Revelation, the Book of Hope

Today's Bible reading: Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-5

 

This, then, brings us to the last book of the Bible.  The Book of Revelation – which is perhaps the least understood (or the most misunderstood) in the entire Scripture - is also the greatest document of Christian hope. The letters to the seven churches that we find in chapters 1–3 appeal to us for faithfulness unto death in the face of lukewarmness, suffering, and false teaching.  Central in the development of Revelation is the picture of heavenly worship in chapters 4 and 5.  Worship - to which suffering believers are called - is the essence of heaven.

The events of history may at times seem to us bewildering – a denial that God is in control … since Satan now seems to be Lord and Prince of this world.  Yet, in the center of that magnificent scene around the heavenly throne, there stands the lamb who alone can open the book with it seals.  Christ is the secret of history.  He calls us to keep our eyes directed to Him.  He promises no easy path through life for us … yet He will finally conquer the old Dragon Satan, and call His saints to their heavenly home.  There - in the new Jerusalem - there will be no more death … no tears.

Thus, the last words of the last book of the Bible echo the cry of God’s saints throughout the centuries: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Will God’s plan for us be perfected in heaven?  Will we be faithful until death and so inherit the crown of eternal life?  We do not trust in our own hoping … our own resolve to be faithful – we can and do fail our Lord.  Our true comfort comes rather from the knowledge that He is always our faithful God.  What God has started He will finish.  ‘He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.’

You are included in God’s incredible plan – from the time of creation … till now … and unto eternity!  You can be sure that He is in control as your almighty and loving Father.  As you wait for God to complete His plan for you, join in the prayer of God’s people: “Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!  This is most certainly true!”  As you reflect on God’s final plan for you and for all His people … I pray that the Holy Spirit would help you to lead a godly life that glorifies Him and serves your neighbor, as you wait in hope for the consummation of His master plan!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Prayer: Loving and Almighty Father, we thank You that You are in control and that we are included in Your Master Plan.  As we await Your final consummation we pray together with all Your people: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is most certainly true!”; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

SEE YOU IN WORSHIP TOMORROW - GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Heresy, the Threat to Hope

Today's Bible reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Since early times the other great threat to hope - which is still just as much of a threat for us today - has been false teaching.  Satan knows that persecution by itself has more often than not strengthen the Church.  As one of ancient saying has it: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Satan has adopted a more subtle strategy to rob believers of hope.  He has tried to replace the “foolishness” and “weakness” of the preaching of the cross with more popular systems based on human wisdom.   He has tried to inject a solid dose of legalism and the Law into the Gospel of free grace.

With the possible exception of Philemon, there is no book of the New Testament which is not both a witness to the truth of Christ and a strong attack against error.  There cannot be white without black!  The waiting church is always the church militant – still struggling to confess the truth in the face of error.

Prayer: Loving and Almighty Father, we thank You that You are in control and that we are included in Your Master Plan.  As we await Your final consummation we pray together with all Your people: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is most certainly true!”; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Hope in Suffering

Today's Bible reading: 2 Peter 3:1-14

In Christ there is hope in the midst of death … hope in the midst of suffering.  Even among early believers - who were so close to Jesus’ resurrection itself -  the fires of hope could become cold.  Some of the great letters of the New Testament - Philippians, Hebrews, 1 Peter - are written to lift believer’s sights beyond their present sufferings to the future glory awaiting them in heaven.  They had soon found out that their calling meant that they would be hated by the world which regard them as oddities, as social misfits in a world which believed in many gods, in many religions – (sounds familiar, doesn’t it –  the more things change, the more things stay the same).  They were going through the painful discovery that Christian faith meant hostility from nonbelievers, just as Jesus had warned.

Further, the longer Christ delayed His second coming, the more these believers became the victims of taunts and insults like “Where is the promise of His coming?”   In this situation it was vital that Christians should make sure that they didn’t suffer for the wrong reasons – as wrongdoers or criminals.  It should be their joy to suffer innocently for Christ, who had Himself suffered innocently.

Prayer: Loving and Almighty Father, we thank You that You are in control and that we are included in Your Master Plan.  As we await Your final consummation we pray together with all Your people: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is most certainly true!”; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The Final Basis of Hope

Today's Bible reading: John 11:20-27

This encouragement from Peter reminds us of the final basis for a Christian hope: Christ’s own resurrection.  In his great resurrection chapter - one of my favorite chapters in the Bible … and a chapter that is repeatedly quoted from at funerals – 1 Corinthians 15 - Paul reminds the Corinthian’s that faith is futile … sin unconquered, if Christ has not been raised from the dead.  In fact, if Christ is nothing more than some dead teacher, Christians would be the most miserable creatures of all – pinning their hopes on a liean illusiona pipe dream.  However, Paul than adds this magnificent proclamation: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  He is the first fruits of a magnificent resurrection crop!  His new life is the promise of ours ... when the last enemy - death - will be destroyed.  So Paul can sing a taunting resurrection song … mocking death and the power that leads to it: sin and the law.  Christ’s victory over death means that those who believe in Him will never die.

Prayer: Loving and Almighty Father, we thank You that You are in control and that we are included in Your Master Plan.  As we await Your final consummation we pray together with all Your people: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is most certainly true!”; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Perfection Perfected

Today's Bible reading: 1 Peter 1:3-12

 

In Christ we have everything – all that we could ever need.  Nothing in life or death can separate us from God’s love when we have Christ who is God-with-us.  Faith accepts God’s judgment that we are free from sin … the curse of the law … the accusations of the devil … and death itself – when we are hidden in the perfect obedience of Christ, who is our perfection.  God never gives any imperfect gift; therefore, we are God’s perfect saints now – but only in faith. As Romans 8:24 says: “For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But as we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Yet the perfection we now hold must still be perfected – this is the “not yet.”   We know we still sin … we know the reality of physical death as we stare through our tears into graves of our loved ones. The imperfection of our human existence points toward that time when God must destroy all that gets in the way of our perfect union with Him.  However, the real basis of our hope is God’s own promise through His Son.  Jesus spoke of the “mansions in heaven” - the living places - He was about to prepare for those who remained in Him.  St. Paul continually holds before us the vision of that eternal inheritance which will be ours if we suffer with our Lord.  In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself.”

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the saints of the Old Testament whose faith was a powerful witness to the truth that all believers desire a “better country, that is a heavenly one” … while St. Peter urges those who are strangers and exiles in this world not to forget that they are God’s family destined for a perfect inheritance in heaven.

Prayer: Loving and Almighty Father, we thank You that You are in control and that we are included in Your Master Plan.  As we await Your final consummation we pray together with all Your people: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is most certainly true!”; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Already But Not Yet

Today's Bible reading: 1 Thess. 5:1-11

“Already but not yet” is a phrase that summarizes our Christian situation … our Christian existence. “Already but not yet” is a paradoxical phrase that captures a theme running throughout the New Testament.  Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom had already come with His preaching and miracles … yet He also taught His disciples to pray: “Thy Kingdom come.”  “Already but not yet.”  He spoke of Himself as the humble Son of Man present among men … yet also pointed to the hour of His future coming in glory.  “Already but not yet.”  He taught that those who believe in Him have already passed from death to life … yet also spoke of the hour when the dead would be raised from their graves.  “Already but not yet.”

St. Paul never tired of preaching the perfect gift of justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus – which is ours now … but in the same breath point forward to that final moment of salvation at Christ’s return.  “Already but not yet.”

Prayer: Loving and Almighty Father, we thank You that You are in control and that we are included in Your Master Plan.  As we await Your final consummation we pray together with all Your people: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is most certainly true!”; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Pastoral Letters 2

Today's Bible reading: 1 John 1:1-4

Hebrews was written by an unknown author to plead with believers not to lose hope and faith in suffering.  Suffering is also the background of 1 Peter, which reminds readers in Asia minor that they are members of God’s family by Baptism and destined for an incorruptible inheritance – even though they are despised strangers and pilgrims in this world.  James teaches mature Christian wisdom as the practical way of showing praise to God.  1, 2, 3 John, 2 Peter and Jude all show the struggle for truth against error in the early church.

All of these writings are still the living Word of the Lord to His growing church.  They continue to lay the only foundation of faith: Christ the Lord.

And this is where we come in.  Through Holy Baptism, you and I have been made members of Christ’s Family … “living stones” in His house – in His growing temple.  He has saved us from sin and death so that we might be the “living stones” he has made us to be.

May the Holy Spirit use you as His instrument so that you might continue to grow in His grace, restore anyone who may have fallen away and together rejoice in God’s gifts of sins forgiven, eternal life and salvation.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, forgive our prejudices and teach us to see Your Son in every Christian.  Help us to abandon our self-confidence and rejoice in Your grace alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

SEE YOU IN WORSHIP TOMORROW - GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Pastoral Letters 1

Today's Bible reading: 1 John 1:1-4

From Paul and his mission, I would like to turn together to his writings – his letters to the early Christian communities as well as to individuals.  Though 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus have come to be known particularly as the Pastoral Epistles, in reality, all of Paul’s letters are truly pastoral.  In is in his letters that we see Paul the pastor at work … carefully nurturing the tender faith of young congregations, correcting errors, warning against false teachers. 1 & 2 Thessalonians were written to correct wrong ideas and give answers to questions relating to the second coming of the Lord.  Galatians was penned in order to save young churches from lapsing back into Jewish legalism, which would destroy the Gospel of free grace.  In his two letters to the Corinthians, Paul has to fight for his apostolic authority, while counteracting evil forces at work which threaten the unity of the congregation.  Ephesians is beautiful circular letter on the nature of the Church as God’s people, in which the old barriers between God and man and between Jew and Gentile have been broken down.  Colossians warns against the errors of those who are teaching a new philosophy which attacks the Lordship of Christ.  It was written in the same time as Philemon, in which Paul pleads for a runaway slave to be accepted back by his master.  Philippians is the letter of joy, written to encourage Paul’s favorite congregation.  The Pastorals show Paul’s concern for true doctrine and strong pastoral oversight in the church, while Romans is Paul’s fullest and deepest statement of the Gospel.  This important letter was meant to introduce Paul to the Christians in far-off Rome, before he began, as he hoped, a new missionary campaign to the west.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, forgive our prejudices and teach us to see Your Son in every Christian.  Help us to abandon our self-confidence and rejoice in Your grace alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Paul's Strategy

Today's Bible reading: Romans 15:23-33

It’s an amazing fact, that - after working in the eastern half of the Roman empire for little more than a decade - Paul was looking for another mission field in the west.  He wrote to the Romans asking them to provide a base of operations for this new venture.  How was it that Paul’s ministry was so effective?  From the account in Acts we know that Paul preached with boldness to all classes of people.  He always began by preaching to the Jews in the town he was visiting.  Though a few believed, the rejection of the Gospel by most of them confirmed his calling as apostle to the Gentiles.  Here was where he had his great success.  Not even suffering stood in the way of the mission – it rather furthered the growth of the Church.

Yet the real success of Paul’s mission - and that of the other apostles and missionaries of whom we know so little - lay in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul preached Christ crucified and risen … he appointed local leaders to carry-on his work … and then left the rest to the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, forgive our prejudices and teach us to see Your Son in every Christian.  Help us to abandon our self-confidence and rejoice in Your grace alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The Authority of Paul

Today's Bible reading: Romans 15:14-22

A few weeks ago we talked about how the full title of Acts is actually the Acts of the Apostles … but that a better or more appropriate title might actually be the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  If we remember that Acts really describes the Acts of the Holy Spirit, we don’t find it surprising that Paul and Barnabas are sent out on their journey from Antioch by the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who directs their steps from now on.

Already in the first of Paul’s three journeys, we see the development of certain key features of Paul’s work which stamp his whole life.  He goes out as one who is not a member of the original band of apostles in Jerusalem.  He has to struggle to be recognized as an apostle.  Yet the account in Acts makes it quite clear that he is equal to Peter the apostle, who is the main character in Acts 1–12:

Both Peter and Paul heal a lame man … they both overcome a magician … both are agents of divine punishment … both raise a dead person … both have supernatural powers … both drive out demons … both give the Spirit with the laying on of hands … both are miraculously freed from captivity … both have to reject wrong worship … both make good confessions before judges who cannot convict him of crime … both find a reluctant ally among the judges … both preach boldly the name of Christ, the risen Lord.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, forgive our prejudices and teach us to see Your Son in every Christian.  Help us to abandon our self-confidence and rejoice in Your grace alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Paul the Pastor

Today's Bible reading: Galatians 1:1-24

As we turn our attention to St. Paul, Scripture reminds us that He wasn’t a novice when he began his great missionary journeys.  After His conversion he spent over two years in Arabia.  After a brief visit to Jerusalem he spent about 13 years in his hometown - Tarsus - before being called to work at Antioch with Barnabas for about a year.  In all these years - about which we hear so little - Paul may possibly have kept busy preaching and teaching – certainly, during this time he was working out the meaning of the truth that he had learned on the Damascus Road.  As we see later, his missionary work and his letters show the fruit of those long years of preparation.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, forgive our prejudices and teach us to see Your Son in every Christian.  Help us to abandon our self-confidence and rejoice in Your grace alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The House that God Built

Today's Bible reading: Ephesians 2:19-22

What are some important images or pictures for the Church that we find in God’s Word?  The Church is the Family of God.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  We find another popular New Testament image for the Church in our Epistle reading for this morning: God’s house.  In Old Testament times, God was present for His people in the Tabernacle … later the Temple.  But now He is building a greater temple in which He dwells through the person of His Spirit.

Christ is the keystone which binds the whole building together – with the apostles and prophets as the foundation.  Paul here refers to the two ministries through which God spoke directly to His New Testament people.  In the final analysis, however, the apostles and prophets - while foundational members of the early church - were considered to lay only one true foundationJesus Christ HimselfThe whole of the New Testament contains the apostolic and prophetic Word of the Lord through which He continues to build His Church.

The picture of the Church as a growing temple reminds us of the truth described in greater detail in 1 Peter 2:4–10.  To a temple belong priests and sacrifices.  God’s plan reaches its goal not merely with our personal salvation, but with the formation of the people whose great function is to act as a royal priesthood – offering the sacrifice of witness to God’s mighty acts and His Son.  God has perfected His plan for us when our whole life as Church is dedicated to His praise.

Prayer: Almighty Lord, forgive our prejudices and teach us to see Your Son in every Christian.  Help us to abandon our self-confidence and rejoice in Your grace alone; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

United In Christ

Today's Bible reading: Ephesians 2:11-14

Ephesians 2:11–14 is a key Bible passage that picks up on this theme … emphasizing how Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ.  Speaking to Christians who came from a pagan background, Paul reminds his readers that they were once in a position marked by separation and alienation.  They were foreigners not only to Jews … but also to God – just as each and every one of us is by nature as well.  The sacrifice of Christ has meant an end to the sad situation of two peoples looking at each other over a wall of hatred and distrust.  God has broken down the wall separating Jew and Gentile – not just by getting them to shake hands … but, rather, by first bringing them back to peace with God Himself.  That’s why Christ and His sacrifice is the source of oneness between peoples of all nations“He is our peace” with God.  The old distinctions have no meaning in the Church: we are all a part of Christ’s one body.  May the Holy Spirit bless you with the ability to see Him in every Christian.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SEE YOU IN WORSHIP TOMORROW - GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The Conversion of Cornelius

Today's Bible reading: Acts 10:1 - 11:1

The story of the conversion of Cornelius is arguably the turning point in the Book of Acts.  Cornelius belongs to the Roman Garrison at Caesarea – headquarters of Roman rule in Palestine.  He is also a pious “God-fearer” and respected by the local Jews – but still he is a Roman!

It’s interesting to contrast the behavior of Cornelius with the behavior of Peter.  Cornelius receives a vision to send for Simon Peter, and acts promptly.  Peter also receives a vision, but needs to be given more than once – and even then, it’s not certain that he really “gets it.”  The apostle is still scratching his head - puzzling what the cloth filled with unclean animals and the command to eat them might mean - when Cornelius’s men knock at the door.  It takes a special word from the Spirit to set him in motion.

By the time the group gets back to Caesarea, the truth has at last sunk in for Peter.  God is removing the barriers which divide Jew and non-Jew – “God shows no partiality.”  At this point, Peter needs no further urging to preach Jesus.  His short sermon is a beautiful summary of the Gospel and its origins – not only with regard to Jesus ministry, death, and resurrection … but also in connection with the promises made through the prophets of the Old Testament. As if unable to wait for Peter to finish preaching, the Spirit falls on all the Gentiles gathered in the home of Cornelius.  Peter and his six Jewish-Christian companions now have proof that these Gentiles are clean.  Their speaking in tongues clearly shows that they have received the same gift of the Holy Spirit as Jewish believers did at Pentecost.  There can be no objection to any Gentile being considered as a full member of the Church once he or she has come to faith and been baptized.  That’s also the lesson of Peter’s last words in the Book of Acts: all people are one in Christ by the power of His Spirit.

Prayer: Lord, give us Your Word, that our thankfulness points many to Your grace.  Amen

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Saul, Apostle for the Gentiles

Today's Bible reading: Acts 9:1-31

Saul’s conversion is an event that is unique in more ways than one.  Though Luke allows Paul to tell his own story again later on in the Book of Acts … this account in its present position points to the growth of the Church’s Gentile mission.

Saul - this persecutor of God’s Church … “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” -  is stopped dead in his tracks … taken captive by the very Lord whose subjects he is trying to take captive.  Struck blind, he is lead into Damascus … and there meets a believer named Ananias.  As we heard read in our First Reading this morning, this man has first received some staggering information from the Lord in a vision.  Saul - the persecutor with blood on his hands - has been chosen to carry Christ’s name to the Gentile world.  He who has caused so much suffering to Christ’s saints will himself be called to learn the joy of suffering in the service of that name.

Once the Spirit fills Saul, he is a transformed man.  More than physical scales fall from his eyes.  He now sees and preaches the greatest truth: Jesus is the Son of God.  It’s no wonder that his previous employers - the Jewish leaders - are soon out to kill him.  Saul - later called Paul - is no coward.  In both Damascus and Jerusalem, he shows the genuineness of his faith and calling by boldly preaching and disputing the truth.

Due to Paul’s past, Christians are understandably suspicious of him.  Due to his new faith, enemies of the Christian faith plot to kill him.  Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit brings Paul to other believers who help him escape each time.  Today - through the power of the Gospel - the Church continues to grow.  The Lord will likewise watch over the future of our congregation, here at Holy Cross.  Our job - and our privilege - is to proclaim Christ … and trust our Savior to care for us and bless us with the results in accordance with His gracious will.

Prayer: Father, through Your Word, strengthen me in Christ.  Make me, like those who assisted Saul, faithful in serving the proclamation of the Gospel.  Amen

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Today's Bible reading: Acts 8:26-40

This account not only illustrates the sudden spread of the Gospel beyond Jewish borders … it also highlights the motivating power behind the expansion.  It’s the Spirit who leads Philip to meet the Eunuch.  This African man has been in Jerusalem to worship in the Temple and is apparently a God-fearer – a Gentile who has learned of the true God and His Word from Jews that he has come in contact with.  It’s also the Spirit who terminates this meeting after the man has been baptized.  Luke again shows how the Scriptures of the Old Testament proclaim Christ – in this instance as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.  That this African is truly a believer cannot be doubted – he goes on his way rejoicing … and - just as for us in our lives -  joy is the mark of one who has heard the Gospel!

Prayer: Father, through Your Holy Spirit, rekindle my desire to read and hear Your Word, acknowledge Your gifts in Baptism, and respond with joy and care for others.  Amen

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The Samaritan Pentecost

Today's Bible reading: Acts 8:4-17

It was persecution - following Stephen’s death - which changed the vision of the first believers.  As often in the Church’s history, suffering meant sudden new growth – but not the kind of growth expected.

In Acts, chapter 8, we learn of Philip - one of the seven deacons – who goes to Samaria and soon finds himself in a head on clash with a local wonderworker named Simon, who claims to be acting by some supernatural power.  But Simon can’t match the power of Jesus name – either in the form of Philip’s preaching of the Kingdom … or his miracles.  The end result is that many Samaritans come to faith and are baptized – including Simon!

Given the long-standing hatred between Jews and Samaritans, this event is nothing less than staggering.  It represents such a massive breakthrough that the believers in Jerusalem send Peter and John as their representatives to Samaria to confirm what has happened.  In the final event, it is the Spirit who confirms that the Samaritans are fully members of God’s peoplethe Church.  They receive the Spirit in a special outpouring, which parallels the strange events at Pentecost when Jews became believers.  The program of Jesus is being followed by the Spirit.  A new harvest in the non-Jewish world is being opened up.

Prayer: Father, all too often I have treated Your grace as something I could earn.  Forgive me for Jesus' sake, and let Your Holy Spirit work mightily in my life, that I might imitate Philip and proclaim Your Word of life.  Amen

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The Gospel for Gentiles?

Today's Bible reading: Acts 1:1-18

We take it as a given: the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people.  So we may scratch our heads and wonder: how was it that the early church was rather slow in grasping this truth … and acting on it?  Early believers could be excused to some extent for still thinking in nationalistic terms … after all, hadn’t Jesus come to restore Israel – God’s people?  We know that Jesus certainly had dealings with outsiders – like Samaritans and a non-Jewish woman.  But had He not implied that the woman was a “dog” – i.e. not one of God’s children?  Again, the many converts at Pentecost and afterwards were still Jews, even if many were Greek-speaking people from the dispersion.

Prayer: Lord, increase of faith in Jesus' past, present and future triumph, and make us bold witnesses to him in every facet of our lives.  Amen

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

The First Martyr

Today's Bible reading: Acts 6:1 - 8:3

 

Stephen was chosen to serve as a deacon to help with the distribution of goods to the poor.  But before long we find this man also involved in the essential task of the church: witnessing to Jesus Christ.  It’s important to note that Luke four times stresses that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit.  As a Greek speaking Jewish Christian, He has the opportunity to witness to Greek speaking Jews in Jerusalem.  Soon, however, he is accused of blasphemy, specifically of attacking the law of Moses and the Temple.

Stephen’s speech takes up almost an entire chapter in ACTS – chapter 7.  Part of the reason for this is his thorough summary of Israel’s history.  However, two themes emerge as well.  God’s dealings with Israel from the days of the patriarchs on were meant to lead Israel to true worship.  But Israel rejected even Moses – its greatest God-given leader.  Again, instead of keeping to the true worship of God, the people turn to false worship.  It is Stephen’s accusers who - together with the whole people - stand accused of rejecting Moses and true worship.  Stephen concludes his lengthy sermon saying: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”  By rejecting Moses, the people reject God.  Israel’s continuing refusal to follow God ended in their dismissal of God’s Son.  However, the Good News for us is that Jesus took upon Himself the sins of all people, that we would be reconciled to God the Father.  In Holy Baptism, He gives us new hearts and pours out His Spirit for us.

Stephen is stoned to death for proclaiming the good news … and in his final moments we are reminded of our Lord’s own final moments.  Stephen suffered at the hand of unjust judges who have to use false witnesses.  Above all, He prays for His persecutors as Jesus had done.  He sees in death the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand in glory – not sitting.  His Lord has already risen from His seat to welcome the martyr home!

The account of this first martyrdom ends with the brief reference to a certain Saul who was witness to this event.  Luke subtly hints at the truth that this death - and the scattering of the Christians which follows - was the beginning of even wider witness in the future.  Death lead to greater life – for people way beyond Jerusalem, including you and me!  

Prayer: Lord, may we, like Stephen, never falter when under attack for You.  Amen.

SEE YOU IN WORSHIP TOMORROW - GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!

Boldness!

Today's Bible reading: Acts 5:17-42

The Holy Spirit was on the move in the early Church … the Church was imperfect, but there was KOINONIA … there was power and healing and salvation in Jesus’ name.  Incredible things were happening!  I suppose if there is one word to describe the attitude of the apostles in these early days of the New Testament Church it is “boldness.”  Even when arrested and hauled before the Jewish Council, these simple Galileans - untrained in the law - have the courage to speak out openly and boldly.  When ordered not to preach “the name” any longer, they insist that they must speak what they know is the truth, obeying God rather than man.  Obviously this isn’t simply raw human courage at work.  These are people who are living out the promise of Jesus, who foretold that they would be persecuted for their faith, but that they would be given the right words and the wisdom to answer their judges.

Such boldness does not mean escape from suffering.  Despite Gamaliel’s counsel that the Christians should not be persecuted - because time would show whether this new sect was of God or not - the apostles are beaten and again ordered to stop their preaching of the name.  Yet such suffering only gives them joy and is the prelude to even greater preaching of Christ – preaching that touches us and strengthens and nourishes us even today … just as it has for Christians through the millennia.

Prayer: Lord, fill us with all due reverence for You and Your mysteries.  Stretch forth Your hand to heal the sicknesses of our bodies and souls.  Amen.

GOD BLESS YOUR DAY!