Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)
Rev. Dr. Jeffery Pulse from Concordia Theological Seminary Ft. Wayne writes, “We were traveling down the road early one morning. I was driving the children to school. It was one of those foggy mornings down by the water, but the day promised to be bright and sunny. As we drove along through the murky, cloudy mist, we suddenly, surprisingly, broke through the fog into a bright, brilliant clearing. The sun was shining, reflecting off the water, just dazzling! Everything was, at least for that brief moment, crystal clear. Then we drove right back into the fog. Nothing particularly unusual, nothing uncommon about this experience, at least not in the great Northwest. It was the reaction from the back seat that stood out.
The two boys, almost in unison, exclaimed, “Daddy, we just had an epiphany moment!” Well, I knew what an epiphany moment was, but I was not so sure that my boys had a clue. So, I asked. I was wrong! They knew exactly what an epiphany moment was. They explained to me that it is when something that is unclear suddenly becomes clear. Suddenly, you can see, you get the point, something is revealed that had been hidden. Just like driving through the fog into the bright light. They knew!”
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising”. Sounds like an epiphany moment to me.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” A Light to pierce the darkness, a Light to drive away the despair, a Light that will overcome the shadow of death, dispelling it with the brilliant glory of the Lord. So says the prophet, Isaiah. The day is coming when the Light shall arise.
And so, I say to you . . . the day has come, for the Light has come into our world and revealed the face of God! The Light has revealed that which was previously hidden from our sight—an epiphany moment!
Take heart! The true Light, which enlightens everyone, has come into our world. Yes, the darkness is deep, and sin, death, and the devil are worthy adversaries. Our sin is a burden we cannot bear, a darkness we cannot penetrate, and an evil we cannot escape, but take heart! The Light has come! The Light has come, and in spite of the world’s dark attempt to destroy this Light, it shall never be! The battle is fierce, the warfare long. The fight is exhausting, the struggle daunting, but take heart. We have received a great Light whom the darkness can never overcome. This is our epiphany moment!
And what has been revealed to us? What do we see? The baby in a manger? Yes, a baby, but so much more! The baby that Herod and Satan could not destroy; the baby that the thick darkness could not overcome; the baby, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Take heart and be of good cheer, for we have received the Light that shines forth the love and grace and mercy of God.
The Light, a beacon that shines forth into all the world . . . but it shines from a cross. The darkness attempted to snuff out the Light. The darkness nailed our Light to a tree and rejoiced with fiendish delight that the Light was extinguished, and that thick darkness prevailed. The darkness was wrong! What appeared to be the end of the Light, a terrible defeat, became the greatest of victories. Yes, there was blood, but the blood cleanses us from sin. Yes, there was suffering and agony, but the sacrifice paid the demanded price. Yes, there was death, but the life laid down was taken back up with a resurrection! The ultimate victory of Light over darkness. The ultimate epiphany moment! The Light beams forth from the cross and the empty tomb and the darkness is vanquished!
With God There Is Always Hope
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-- the Son of God.36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.37 For nothing will be impossible with God."38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Lk. 1:26-38 ESV)
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Gabriel announced. Favored one? Yes, Mary will take part in this miracle, but purely by grace. As the old Latin translation rendered it, she is “full of grace” (gratia plena). That is the first critical part. But the angel’s next words bring even more assurance: God is with her, an echo of the name of her Son revealed to Joseph also by an angel. He is Immanuel, “God with us” (Mt 1:23). She is not alone. God is not far away. He has come among his people. But how he will do that is even more amazing than Mary can possibly imagine. For God is about to come into her very womb!
Gabriel can see that this is overwhelming to young Mary and immediately calms her, telling her: “Do not be afraid” (v 30). Encounters with angels, as we have seen so often, frequently brought fear. Sinful man hesitates in the face of God’s holiness or of those holy because of association with God. But the great message this angel bears comes not from a God of judgment, but from a gracious God full of promise and hope. It is a message of a miracle, a miracle of miracles, a miracle with abounding hope not just for Mary or for Joseph or for God’s chosen people, but for all people. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (v 31).
As if this miracle wasn’t enough—Mary conceiving without a man, while still a virgin—the miracle will be that all the “fullness of God” would “dwell” in this one to be conceived in her womb (Col 1:19). God, the eternal, almighty, unending, creating Word, would take on human flesh within her and ultimately dwell, or tent or tabernacle, “among us” (Jn 1:14). He will live where we live. Work among us. Suffer with us. But he will also be great. He will be called “Son of the Most High” (v 32). The throne of King David will be given to him. His kingdom will know no end. All this would be contained in the still unseen child conceived inside Mary by the sheer power of God’s Word. Mary, God’s humble servant. Mary, a young woman betrothed in marriage, but a marriage not yet consummated. Mary, who will now face the unprecedented situation of being a mother without a human father to conceive her child. The questions raced in her head. How?
And indeed, there was no precedent for such a miracle. Never before had anything like this happened. Mary is overcome in complete amazement. How would God create a baby inside her without a human father? Gabriel, God’s angelic messenger, once more provides an answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-- the Son of God.”, just as God did in the tabernacle when the cloud of his holy presence filled its space with his glory (Ex 40:34–35). Amazing! God’s presence in her womb! In her! God directly creating life as the heavenly Father! A virgin not only pregnant now with a child, but pregnant with the holy Son of God himself! Next to the resurrection on Easter morning, this stands among the greatest of God’s miraculous acts.
But how? By what means? We have no reference to compare. Then Gabriel notes why such a miracle can take place against anything we know or imagine: “Nothing will be impossible with God,” he tells Mary (v 37). God is a God of the impossible, the humanly impossible. Jesus would later reiterate this truth when the disciples wondered how anyone could possibly be saved and inherit heaven: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” he told them (Mt 19:26). All things are possible! All things! Or consider when God spoke with Abraham about the birth of a son in his old age and his wife’s advanced age, something that caused Sarah to laugh in disbelief. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” he asked (Gen 18:14). No, nothing is too hard for God. Nothing.
One significant enemy of hope is the conclusion that all possibilities are exhausted. That no options still exist. That there is no solution, no way out. How often do we surrender to the seemingly inevitable, void of God’s possible intervention? How often do we throw up our hands with “This is impossible!”—never even considering how God might be involved, what unseen plan he might yet have, how he might intervene unseen? How often do we end up with Zechariah’s faithless doubt and Sarah’s laughter but disregard the simple, believing trust of Mary, who in the face of the amazing simply wondered, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v 34)—curious of how God might do what had never been done before?
And how often do we miss that God has announced this miracle of miracles by no less than the angel Gabriel, the powerful messenger of heaven who stands “in the presence of God” (Lk 1:19)? For many, Christmas easily becomes little more than a cute story suitable for a greeting card. A feel-good moment to lift the doldrums of winter’s cold darkness. Perhaps a fleeting wonderment of yet another birth, as all births are inspiring acts of new life. Yet the heart of the message from Gabriel, the ambassador of the Most Holy of heaven, is that God is enfleshed within Mary’s womb, a foundational truth we confess in our creeds, a truth that underlies all truths, that lies at the heart of our faith. And at the heart of hope itself, a trust in the possibilities of what will yet be: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (v 37).
If God can do this, then what can he fail to do? What in our lives lies beyond the power of the one who does the impossible? If he has come to live my life and take my place and on the cross pay the price of my sin and suffer my death and conquer the legions of hell—and not just for me but for the entire world, past, present, and future—honestly, what is he unable to accomplish?
Mary can only sit in amazement, willing to follow on a journey that leads to incredible, undreamed-of possibilities. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” she humbly says (v 38). Such humility and simple faith and openness to follow. An obedient servant truly inspired by hope. But not a hope of mere wishes or dreams or even confident optimism. This hope comes from heaven, announced by God’s chosen emissary, inspired by this God of the impossible, and underscored by an eternal promise. God is with us and so we are never without hope.
November 2022 Introduction to Advent Series
Whenever I meet with a couple for pre-marriage counseling, I share this quote: “Every disappointment involves unmet expectations.” Then we talk about what expectations for marriage are realistic or unrealistic. I also let them know that their spouse will inevitably let them down— sometimes multiple times a day!
Marriage is not the only source of disappointment and unmet expectations. Every human relationship will deal with these issues. Have you been happy with every decision an elected official has made, even one for whom you voted? Does your boss ever let you down? Have your employees always done their job well? Do your friends always come through for you? Do your children always make good and wise decisions based on what you have taught them? Human beings will disappoint by failing to meet expectations.
No wonder the psalmist tells us in Psalm 146:3–4, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Parents have hopes and expectations for their children. Sometimes these are healthy expectations. Other times parents place unfair or unrealistic expectations on their children.
This upcoming Advent season, during our midweek services, we will take a look at three different sons of men who were disappointments to their fathers. In the first week, we will be introduced to Cain, the son of Adam. No doubt Adam had higher hopes for Cain than for him to be known as the first murderer in history. But his murder of his brother reveals the murder lurking in all of our hearts.
In the second week, we will be introduced to Ishmael, the son of Abraham. Though it was not his fault, Ishmael was a disappointment to Abraham because he was not the child of the promise. Abraham’s efforts to take things into his own hands highlight our own tendency to do the same in our relationship with God.
In the third week, we will be introduced to Absalom, the son of David. This rebellious son broke David’s heart and exposes the rebellion we display against our heavenly Father. But each week, we will also be pointed to a different Son. This Son is the true Son of Adam. He is the true Son of Abraham. He is the true Son of David. He is the Son who never disappointed His Father. He is the Son who never did any wrong. He is the Son of whom the Father spoke: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5).
This true Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, is also the Son of God, the very Son of God now living in our flesh and blood. This Son is Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, who fulfills the hope of salvation “that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5). He is the One whom the psalmist spoke of in Psalm 146:5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.” During this series, entitled This Is My Son, you will hear again that your heavenly Father is not disappointed in you. Rather, through Jesus, He considers you to be His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased.
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water." Revelation 14:6–7
That’s the historic Epistle for the Reformation of the Church. Most every Lutheran before the last century believed that the angel or the messenger referred to here in Revelation 14 is the blessed reformer Martin Luther. They didn’t simply believe that it could be applied to him but that it is, in fact, a direct reference to the man named Martin Luther. Here is what Johann Bugenhagen preached at Luther’s funeral in 1546: ““This angel who says, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,” was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel.”
C. F. W. Walther preached in a sermon: “These words from the Revelation of St. John are, as you have already learned on other occasions, a prophecy of the Reformation of the church established by God through Luther three hundred years ago. The angel, the one sent by God, who flew through the midst of heaven is Luther, and the eternal Gospel that he preached is Luther’s doctrine”
Bugenhagen and Walther and Lutherans in those days didn’t consider it silly or strange or parochial to say that an event as momentous as the Reformation could have been prophesied in the Scriptures. Especially Lutherans at the time of Luther actually believed that Luther, by the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, had set them free from utter bondage.
And that is no small thing.
Walther characterizes it this way: “Before [Luther’s day], nearly a thousand years of spiritual darkness had settled over all of Christianity. . . . The light of the pure Gospel was lost nearly everywhere. . . . The Book of Books, . . . the Holy Scriptures, lay in the dust, right in the midst of Christianity. . . . All of Christianity was under the yoke of slavery. . . . The anti-Christ, foretold in Scripture, the Pope in Rome, ruled on his throne of Satan. . . . Christianity languished in fearful despair and anxiety. Thousands had, in their previous predicament of sin, cried out in vain, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ But there was no answer”.
For Luther, the whole anti-Christian system of infused grace, conditional penance, mitigated forgiveness, mystical and philosophical gunk could not satisfy his yearning to know that God was his friend and not his enemy. The Roman Catholic system at the time was well arranged to raise money but not to deliver to a man under the burden of the flesh a clean conscience and confidence with God.
Therefore, God blessed Luther with an especially penetrating desire to understand the Bible, the heavenly message, and there, not without diligence but surely by God’s grace, Luther was relieved at last. Christ is his Savior from sin. God the Father declares him righteous in love. And Christ is your Savior. His death on the cross has taken away your sin, given you eternal life, despite your sin, entirely apart from any works of yours. No credit belongs to us poor sinners, but all glory for our salvation, our standing, and our confidence belongs to God alone. That was Luther’s preaching.
Thus, it’s not a stretch to conclude, as many Christians have, that Luther was the angel, the messenger, who preached to the entire earth—to “every nation and tribe and language and people.” At the end of the month we celebrate Reformation Day. We will give thanks to God specifically for Martin Luther and his teaching which reformed the Lord’s Church, of which we are members.
Whether he is the angel in these verses might be up for debate, but we don’t need to mitigate the importance of the Reformation; after our Lord’s life and death and resurrection, after the courageous work of the apostles, the most important event in Church history is the Reformation. We do well to remember it with thanksgiving to God.
One Thing Necessary Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)
Mary listened attentively to Jesus, the One who would be the bringer of blessing to every family of the earth. Far better than the yummy smells wafting from Martha’s kitchen were the sweet words falling from His lips. Mary listened to them, soaked them up, pondered them and wondered. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. And here sat God in the flesh, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, who had assumed the Seed of Abraham through His mother’s flesh that He might set a feast before a hungry world. Oh, not a feast of worldly food. He knew how to do that too, of course (the feeding of the 5,000). But you recall how after that miracle, He spoke of having food to eat that His disciples knew nothing about. They wondered who had stashed away the snacks for Him. But He made it clear: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). That’s what He ate and drank and literally lived from: the will of the Father. And that will, simply put, was to supply for the world a feast. He had come to be the bread of life that you may eat of and not die but live in Him forevermore. That’s why Mary chose the good portion and why the Lord was not about to let Martha or anyone else take it from her, just as He won’t let anyone take it from you. He wants you to have a life that doesn’t end, anchored in the forgiveness of your sins, and that’s the gift that listening to His promises and believing them delivers to you. That’s why you come to church each Sunday morning, whether you know it or not. You come not to do something for the Lord, like Martha was doing. You come to let the great Giver of the Feast speak His Words and promises to you. Be still, then. Listen. So rejoice, people loved by God! Your faith isn’t about you and your doings, but about the blessed Seed of Abraham, our Lord Jesus, and His doing and giving. It’s about Him tending to you, not you to Him; Him serving you, not you Him. “Be still,” says the Lord through the psalmist, “and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10). He is exalted, for all the credit goes to Him. From His sinless birth to His bloody death, to His glorious resurrection and ascension, and even to His coming again in glory, He has done everything and even arranged for that feast to be spread before you through His ministers.
"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Luke 24:5-6
Imagine a baptismal font. Before the service, a Lay Minister comes out and pours water into the basin. A white napkin is placed on the side, along with a baptismal certificate. The service begins and a family, with godparents, sits up front. The opening hymn ends, and the mom and dad, holding the baby, step to the font. Godparents are standing across from them. The pastor begins the liturgy. Soon the moment comes. The mother lowers her child over the water. Three times the pastor dips his hand into the basin and splashes water on the child’s head, all the while speaking the name of the child and the name of the triune God. Where is Jesus at that moment? Right there. He is risen from the dead. He is alive and now lives in that child. Faith and hope arise in the child and are renewed in those watching. Then remember—one time it was you who was brought into Jesus’ living presence at a baptismal font.
Where is Jesus? Look at the altar. Before the service, Lay Ministers brought out a cup and covered it with a white cloth. Wine in the pitchers are set beside it. Communion wafers are readied to be used. The service moves along until the pastor speaks familiar words. “On the night when Jesus was betrayed . . . ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you . . . Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ ” Your pew is ushered forward. You kneel at the rail. The bread is placed in your hand and then your mouth. A sip of wine runs over your tongue. Where is Jesus at that moment? Right there. He is risen from the dead. He is alive and lives in you. He renews your faith and hope once again. He is not in the tomb. He is here in our midst, in our church, in your life. Confusion and fear give way to a confident faith and hope.
Where is Jesus? Open a Bible. Find passages of promise. (Some suggestions: Matthew 28:20b; Romans 8:38–39; John 11:25–26.) Isaiah prophesied that a day will come when Jesus will return. We will see him face-to-face. All of creation will be remade. No more will old age take away our strength and breath. All creation will live in peaceful harmony. Only gladness, not more anger and hate. Grief will give way to rejoicing. Saint Paul in Corinthians says, The one great last enemy to be destroyed is death. Jesus is the firstfruits when he left the tomb empty, so many more will follow on that glorious Last Day of resurrection. When you read passages from God’s Word like these, Jesus is moving and working in you, building up your faith and renewing your hope by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Now remember what the women did after the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, after their faith came to life and hope returned. “And returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest”. They ran and told the disciples. They didn’t stay at the tomb. They went back to their lives. They went back to their lives with the risen Jesus present with them.
So do we. We leave the worship service, a service where Jesus has been present because he promised where two or three are gathered together, there he would be. We go back to our lives. We go back to injustice and anger. We go back to division and strife. We go back to sickness and aging muscles. But we do not go back alone. We go back with Jesus. We go back with a powerful message. He has risen!
Like the women staring into the tomb, each of us will come to that time when that last great enemy, death, will confront us with all its ugly, frightening, confusing reality. We will stand before a grave and the test of faith will rise up from the depths of our souls. What is our hope at that moment? “He is not here, but has risen.” The Savior who all your life washed you, fed you, clothed you with salvation and sustained you with his Word did all of that after stepping out of his grave victorious over death. Death was defeated before the women ever made it to the tomb. The same is true for you. “He is not here, but has risen.”
March 2022 Witnesses to Christ: People from His Passion
John tells us why he wrote his Gospel: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31).
Life! When we believe that Jesus is the Christ, God gives us life—abundant life, forgiven life, and eternal life.
Historically, the Fourth Gospel is likened to an eagle—an image that suggests John soars to heights of glory and grandeur. That’s because the evangelist paints a stunning portrait of Jesus, who is the bread of life, the resurrection and the life, and the way, the truth, and the life. Life in Jesus. That’s God’s gift to you!
This Lent, our life in Christ will be strengthened as we hear the witness of those in John’s Gospel who journeyed to the cross. Along the way, we’ll meet villains, such as Barabbas and Pontius Pilate, as well as sinners, such as Peter (who denied Jesus three times), Mary Magdalene (who was possessed by seven demons), and Judas Iscariot (who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver).
Please join us for worship as we hear the witness of these people in John’s Gospel:
Ash Wednesday: John the Baptist, John 1:29–34
Midweek of Lent 1: Mary, the Sister of Lazarus and Martha, John 12:1–11
Midweek of Lent 2: Malchus, John 18:1–11
Midweek of Lent 3: Peter, John 18:12–27
Midweek of Lent 4: Barabbas, John 18:33–40
Midweek of Lent 5: Pontius Pilate, John 19:1–16
Palm Sunday: The Disciples, John 12:12–19]
Maundy (Holy) Thursday: Judas Iscariot, John 13:21–30
Good Friday: John, the Gospel Writer, John 19:25–37
The Resurrection of Our Lord: Mary Magdalene, John 20:1–18
Join us each Wednesday night for a light supper at 6:30pm starting Wednesday 3-2-22 followed by worship at 7:15pm in person and on Zoom. May you be blessed by these witnesses to Christ: People from His Passion as we mount up on John’s Gospel following Jesus on his Lenten journey through death to life eternal.
January 2022 How Long, O LORD?
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4 lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Ps. 13:1-6 ESV)
It seemed like just a few days or weeks ago that we were rejoicing that 2020 was in our rearview mirror, and we were looking forward to how much better 2021 would be. Now 2021 is over and I wonder if we really feel like things have gotten better. New variants of Covid-19 are still ravaging the whole world. More Americans died from Covid-19 in 2021 than in 2020. In spite of the vaccines now available we have not yet put this pandemic behind us.
We can’t help but join our voices with King David asking, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” If we were putting our trust in the turning of a calendar page last January then we shouldn’t be surprised that this January we are still lamenting, “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. A new year doesn’t mean better or easier days. The changing of the calendar doesn’t change our circumstances. David finally stops his questions and reveals the real object of his hope and faith in his darkest and most dire days. “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,4 lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
What will bring light to our eyes is not a new year. What will stave off death and defeat by our enemy is not the turning of a calendar page. David turned to the One with answers, “answer me, O LORD my God”. “I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” 2022 doesn’t promise freedom from Covid-19, other troubles, sin, or death, but the steadfast love of God in Jesus Christ does. God has dealt bountifully with us sending his Son to save us from this broken world, from our enemy the devil, from our own sin and death. Jesus is coming again soon to gather us to himself in heaven.
David didn’t have to wait until all his earthly woes were gone and his enemy defeated before he trusted in the LORD’s steadfast love and rejoiced in the LORD’s salvation. While he prayed, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?”, he also sang to the LORD, “because he has dealt bountifully with me.” So also, we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are eager for his promised return when we will enjoy the consummation of his saving work and leave this vale of tears and be gathered into eternal paradise free from sorrow, suffering, sin, and death. Yet even now we have trusted in his steadfast love, his death and resurrection, and rejoice in his salvation. Not this new year, but Jesus only has power to, “light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death”. How long, O LORD? Come, Lord Jesus.
December 2021 Symbols of Salvation: Foretelling Christ’s Birth
Ordinarily, when we think of Old Testament prophecies of the birth of Christ, we have in mind specific verses such as, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14); “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6); and “From you [O Bethlehem] shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). These direct prophecies point clearly to the coming of Jesus as the Savior Messiah.
But in addition to these wonderful verses, Jesus teaches us that, in fact, the entire Old Testament prophesies about Him—“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27, emphasis added). “For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains uplifted, because only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:14, emphasis added). “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39, emphasis added). All of the Bible is about Jesus. From the very beginning of creation, the ways God interacts with His people give us living symbols that foreshadow and foretell Jesus’ advent among us in the flesh. As the hymn puts it,
For deep in prophets’ sacred page,
And grand in poets’ winged word,
Slowly in type, from age to age
The nations saw their coming Lord. (LSB 810:2)
The various “types” in the Old Testament point to a complete fulfillment in Jesus. He is the perfect Israel and the culmination of its divinely given institutions. He is the embodiment of the Scriptures, for “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Old Testament is not just a historical record; it was and continues to be the active, Spirit-filled Word of God that proclaims Christ to us.
The Advent sermons in this series focus on three particular Old Testament narratives that serve as symbols of Jesus’ coming to share in our humanity: the burning bush, the cloud in the tabernacle, and the call of Gideon. The Christmas sermon then focuses on how the narrative of Jesus’ birth is no fairy tale but a true story that also foretells the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus takes on our flesh so that He might die in the flesh for our sins and be raised bodily for our justification (Romans 4:25). All of Scripture finds its culmination and fulfillment in Him. May God the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bless our meditation this season on Him who is the Word made flesh!
Midweek of Advent 1 - The burning bush foretells the time when the Son of God would descend to this world again and take on our human nature in order to deliver us from our enemies..
Sermon: “Old Testament Christmas” Exodus 3:1-14
Midweek of Advent 2 - The Son of God, who once dwelt among His people in a tent made of animal skins, has made His eternal dwelling place among us in our human skin in order to bring us back to life with God.
Sermon: “The Lord Sets Up His Tent Among Us” Exodus 40:17–21, 34–38
Midweek of Advent 3 - By means of the weakest and least, the Lord, as one man, conquers our enemies and rescues us.
Sermon: “You Shall Defeat Them as One Man” Judges 6:11–24; (7:2–9)
Nativity—Christmas Eve or Christmas Day - The true story of Jesus’ birth reveals and foretells the reconciliation of God and man and the fulfillment of history in His incarnation and death and resurrection.
Sermon: “The Living Nativity” Isaiah 9:2–7
Join us each Wednesday evening at 7:15pm on Zoom or in person December 1st, 8th, and 15th.
September 2021 Salvation Outline
I don’t know how I had missed this, but in 1986 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism on page 258 there is a “Salvation Outline.” In preparing for Confirmation and Adult Instruction classes I came across this helpful witnessing tool.
“The following seven points summarize basic information about the human condition and God’s saving grace. You may want to memorize these points so that you may share them with someone who does not yet believe in Jesus as his or her Savior.
God loves you! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John. 3:16).
You are a sinner. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
God punishes sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Jesus took our punishment. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Jesus rose from the dead. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who believe in Him. “He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-- you and your household’” (Acts 16:30-31).
Salvation is free—a gift from God. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).”
I hope this simple concise outline is helpful in summarizing the account of God’s plan of salvation for you and gives you a handful of helpful verses for sharing your faith with others. Luther never intended his Catechism to be used for Confirmation classes and then put on the shelf and forgotten, rather he intended it to be used as a daily prayer book to be recounted again and again that the six chief parts of Christian doctrine be engrained in our hearts and our faith rooted deeply in God’s Word. The Lord is never done nourishing our faith to stand firm against the temptations of the Devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, and to be active in loving and serving God and neighbor. I encourage you to crack open your Catechism. You may just find something new!
JULY 2021 Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, (Jn. 12:37 ESV)
We sometimes think that if God would just speak to us, appear to us, or if we could see Jesus perform a miracle we would easily believe and live our lives much differently than we do now. What if I saw Jesus face to face? What if I saw his crucifixion and his resurrection? What if I saw him give me his body and blood for my forgiveness and life, but I kept on sinning? What if I still got angry short tempered, thought money, liquor, good food, and the pleasures of this life would bring me security happiness and peace? What if I still doubted and feared that to lose my life in this world would be the end of my existence?
What if I knew not by faith but by sight that Jesus is Lord, Savior, God but I still lived like the sinner I am? What would my excuse be then? What would my hope be then? We often shake our heads at Jesus’ disciples and the people who saw and experienced his signs, and wonders, and miracles. We think if we had seen those things our lives would be different somehow. We would easily believe and live our lives completely in service to him and in happy obedience to his Word, but that’s not true. “For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Rom. 3:22-24 ESV)
“And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:75 ESV). Peter had seen Jesus’ miracles, even his Transfiguration. Those things did not bring an end to his need to be forgiven and reconciled to God, only deeper bitterness and shame over his sin. Our problem isn’t that God won’t reveal himself to us physically and visibly in human form and do miracles for us so we can know he is real, his death and resurrection were real, and our salvation is real. If he did all those things, we would still be sinners. Uncontrolled helpless sinners in need of undeserved mercy, grace, forgiveness, is who we are. “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,”.
Jesus isn’t our Savior because he appears to us visibly or performs miracles before our eyes. He is our Savior because he died for our sins and rose from the dead victorious over all that would keep us from him and his eternal Kingdom. That is the Savior we need. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn. 20:30-31 ESV) That is how Jesus would have you believe that he is your Savior. Through his Word, his Promise not through sight.
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone.
There is no uncertainty to the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross and delivers through Word and Sacrament. Luther writes, “Everything, then, depends on this faith, which alone makes the sacraments accomplish that which they signify, and everything that the priest says come true. For as you believe, so it is done for you. (Matt. 8:13; 9:29) . . . Not the sacrament, but the faith that believes the sacrament is what removes sin. St. Augustine says this: The sacrament removes sin, not because it takes place, but because it is believed.” (LW 35, 11) Our certainty doesn’t come from seeing, “Then he touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith be it done to you."30 And their eyes were opened.” (Matt. 9:29-30 ESV) First comes faith, then sight.
There is No Silver Bullet
I recently heard a very law oriented presentation on evangelism. I was told that the reason people won’t respond to my evangelism efforts is because I am not willing to suffer with those I am trying to reach and become relevant to their lives by first meeting their needs so that they associate Christianity with being helpful to addressing their problems and struggles. Then only will they be open to hearing God’s Word and becoming a Christian themselves.
“You are not willing to sacrifice and be persecuted and so you will not be blessed in your efforts to reach the lost.” I wish evangelism were that simple, and his teaching were the silver bullet to spreading the Good News in the community surrounding our church.
The truth is the Church should be relevant in our communities and seen as helpful in caring for those in need. The threefold emphasis of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is Witness, Mercy, Life Together. Mercy is that emphasis of stepping out of our comfort zone and showing tangible care and support in our neighborhoods and communities. Jesus did much to care for the poor, sick, demon possessed, those mired in sin. He made it clear that we are to care for all people no matter their need or sins.
That doesn’t mean they will all magically respond in faith in Christ. Remember what Matthew tells us about Jesus going to his own hometown? “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” (Matt. 13:58 ESV) There is Mark’s account of the man who had great wealth whom Jesus loved. “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mk. 10:21-22 ESV) Luke records what Jesus says of the Holy City Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Lk. 13:34 ESV)
Jesus perfectly loved everyone, cared for everyone, provided for everyone healing, miraculous food, victory over the Devil, forgiveness of sin, resurrection from death, peace with God, everlasting life, glorified sinless bodies, eternal treasures in heaven, and yet John writes, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"” (Jn. 12:37-38 ESV)
We serve and love others because Jesus has served and loved us freely. We show mercy because we have been shown mercy. By God’s grace some are brought to Christ when the Holy Spirit uses our witness and our sharing the Good News about our Savior from sin and death, some will not. There is no silver bullet. There is only Jesus loving and forgiving us so much that we can’t help but do the same for others. Apart from Jesus there is only law.
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Where Is Your Center?
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
Is your life ordered around God’s goodness? That was a question that we were encouraged to ask our members at our last Tri-Circuit Pastors’ meeting. The goal of the question was to be more gospel focused and non-judgmental. It encourages us to focus on God and on the places his goodness, blessings, forgiveness, life, peace, joy, righteousness, favor, love, comfort, guidance, etc. are being delivered to us.
Often, we are asked questions that lead us to fix our eyes on ourselves. Are you living a life that honors God and reflects his will and word in what you think, say, and do? We are asked to examine our lives and identify our sin by applying God’s Law to ourselves. The whole season of Lent was spent identifying sin in Jesus’ disciples, the religious leaders, Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, even the women at the tomb, and then seeing the same sins in our own life. There is great importance to delighting in God’s Law and looking into the law as into a mirror to see our true selves, and our deep need for forgiveness and a righteousness that doesn’t come from our works.
If we stop there, however, we are left with guilt, shame, hopelessness asking like Jesus’ disciples, “"Who then can be saved?"” (Matt. 19:25 ESV) In our recent Epistle and Gospel readings John has been encouraging his hearers saying those familiar words that the early Christians adopted as part of the Church’s common liturgy, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:8-9 ESV)
Is your life ordered around God’s goodness? The description of the early church that Luke gives us is summed up when he says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Is your life oriented around the Bible, particularly the apostles’ teaching? Are you involved in fellowship with other Christians especially in Holy Communion or as they called it “the breaking of bread”? Do you spend time in prayer? God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness through his Word, through Confession Absolution, through his Holy Supper, through Prayer and the mutual conversation and encouragement of fellow Christians. He loves to give us free gifts through these means and places. He loves for us to remember our baptism every morning and the promise that we are his children and heirs of eternal life.
The answer to sin isn’t solved just by identifying we have it, but in having a life ordered and oriented around God’s goodness, his means of grace, his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation delivered in Word and Sacrament. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” You are a sinner. I am a sinner. We are all sinners. The real question is are you addressing that reality. Is your life ordered and oriented in a way that reflects your love for the underserved mercy and grace that God so desperately wants to lavish upon you? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” God has great gifts to give you. Is your life ordered around God’s goodness?
Rev. Jonathan Bontke
Easter Hope in a Year of Pandemic
The Editor of Concordia Pulpit resources writes, “Whatever we eventually determine the long-term effects to have been, the initial spread of the coronavirus into a true pandemic in the spring of 2020 touched almost all of us profoundly. Everyone has a personal story to tell. Certainly our worship and our delivery of the Gospel—and Sacraments—was impacted. In the United States, the president, after the first few days of stay-at-home orders in March, hoped publicly that the churches could be filled for Easter Sunday. That didn’t happen. In fact, Christian preaching addressing the pandemic or the delivery of preaching being altered by the virus was perhaps nearly as universal around the world as Easter sermons themselves.”
The following pastors engage the COVID-19 pandemic in quite different ways, depending on the preachers’ local situations. Rev. Stephen Pietsch, PhD, lecturer in pastoral theology, Australian Lutheran College, Adelaide, South Australia reports that the virus affected Australia less than many countries, but that all churches were closed and the work of the seminary where he teaches was jeopardized by the economic impact. Rev. George A. Kirkup, PhD, pastor, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Holbrook, New York says his congregation, near the US “epicenter” in New York, lost members, with the tragic complication that he was unable to visit during the last days or conduct at least one of the funerals. Rev. Peter C. Cage, STM, senior pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana delivered his Easter message from a high pulpit to a huge, empty cathedral sanctuary. Rev. Don C. Wiley, PhD, assistant professor of pastoral ministry and missions, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana who’s streamed sermon may have seemed just another day at the office, given CTSFW’s entirely online spring quarter.
As we begin to start live services and hope to return to “normal”. I want to thank all of you for your patience, love, encouragement and adaptability to a new way of worshiping and receiving the Lord’s Supper. I couldn’t have asked for a finer congregation full of faith and love to endure this storm. I wanted to share the closing words of Pastor Kirkup’s Easter sermon from one year ago.
Jesus’ resurrection is the proof we need for our doubts; it’s the most historically verifiable event from the ancient world. Witnessed by hundreds, the apostles would never stop preaching their resurrected Lord, even under pain of death. Since Jesus was raised from death, the firstfuits of those who have fallen asleep, those who belong to Christ will certainly be raised to eternal life (cf 1 Cor 15:23). This is a comfort that no quarantine can take away.
I wish you were here today. But more than that, I am comforted knowing that Jesus hears our prayers and he is with us always. His death gives us life, and his resurrection gives us hope. Whether you’re in grief like Martha or Mary, whether you’re facing death like Lazarus, the Son of God has come into the world to bring life.
God willing, we will be gathered together soon. We will grieve those whom we have lost. We will cry together and console one another with God’s promises. And in the resurrection on the Last Day, we will be gathered with all the saints in heaven around our resurrected Lord. Amen.
Return to the Lord your God
“return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” Joel 2:13
Last month I shared the theme for our Lenten series this year. What some of you may not know is that our Sunday School class is also studying this same theme. I encourage you to join us on this very timely and relevant topic. “Return to the Lord your God,” is what the congregation sings before the Gospel reading to mark the season of Lent. This particular Lenten season, we will focus on God’s historic call to His people to repent and the things that might get in the way of us returning to God. Even if our desire is to return to God, there are many stumbling blocks, not the least of which is ourselves. That is the subject of our Lenten theme this year as we dive into God’s Holy Word and consider carefully the distinct difficulty experienced by the people we encounter in each biblical narrative.
We will also explore in each study how that particular difficulty might be keeping us from returning to God or, equally important, how God may be using that very difficulty to draw us to Him. Whatever the case may be, it is always God’s desire to be our God and for us to be His people. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)
In many ways, this is a very timely study after the whole world experienced a time of plague and social distancing last year during Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and it’s still going on!!! That holy season was unlike anything we had ever experienced. It was a time when God, during the season of Lent, was clearly calling to us and saying once again, “Return to the Lord your God.” Throughout the Scriptures, God has time and time again called His people Israel back to Him.
It will be interesting, and perhaps also challenging, for us to look back at the COVID-19 outbreak and see ourselves in the place of the biblical people we are studying. How did we handle things when we didn’t really understand what was going on? Did the event itself, and the challenges and complications it presented in our lives, cause us to draw further away from God or to “return to the Lord our God”?
We will explore and try to answer these questions and many others through these sessions: A Call to Return; Prayer; Betrayal; False Witness; Denial; The Kingdom of God; and The Resurrection and You: Come and See. If you aren’t already joining us for Sunday School, I encourage you to do so. As we do, we remember in faith to “return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).
Return to the Lord
Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13 ESV)
In the Book of Joel, the prophet paints a vivid picture of the coming judgment of God, the Day of the Lord. The imagery is bold and terrifying: hordes of locusts swarming over the land and decimating everything. Joel’s prophecy has teeth even today as wars rage, natural disasters threaten and destroy, and our culture seems to be unraveling. But right in the middle of this frightening portent, we find a tender invitation from the Lord: “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). God’s invitation and promise finds its fullness in Jesus Christ, who
personifies and accomplishes all that God declares.
During this season of Lent, we will consider the theme “Return to the Lord” and examine how the call to return played out in practical ways for the people who walked alongside Christ as He demonstrated and carried out God’s grace and mercy on our behalf, taking God’s wrath upon Himself, setting the stage for God to “turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him” (Joel
Each sermon in this series focuses on a particular event in the Passion, with a special focus on the people involved in the event. Studying the events and people helps to connect the hearers with their own sinful nature, to emphasize how we have turned away from the Lord, and to reinforce and rejoice in God’s call for us to return to Him with all our heart. Ash Wednesday: “A Call to Return”. Joel's prophecy is dark and terrifying, and the imagery is vivid. It sets the stage for God's invitation and promise: "You have turned away from
me in your hearts and minds, and I have now shown you where that path will take you. But it is not too late. Turn back! Return to the Lord! I am gracious and merciful, and I will bless you." This sermon sets the stage for the Lenten path that we will follow together.
Wednesday of Lent 1: "Return to Prayer". This sermon focuses our attention on Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, and explores the topic of prayer. Our prayer life ebbs and flows; we have seasons of abundant prayer and seasons of drought. Throughout all of it, though, Jesus prays consistently. Indeed, “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too
deep for words” (Romans 8:26). When God calls us to pray, He provides the means to do so and even fulfills what we ourselves are unable to do. So also Jesus takes our sins upon Himself and dies on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God and fulfilling what we ourselves are unable to do.
Wednesday of Lent 2: "Return from Betrayal". Judas appears in the in the Garden of Gethsemane and betrays Jesus into the "hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23). This sermon explores the theme of betrayal, specifically the ways that we betray one another and Jesus through our denials and rejection of the faith.
Wednesday of Lent 3: "Return from False Witness". Judas' betrayal brings Jesus before Caiphas and the Council. In this sermon we examine what God actually means in the Eighth Commandment when He said that you should "not bear false witness against your
neighbor?" (Exodus 20:16) and what to do when our failure here leads us away from God. Thankfully, God calls us to turn from our sin, to look to Him, and to find our rest and identity in Him.
Wednesday of Lent 4: "Return from Denial". Peter stands in the courtyard, watching his Lord and master being wrongfully accused, having promised that he was ready to follow Jesus both to prison and to death. But when asked directly, Peter denies Jesus. But Jesus will have the last word. He calls us to return to Him . . . to return from denial. Wednesday of Lent 5: "Return to the Kingdom of God". Pontius Pilate reigns at his Headquarters and is forced to wrestle with the question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), but the real question is “Who is truth?” In this sermon, a King calls us to return to His rule and reign so that He can pour out blessings on us.
Holy (Maundy) Thursday: "Return to the Table". Jesus’ invitation is such that He draws us into a place where we have fellowship with all believers. And yet, our fellowship is stained by sin. Our Lord’s invitation to return is accompanied by His promise to make all things new, when once again we will share the fruit of the vine with Christ Himself.
Good Friday: "Return to Truth". In this sermon, we remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for each of us. Our focus is on the One who is the way, and the truth, and the light, even as He hangs on the cross, wracked with pain and writhing in agony.
Easter Sunday: "Return and See". Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In this sermon we rejoice that our Lord’s call to return was issued so that we might have life in abundance through the one who lived, died, and rose again to secure our salvation.
We will be having our Lenten services on Zoom starting with Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021, with a time of fellowship starting at 6:45pm and worship starting at 7:15pm. We hope to be together again in church for Holy Week services and Easter. We will make those decisions as we get closer to Easter. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
Hindsight is 2020
We have all probably heard and perhaps even spoken the phrase, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” It indicates our inability to see what was coming our way early enough or clearly enough to react appropriately. Only looking back, only in hindsight are we able to see what we should have said or done. Others may use the expression Monday morning quarterbacking. After Sunday’s game is over, then we offer our “wise” suggestions as to what the coach should have done.
This year the phrase, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.”, has been used a lot more frequently. For most of us that phrase has taken on new meaning. We just want the year 2020 to be behind us, in our rear-view mirror, forgotten. The pandemic has turned our lives upside down and hindered or ruined many joyous occasions. It is still looming over us. If we would have just . . . locked down travel from China, locked down our country sooner and harder and longer, if we would have just let the virus play out and not locked down anything, if, if. Even hindsight isn’t twenty-twenty.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. . . . 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb. 11:8-16 ESV)
Thankfully, we live by faith, not by sight. Looking back over this past year there is perhaps one truth we can see with twenty-twenty vision. We are not in control. No matter how clear our vision we cannot remove all the fear, division, hatred, poverty, sickness, or death from this world in which we live. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Our ancestors of faith were not looking back, they didn’t resolve themselves to the only twenty-twenty vision being hindsight. Through God’s Word of promise they saw the baby in the manger, the Christ the Anointed One healing the sick, raising the dead, the Lamb pierced for our transgressions, the Living One standing victorious over sin and death and crushing Satan’s head. “Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. . . . But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Our peace over 2020 and our hope for 2021 doesn’t come from hindsight, but from acknowledging that we are strangers and exiles on the earth, and by, looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7 ESV)
Is Worship Still Worship
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking ofbread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
Acts chapter two gives us a glimpse into how Christians worshiped in the earliest days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. We know that they devoted themselves to hearing and learning what the apostles were teaching them and what is now written down for us in Holy Scripture. We know there was fellowship. Each Christian didn’t just worship alone at home. There was the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or “the breaking of bread.” Prayer was a part of their worship. In verse 41 of this chapter we hear that about 3,000 people were baptized on the day of Pentecost. Baptism was an important part of their worship. Scripture, however, doesn’t go into great detail on the “how” of Christian worship.
What musical instruments are appropriate for worship? What style of song should be used? For two thousand years the central structure of our worship has not changed. The structure of Word and Sacrament has not changed. We devote ourselves to the words of the apostles still today. The reading of their words and preaching of their word is central to our worship. The celebrating of the Lord’s Supper continues, and of course with the very words Jesus used and the apostles used when they celebrated the
Lord’s Supper. “On the night when he was betrayed . . .” We baptize using the exact words that Jesus told the apostles to use in baptizing. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We pray the Lord’s prayer as Jesus taught us to pray. All the things that God is doing in the Divine Service are sure and certain and unchanging. He speaks his sure and certain Word. He gives us his body and blood for our forgiveness. He puts his name on us in the waters of baptism. There is no uncertainty
or change in the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.
Our part in the Divine Service, however, does see variety and change. How we respond to the Lord’s gifts to us has been expressed in a variety of ways throughout the centuries. Through a multitude of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments songs of praise have been played. The church has passed through numerous musical periods or eras each finding expression in the hymns and songs of the Church. All of us are united in our need for the Lord’s forgiveness and united in our faith that through his Word and Sacraments we receive that forgiveness. We are not united, however, in how we express our thanks to God for his gifts. Some like one style of music and others another. Some like one musical instrument and others don’t. With our current pandemic we have been forced to employ new means by which we hear and study God’s Word, and receive the Lord’s Supper, yet by his grace we have not been without his forgiveness, blessings and means of grace.
As we return this month to face to face services our worship will look and sound a little different for a while longer, but what will never change is the Lord’s presence where we gather in his Name and around his Word and Sacraments. Some will continue to worship on Zoom and commune as a family, others will worship in person and commune with other families, and all will receive forgiveness, be blessed by God’s Word, and comforted with the fellowship of one another. During this time of transition please choose for yourself the way you are comfortable and safe worshiping. Please respect everyone’s choice and pace in which we all work our way to a new normal. Some were eager to come back a month ago others will wait for a vaccine, and all will find that God has come all the way down into human flesh so that there is no distance that we must travel to get to God. He meets us in Word and Sacrament to forgive, heal, rescue, and deliver us to life everlasting.
Dressed Up and No Place To Go
I have heard that phrase a lot recently. I think we are all starting to feel that way. After months of quarantine we are all eager to get out of the house and go do simple things. We would like to go to our favorite restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter. Go see a movie. Go on vacation. Even a weekend at the beach seems too dangerous.
We are ready to go places, but there is no place to go! Even school, college, or work would be a relief from sitting around all dressed up and no place to go. As Christians, however, we should be most prepared for a life of patient waiting. From the moment we were baptized we have been clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. We were dressed that day and every day since in the wedding garment freely provided by the King who invited us. (Matthew 22)
We are all dressed up and ready to attend the wedding feast of the Lamb in his Kingdom, that has no end. We wait, and watch, and remain ready, but have no place to go . . . yet. The whole world is getting to experience what we have lived our entire lives, but maybe this is working more for our benefit than theirs. We are intently reminded by this pandemic that we are
waiting for better days. Days of freedom. Days no longer imprisoned in our homes. Days when we once again are oblivious to the possibility that anything like this could ever keep us from the places we want to go and for our whole lives have taken for granted.
Perhaps, we have forgotten our true destination, the place the Lord himself has dressed us and readied us to attend. More than our favorite restaurant, movie theater, or vacation spot we are dressed and ready to go to a place of everlasting freedom, pleasure, and life. I pray the joy of that knowledge will bring you peace and patience in all your waiting.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge--even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you--so that you
are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-8 ESV)
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Martin Luther To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess
In August 1527 the bubonic plague had come to Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther and his wife Katie opened their home as a ward for the sick. The following is part of a letter he wrote to Rev. Johann Hess sharing his faith and advice.
Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.
If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.
No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
Luther demonstrated his faith in God by staying in Wittenberg to help the sick and those in need, but also by obeying sound medical and governmental guidelines and procedures to protect himself and his neighbor. We trust God. We don’t tempt God. That balance is what is called for in our current situation.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. 46:1 ESV)
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Happy Lent! . . . ?
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,46 and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation." Luke 22:44-46
It sounds natural to say, “Merry Christmas!”, or “Happy Easter!”, but how do we express our celebration of Lent? Is Lent even something to be celebrated? It is a time for self-reflection, confession, perhaps fasting or sacrificing some pleasure to remind us of our mortality and Christ’s great sacrifice for us. Normally, however, we don’t associate Lent with a time of celebration or joy, but a time of sorrow and humility. The greeting, “Happy Lent!” doesn’t make its way on to any Hallmark card I have ever seen. Yet without these 40 days of Lent Christmas and Easter and really every other celebration would be hollow and void of any true substance or meaning.
“And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation."”. Jesus’ disciples clearly weren’t too happy about Lent either. Their sorrow and grief over Jesus impending arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial were not how they wanted their Passover celebration to end. Their grief was exhausting. In this dark hour of Lent in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry everything is going to work out just fine.” He didn’t say, “Get some rest because you have a big day ahead of you.” He didn’t say, “Relax and stop stressing out about everything. You are going to be ok. I believe in you.” “Rise and pray.”
Those were his words. “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” When darkness and despair was at its greatest. In Lent’s darkest hour, Jesus did not point his disciples to themselves, but to the One who hears and answers prayer.
Like the disciples we often enter into the temptation to carry the weight and the darkness on our own shoulders. To believe that we are alone in the darkness without help or hope until we are found “sleeping for sorrow”. Lent is not just about focusing on ourselves, our faults, failures, and sins, but a time to, “Rise and pray.” A time to believe and confess that there is One to whom we can raise our prayers, who will listen and answer, and more than that there is a Savior who was there in the dark night of Lent with his disciples, praying, bleeding, dying, and three days later rising victorious over all sin, darkness, and death.
You are not alone this Lent or in any time of darkness, sin, guilt, or even death. Do not enter the temptation to doubt and sleep for sorrow. There is a Champion who came into the darkness for us to end every reason for sorrow and give us hope. Jesus is with you. “Rise and pray.” Happy Lent!
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Eyes on Jesus
O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Gradual for Lent, based on Hebrews 12:2)
When the characters in the Passion narrative look at Jesus, what do they see? In most cases, people misunderstood who He is and what He was doing. In some cases, by faith, people recognized Him aright. Our Lenten series this year, based on the Gospel according to St. Mark, will examine how the various people around Jesus viewed Him—and how we should view Him. We will “fix our eyes” on what Jesus has done to save us from our sins by His holy, precious blood and innocent sufferings and death, and celebrate what God sees on account of His work: our justification for His sake.
On Ash Wednesday, we will see how, in spite of Jesus’ repeated predictions about His upcoming Passion, the disciples with “Misjudging Eyes” fail to recognize that soon He will not be with them, and they cannot see the anonymous woman’s anointing of Jesus as preparation for His burial. But Jesus sees her actions as a beautiful deed that will be proclaimed throughout the world wherever the Gospel is heard.
At our midweek service after the First Sunday of Lent, we will look through Judas’s “Betraying Eyes” and learn why he did this awful deed. Yet the behind-the-scenes-reality is that Jesus was “handed over” (another way of translating the verb for “betray”) by God the Father Himself, so that Jesus could die for the sin of the world.
“Sleepy Eyes” is the theme for the second week of Lent. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John cannot keep their eyes open to watch and pray with Jesus for even an hour, while Jesus comes to see that His Father’s will is that He drink the cup of God’s wrath when He comes to the “hour” of His suffering.
In the third week of Lent, we stare into the “Denying Eyes” of Peter and the other apostles. They could not see how they could ever fall away from Jesus, but after Jesus is betrayed by Judas, ten of them flee, and Peter—when he is spotted by a servant girl and sees that his own neck is on the line—sees fit to deny Jesus, which leads to his own eyes weeping in remorse. We sinners likewise deny our Lord in many ways, but Jesus denied Himself to take up the cross for our salvation.
“Murderous Eyes” is the theme of week 4 in Lent. The chief priests and scribes saw Jesus as an obstacle to be rid of by murdering Him through the Roman judicial system. Yet during the Passover festival, they would unwittingly bring about the Father’s sacrifice of the ultimate Passover Lamb.
In the fifth week of Lent, we look through the “Worldly Eyes” of Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and the Roman soldiers. Pilate can only view matters in a worldly, pragmatic way, wishing to placate the worldly Jewish leaders and crowd, so he consents to handing Jesus over for
crucifixion. The soldiers see the opposite of a worldly king, but their ironic hailing of Him as “King of the Jews” proclaims who He really is. The world looks for power and glory; God’s way is suffering and the cross.
On Maundy Thursday, there is “More Than Meets the Eye” to the Lord’s Supper. We will look into the Old Testament background of the Last Supper and rejoice in the mystery that Jesus, in and with, bread and wine, gives us His body and blood in order to deliver to us the benefits of His Passion.
On Good Friday, we look through “God’s Eyes” to see what is happening during the Passion: the once-for-all atonement for the sin of the whole world and the justification of all sinners on Easter.
Finally, Easter Sunday gazes upon “Angel Eyes.” The angel in the tomb knows the whole story of Jesus’ resurrection. When he sees the women, he proclaims the Gospel to them, shows them where Jesus’ body had formerly lain, and tells them that they can see Jesus themselves in Galilee. Likewise, the “angels” or messengers of the Church in the apostolic ministry tell God’s people where they can find Jesus and His salvation in the Means of Grace.
Eyes on Jesus will continuously focus our eyes on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, buried, and risen for our justification. This is a vision that will never disappoint, for by trusting in Jesus, He promises that we will gaze upon His beautiful face now by faith and forever in heaven!
Join us Wednesday February 26th at 7:15pm for Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes and Holy Communion. For the following 5 Wednesdays we will share a meal at 6:30pm and continue with our Lenten Service at 7:15pm. “O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Everyone His Witness
“…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,…” (1 Pet. 3:15 ESV)
Starting January 5th during our 9:30am Sunday School hour I invite and encourage all our members to join us for a new Lutheran Evangelism study. This is not about making door to door evangelism calls on strangers, but rather a way of preparing yourself to share the reason for the hope that is in you with the people you already know from work, school, neighborhood, or community with whom you already have a relationship. The Everyone His Witness program is designed to equip disciples of Jesus Christ to share the Gospel in their everyday lives with the people whom God has placed into relationships with them.
We will take a look at the theological foundation for witnessing and explore how to witness through an intentional approach called the LASSIE approach. Listen, Ask, Seek, Share, Invite, Encourage. If you have ever had a friend in the hospital or going through a challenging time in their life and not known what to say or do, then Everyone His Witness will be a blessing for you. The focus of this study is not to get more members or grow God’s church. St. Paul writes, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor. 3:5-7 ESV)
We don’t grow God’s Church. We don’t convert people, nor has God commanded us to. We love people, care for people, tell them about Jesus and what he has done for us to give us hope even in our darkest times, and most importantly we speak God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit works to create and nourish faith in our hearts and in the hearts of our friends, coworkers, classmates, and relatives who need a reason for hope in their lives too.
This study is just to cover the basics of witnessing to the people in our everyday lives. There are, however, online modules that you will have access to for learning how to witness specifically to people belonging to a certain world religion, cults, dechurched, unchurched, people experiencing significant life events, and those in the context of mercy work. I pray you will all join us for this important study. We have been so blessed by the people in our lives who shared with us God’s Word, their faith, and the reason they have hope for this life and the life to come. This is your opportunity to be that same blessing for those in your life.
This is the kind of Evangelism Jesus taught, “As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.19 And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mk. 5:18-20 ESV)
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
This Lenten season, we have a fresh opportunity to embrace God’s amazing love for us, His baptized children, in new ways. St. Paul clearly says that “faith comes from hearing” (Romans 10:17), but the Gospel is also communicated through the physical senses of sight, smell, touch, and taste. Jesus mentions that a good teacher not only brings out new treasures but reminds people of old and rich treasures as well. Matthew 13:52, “And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."”
So, each Wednesday in Lent, we will take a weekly journey to concretely see, smell, touch, and taste a number of biblical elements. Our Lenten series is called Promised Treasures. Just as Israel wandered through the wilderness under Moses for forty years, awaiting the Promised Land, we await heaven in the wilderness of this life.
Life as exiles in the wilderness of this world is not easy and pain-free. In this vale of tears, we await our real home, the new promised land of heaven. Until we enter our eternal promised land, however, the Lord calls us to be His light in this dark world (see Colossians 3; Ephesians 4).
This series will begin with ashes, then proceed to salt, water, light, bread, and finally, palms. Then, during Holy Week, the focus shifts toward water and blood, wood, fragrant oil, and finally, on Easter, milk and honey. All these beautiful Old and New Testament elements will remind you of God’s eternal love in Christ, fill you with renewed hope, and increase your joy, knowing that because we are His baptized children, God is near to us now more than ever.
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