:
Today's reading describes the death of our Savior. During Holy Week we call this "Good Friday". Although I wonder if it was so good for Jesus, as three hours into the torturous crucifixion calls out for His Heavenly Father. For his whole ministry he has been connected to his Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. He has been dependent on the Father for everything he has done. He has spent long hours in prayer before any major event in his mission and ministry. In short, the two are inseparable. Whenever we see Jesus doing what he does, he says we are seeing the Father's heart and will.

But right now at the height of emotional and physical pain the Father is absent. Jesus calls out saying "my God, my God why have you forsaken me." These are some of the most stirring and poignant words in all of the bible. The Son of God is forsaken by God the Father. And we might think how could this be? Does the Father not love the Son? What Father would let His Son go through this?

As we now know though, Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying on the cross. Our sin and death was transferred to Jesus and he suffered and took our place. In theological terms we call this "substitutionary atonement". He received the judgment we deserved and atoned for our sins. He was innocent and deserved none of this, but willingly took on all of it. Why did the Father allow it and the Son undergo it? Out of love for the world and us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Before we can focus on our salvation, we have to acknowledge and remember God's great, deep love for us. Romans 5:8 says it the best, "God proved His love for us, for while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!"

If we miss the power of this great scene in the bible which we read every year on Good Friday, I dare say we have missed the whole point of Christianity. But if we do recognize what Jesus had done and believe in faith what He has done for the whole world, we will be saved and ours sin forgiven. And as we realize this, our hearts are changed by what we call the Gospel, the Good News. This will be the fuel for the rest of our Christian life. If we are fueled by anything else it might be in vain.

The other application is there might be times in our lives when we feel forsaken by God. Although Jesus promised to never leave or forsake us and God never goes back on promise, there might be times when we feel forsaken by God, or at least that He isn't listening to our prayers. But we know that God does hear our prayers just not always in our timing or our way. Eventually God raised Jesus from the dead just as He promised, and God will raise us from the dead as we trust in the promise of the Gospel. That is why this became Good Friday for Jesus and by application all of us. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Simon of Cyrene

The Crucifixion of Jesus
21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews. 27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28] 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Reflection

Today's story, along with the other synoptic gospels (Matthew and Mark), tells of a man who was from Cyrene. Cyrene, Libya was home to about 100,000 Jews, and later became a center of Christianity. Simon of Cyrene's act of carrying the cross is depicted in the the fifth or seventh station of the cross. An important detail of the story is that they "forced" him to the cross. Other translations use the word "compelled". Bottom line is he is included in the Passion of our Lord. The thing that hit me is that Simon was forced to carry Jesus' cross, but we are asked to "pick up our cross and follow Jesus."

Amidst all of the people who shredded Jesus with insults and mocking, this lone character came alongside Jesus and carried the cross of Jesus until they hung Jesus on it. As they crucified Jesus they mocked again by saying, "You saved others but why can't you save yourself?" And, "You said you were going to destroy the temple then build it in three days!" Of course he was referring to His body, which was the temple of God which was raised three days after he died.

We know at any time Jesus could have ended this horrific episode with one word, but he endured it for one reason. In obedience to the Father and out of love for us. Simon was forced to carry Jesus' cross. What is your cross? What are you called to die for Jesus' sake and in service for others. Jesus will never call us to do anything he hasn't already done for us. And He will never ask us to do anything he won't give us the power to do. Doing so will certainly mean dying to something? But in doing that we will also experience new life. From death comes life. This is the way of Christ, and this is the way for His followers. After all we are called "Christ-Ian's", which means little Christ's.