Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #29 – Judged for What You Eat or Drink

Feasting with God # 29

Judged for What You Eat or Drink

Text: Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23

16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ….  20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

When Jesus said, “Judge not” (Matt. 7:1), it is commonly believed that he meant, “Don’t judge other people for their religion or lifestyle, just because it’s radically different from yours.”  But Jesus wasn’t speaking about interfaith relations; he was talking about how Christians should relate to other Christians.  And this passage from Colossians speaks to the same thing.

There were those in the early church who believed that Christians should hold to all sorts of Old Testament laws, such as fasting on certain days, avoiding certain foods, not working on the Sabbath, observing certain festivals.  They were openly condemning those believers who ate shellfish or pork (Lev. 11:7, 12).  But Paul wrote to some of these Christians and encouraged them to “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink.”  Aside from the fact that Peter had received a vision from God, where God showed him all sorts of animals that had once been considered unclean and told him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat….  What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:13, 15), so that these “unclean” animals were now explicitly allowed to be eaten, Paul proves that all these Levitical laws, about diet, festival observances, fasting, resting, etc., were only “a shadow of the things to come.”  All these laws point to Christ, and in Christ they were all fulfilled, brought to their conclusion.

This is like someone who has a copy of the blueprints for their new house.  Currently their living situation is not the greatest, so they’re excited about this building, their new home.  They have the blueprints framed so they can look at them every day.  Then, finally, when the building is done, instead of joyfully going into their new home, they stay where they are, because they’d prefer to look at the blueprints.  All these Old Testament laws were the blueprints of salvation, things that pointed to how salvation would be accomplished, but they were not themselves that salvation.  So it would be ridiculous, once that salvation was accomplished in Christ, to hold onto what was supposed to point to him instead, just as it would be ridiculous to prefer the blueprints to the actual house.

Of course, there’d be nothing wrong for that new homeowner to take the framed blueprints into his new house, to have them framed, so that he could always remember how he got to where he was.  Just as it’s not wrong for us now, to remind ourselves how our salvation was achieved, to avoid certain foods, to take a day of rest (whether Saturday, as it was originally, or Sunday, when Christians traditionally worship now), or to keep any of these other laws.  The problem comes in when we start to focus on them, to believe they have some intrinsic merit for our salvation—and the problem really comes in when we judge others for not observing the Levitical laws we choose to.

Jesus freed us from these laws.  Yes, we will want to live our lives now in a way that pleases our God, out of thanks for the salvation he has accomplished for us, but we should be aware of which laws are good and right for all Christians to keep (i.e. the Moral Law: the Ten Commandments), and which are now obsolete because they were only a shadow of the substance which is Christ (i.e. the Civil and Ceremonial Laws).  It becomes easy, if we focus on keeping this or that Old Testament law, to puff ourselves up with pride, creating “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion.”  But this is no replacement for true religion.

Therefore, if you choose to avoid pork, to not work on Sundays, to observe new moon festivals, that is well and good for your personal devotional life, but it must not be imposed on your fellow Christians.  Instead, recognize, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).  Recognize that Jesus fulfilled all laws, and our lives now are merely to be lives of thanks for his grace, given to us because of his death on the cross for all our sins, through the waters of baptism, his Holy Meal, and the very Word which proclaims us free.

Guide us to realize that we are free, O Lord; free from the power of sin, free from all law, free from damnation to hell, and all on account of your Son’s death on the cross, paying for our sins.  Lead us in our devotional lives now to always look to that Son, so that everything helps us to focus on him.  Lead us also not to judge our fellow Christians if their devotional choices are not the same as ours, but instead help us to point one another always to that same one and only Savior.  In that Savior’s name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #28 – God’s Word Provides

Feasting with God #28

God’s Word Provides

Text: Isaiah 55:10-11

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

As a student in elementary school, I remember learning with awe about the water cycle.  The water on the earth—in oceans, rivers, lakes, puddles—evaporates in the heat of the sun, becoming water vapor, which rises up into the sky, and gathers together there in clouds.  Then, when the conditions are right, the clouds overflow and burst, raining or snowing onto the earth.  Then the cycle repeats itself.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God uses this water cycle as an illustration for the way his Word works.  When it rains or snows, the water eventually does evaporate once again, but not without the ground being watered by it.  Think of the way the air feels and smells when you go outside after it has rained.  Even if the water has already begun to evaporate, you can see the effect.  You know the rain has been there.

God’s Word works the same way.  He sends it out, and it has an effect, so that those nearby know it has been there.  Think of how God created the world: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).  God’s Word had an effect.  Think of what happened when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.  When they told him who they were looking for, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am he [literally: “I AM”].’…When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:5-6).  Jesus’ Word had an effect.  Think also of when the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant: Jesus offered to come to the house and heal him there, “But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:8-9).  So Jesus said the word, and it was done.  His Word had an effect.

That centurion really understood what God’s Word could do, and what God wanted his Word to do.  The rain waters the earth, and this may cause flooding and destruction, but its true purpose is “making [the earth] bring forth and sprout, / giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.”  Rain provides growth, food, and life.  In the same way God’s Word provides nourishment and eternal life.  When God’s Word is preached, it may sometimes be with the destructive, disciplining hammer of the Law, showing us how we have disobeyed God’s commands, how we have offended him and our fellow men with our thoughts, words, and actions; but what God really intends as the purpose of his Word is that it give us the message of his Son, Jesus, who paid the price for all those sins on the cross, who won for us eternal life.  God’s Word gives us faith in that Savior, promises us life in connection with him, and encourages us in that faith and life.  This is what God’s Word accomplishes.

Lord God, we thank you that you have sent your Word to teach us your Law, so that we may realize our spiritual thirst, and also to bless us with your Gospel, so that our thirst may be quenched.  Lead us always to return to that one sure source of spiritual nourishment, and strengthen our faith through it so that we may come to realize fully the blessings of eternal life, forgiveness, and salvation won for us in your Son.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #27 – A Banquet in Paradise

Feasting with God #27

A Banquet in Paradise

Text: Genesis 2:15-17

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  16And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Can you picture what life was like in the garden of Eden?  It’s difficult to do so, because we have to put it into terms we understand.  Adam and Eve “worked” the garden.  When we think of work, we think of hours clocking in and out, toiling and laboring to make a buck.  Perhaps we enjoy our jobs, but there are still bad days when we come home exhausted and sore and dread having to go back the next morning.  Many people enjoy gardening, working the ground, getting dirt under their fingernails, being in nature.  But even so, mosquitoes bite, the hard ground makes our knees sore, the sun burns our skin.  The garden work in Eden was without any of this exhaustion or soreness.  That’s hard to picture.

A life without hunger and thirst is hard to picture as well.  Adam and Eve surely never felt hunger pains before the Fall, never were so parched that their lips cracked.  Why would they have the need to eat, then?

God gave our first parents the run of the garden, telling them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden.”  The world was new!  Adam was experiencing this paradise with the eyes of a newborn.  Imagine how those colors must have struck him, how beautiful!  Think of his other senses: all the sounds of the birds and beasts, of the rivers that came through the garden, the wind blowing through the trees!  All the sensations against his hands, of cool water, warm sunlight, soft animal fur and flower petals, smooth stone!  All the smells, of mud, of flowers and fruits!  He of course would be curious to experience God’s world with all his senses, including the sense of taste.

Imagine tasting an apple for the first time, an orange, a pomegranate, a strawberry.  Adam could explore this home, tasting every part of the banquet God provided for him.  His life would be filled with discovery and rediscovery, never growing tired of the task, never struggling to satisfy a hunger he never felt, never growing uncomfortable because of the food he ate.

God never meant for us to feel hunger-pains.  But the boundary he set—“of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”—was broken by Adam and Eve.  Therefore the result of their trespass broke in—“in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  Death has entered God’s perfect world, because of sin.  Therefore all God’s creation is corrupt.  The creatures who once lived in peace now hunt and kill one another.  The water that bubbled softly through the rivers to irrigate the garden now floods and drowns.  The food that was once a source only of enjoyment and discovery and fellowship now becomes a necessity for staving off death, sometimes causes stomachache, and is never quite enough, for all men die.

By corrupting the gift God gave man of food and eating, mankind has corrupted all of God’s gifts.  But thanks be to God that he did not abandon us to our fate; instead he immediately began working restoration.  In his Son, Jesus, he took all the corruption of the world onto himself and paid the price for our trespass, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).  To provide for us the blessings of that payment, among other things (the Word, Baptism), Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, a fellowship meal of his true body and blood that feeds our souls for eternity.  With it also comes the promise of a new paradise in heaven, which is frequently referred to as a great banquet (Luke 14:7-24).

Dear Lord, we have corrupted all the gifts you have given us, and we have brought death and sin into your perfect world.  But despite our wrongdoing, you have provided a way for us to receive new blessings once again, in the work of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Lead us to an ever firmer faith in that Son, and feed us always on the great blessings of your Word and Sacraments, until we may come into the new banquet in paradise with you for all eternity.  In the name of that Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #26 – Filled with New Wine

Feasting with God #26

Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-6, 12, 13

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak his own language….  12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Pentecost, the event which comes 50 days after Easter, is significant for Christians as the occasion when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and gave them the ability to communicate to people of all different languages, in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations.  This was to fulfill the promise of Jesus, when he said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).  What a joyful time, when those who had learned the truth from Jesus were made able to share that truth with others!

But many, as we see, thought that the disciples were drunk; that’s why they mocked and said, “They are filled with new wine.”  This accusation was absurd, of course, as Peter pointed out when he began to preach: “For these people are not drunk as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15).  It was too early for them to have been imbibing any wine.  Besides this, drunkenness does not usually yield the result of being able to speak other languages.

Instead, as Peter went on to prove, this was the fulfillment of a prophecy: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).  The disciples were not drunk, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, as foretold, in order to bring the Gospel to the people, so that many might be saved.

And yet, we might say that these disciples were indeed “filled with new wine,” in a manner of speaking.  Cyril of Jerusalem, a church father of the early 4th century, illustrated: “In truth the wine was new, even the grace of the New Testament; but this new wine was from a spiritual Vine, which had oftentimes [before] this borne fruit in Prophets, and had budded in the New Testament.”[1]  These disciples were not drunk on some literal alcoholic beverage, but on the pure grace of God as found in the Gospel.  Because of their salvation, and because of the power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in them on account of their faith, they were raving, but not randomly as with usual drunkenness.  They were raving under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the same Gospel that gave them hope and strength.

But this wine of the Gospel was also not entirely new: as Cyril says, it began with the Prophets, with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—this Gospel wine was even heralded in the ears of our first parents Adam and Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  This is the Gospel of the one man, the offspring of our ancient grandmother, who won the victory over all evil, over sin, death, and Satan himself, and was bitten by that same serpent as he died on the cross.  Jesus is the center of this Gospel, who lived the life we couldn’t, died the death we deserved, and rose to the new life he promises us.  And this Jesus was also the center of the message that the disciples proclaimed, drunk on its wine.

Dear Jesus, since you have won all things for us by defeating all our enemies, send upon us your Holy Spirit, to strengthen us in the faith of your Gospel, and to enable us to proclaim the same message to others.  This is your will, and we ask it in your name.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

[1] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, ed. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Series 2.  Vol. 7.  New York: The Christian Literature Series, 1890-99.  Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1952, 1961, 128

Feasting with God #25 – Rivers of Living Water

Feasting with God #25

Rivers of Living Water

Text: John 7:37-39

37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Today marks the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, 40 days after Easter.  We read in the Gospel account that, after these 40 days, teaching and appearing to people and performing miracles, Jesus took his disciples and “led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).  But he left with a command and a promise: Luke records that he said, “You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (24:48-49).  Matthew records these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The command was this: Tell others what you have seen.  The promise was this: You will have God present with you in this task.

Jesus promises the same thing in the text from John, although he said these words a good while before his ascension, even before his crucifixion.  He states the task—“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”—and connects with it the promise—“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Spiritually, we in our nature are dying of thirst; our soul is a cracked desert where nothing can live.  The only way to bring life to these dry souls is by the living water of Jesus Christ: he it is who suffered the hell we deserved, dying on the cross and being forsaken by God.  By that act he opened up the stores of God’s grace, and as the water and blood flowed from his side when the centurion pierced it (John 19:34), mercy and forgiveness flow to us when we are baptized in water, when we drink the refreshment of Jesus’ blood in the Lord’s Supper, when we hear the cool words of grace in the Bible.

That is how we are saved.  When we come to faith, all God’s gifts—grace, forgiveness, eternal life—come into our possession: they are ours!  And with them as well comes the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts so long as we have faith.  This Spirit Jesus promised to his disciples, to his followers, once his work on earth had been completed: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  Jesus accomplished our salvation, and, his work done, he left our presence visibly.  Because he left, he could send the “other Helper,” who is the Holy Spirit.  This event we see on Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the disciples like tongues of fire and they were able to speak so that those of many languages could understand.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit: he speaks through us, turning us into fountains of living water.  We received the water from Jesus’ side through the means of grace—the Word and Sacraments—and having received that, the Spirit dwells in us, so that we can share that living water with the rest of the thirsty world.  That is the task we are given, but we are given the promise of the one who makes us able to accomplish it.  We are saved, and that makes us able to perform the work of salvation, nourishing the souls of others.

O Holy Spirit, bring the refreshing waters of grace upon us every day, so that we never go thirsty.  Lead us constantly back to the sure forgiveness we have on account of Jesus Christ, and lead us then to take those cool waters to others in need.  All this we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #24 – Spiritual Milk

Feasting with God #24

Spiritual Milk

Text: Hebrews 5:11-14

11About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, 13for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  14But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Instruction in God’s Word is a never-ending process.  Learning the doctrines of God, hearing his truths, growing in faith is lifelong, it is being fed with spiritual food.  Just as your body will wither away and die if you stop eating, so your soul will wither and fall into spiritual death if you stop hearing God’s Word.

But you don’t offer a rich juicy steak to babies, or lobster, or caviar, or casserole.  Babies need a different food than adults do.  Babies need milk.  The same thing is true spiritually, and that is what our text is about.  The spiritually immature—the new converts or young believers—or even the spiritually sick—those in danger of falling away—should be fed on spiritual milk, the simpler and more basic foods.  One whose stomach is not prepared to digest the more complex foods may become sick, may fall into doubt, fear, or even pride or self-righteousness.  If they have not been raised into maturity on the milk, they may not be prepared for the more mature doctrines.

Understand this spiritually: the complex doctrines we do not teach to children, to new converts, to those in spiritual danger—we by no means keep such doctrines hidden, but we keep such individuals fed on a rigorous diet of spiritual milk.  How can anyone advance spiritually if he does not have the basics?  So in our churches we have created a structure of levels: the young we teach in Sunday School, where they receive the most basic milk.  We introduce the more complex and solid food to students who go through Confirmation Class, or to adults who wish to become members in our churches.  Beyond this class we offer many more particular teachings, in Adult Bible Studies.  Beyond this still there are more opportunities for solid-food doctrine in advanced classes in our colleges, and in Seminary where men are trained to preach the Word to others.

The differences in these levels should not be confused with a difference in faith: all these spiritual foods, whether milk or solid food, serve to nourish the spiritual life of a person’s faith, and any amount of this nourishment is sufficient to give a person salvation.  But this does not mean that any person should become complacent.  It’s too easy for Christians to think, “I know all I need to know, so why should I go to church?  Why should I go to Bible Study?”  The Word should never be neglected, and Christians should always seek to be fed more and more of this spiritual food, and to grow towards more and more complex spiritual foods.  No, not all Christians are called to be pastors or teachers, but in some sense all Christians are called upon to speak of their faith.  Jesus commissioned every single Christian with the words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  And this is what the writer in our text means: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”  The people to whom he was writing neglected their learning, and were in danger of losing all.  They should have been receiving the mature foods so that they could feed others with spiritual milk, but they had set themselves back, and they needed to start over, to grow again into being teachers.

Spiritual life is like any other form of life: we need constant nourishment in order to survive.  This spiritual nourishment we find in God’s Word, where we hear the basics of Jesus’ perfect life, his death in our place, and his resurrection so that we have new life.  This is all we really need to be spiritually alive.  But the joy at that message will make us want to learn more and more about it, and to tell others the same things we have learned.

Thank you, O Lord, for constantly keeping our spiritual plates filled with the food you provide.  Lead us to always return to the table where we can find such food, in church, in Bible Classes, in private devotions.  Guide us to grow to maturity, so that as we mature we may also provide this food to others, leading them to the same life that we enjoy on account of your Son’s atonement.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #22 – A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Feasting with God #22

A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Text: Psalm 23:5-6

5You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows.
6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
     forever.

This psalm is in our culture today among the most beloved, because of the great comfort it gives.  It begins with the personal care and comfort we claim from God, stating, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).  The very sick or the dying have found comfort in the passage, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (23:4).  God is present to the one who speaks this psalm, very close and providing comfort and care and guidance, and it moves us to let go of any reliance on ourselves and to yield to God’s caring arms, like a tired child in the arms of his parent.

The verses cited above are no different from the rest of the psalm; they speak of the same great comfort, but there’s something new: our comfort comes “in the presence of my enemies.”  It seems as though we mean to gloat: that we’re showing off to our enemies, proving the riches we have and letting them starve or eat dirt.  If we take that picture too far, it seems like we’re turning ourselves into the rich man who denied help to poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

This devotional series is called Feasting with God for a reason.  We are moved by these passages of Scripture to see the great blessings God provides for us, often spoken of metaphorically as a great banquet or feast.  God feeds his people, so that we never go hungry.  And the blessings of this food are explained in the passage above: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  The blessings that God feeds us with are goodness and mercy in this life, and dwelling in God’s house in eternal life.  We have two sorts of blessings: blessings now, and blessings hereafter.  These blessings are so great, and move us to such wonderful appreciation and thanksgiving to God, that we want to show them off, we want to share them.

Perhaps this means we share them with our friends, showing them what great blessings we have, as Peter writes encourages Christians to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Notice, they are the ones asking us.  So they have to see the evidence of our hope.  We hope in the blessings which we receive now, and which we will receive hereafter.  That ought to be visible.

But the text speaks specifically of enemies.  Christians have plenty of enemies.  The whole world is full of sin, and sometimes it is our own sin which is our enemy.  Sometimes it is the author of evil, the devil himself, seeking to tear us down.  Sometimes it is other people, who see the things we teach and believe that we are close-minded, old-fashioned, bigoted.  We can have courage in the face of all these troubles, however, because God provides a table of blessings before us, even before them.  Even when these enemies are gnashing their teeth at us the worst, we have God’s blessings.  And sometimes that means that those enemies will see our blessings as well.  Sometimes those enemies will notice that our spirit is not broken despite their best efforts.  Perhaps that will make those enemies lose heart, or perhaps it will cause those enemies to become jealous of our hope and blessings, and perhaps they’ll want to have some of those same blessings.

It’s always a good thing for our blessings to show.  No, these blessings aren’t physical things—perhaps we’re blessed with a good job, a happy family, a nice house, fine toys and things—the real blessings that we show, though, are the spiritual blessings we have received: faith in the one true God, in his Son Jesus Christ who died to win us eternal life.  Let the joy of that show on our faces.  Trust the Holy Spirit to keep us safe and secure in that faith.  And notice, it’s not up to us to try really hard to show it off.  It’s God who prepares this table before us.  Our faith rests fully and securely in him.

Dear Lord, our Good Shepherd, guide us as you have promised in green pastures and beside still waters.  Restore our souls and lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.  When we face death or deep darkness, help us to fear no evil, knowing that you are with us, comforting us with your Word.  Prepare before us a table of sweet blessings that all our enemies may see.  Confirm your election of us by keeping us in faith, making us sure of the goodness and mercy that follow us in this life, and of the hope of our eternal life, dwelling in your house forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #21 – I Am the Bread of Life

Feasting with God #21

I Am the Bread of Life

Text: John 6:35-40

35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.  37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

We have seen Jesus rise.  No, our physical eyes weren’t there 2,000 years ago, but with our eyes of faith we look on the Son who was killed for our trespasses and who was raised again for our justification, and in that belief, we have eternal life.

It’s sometimes hard to think about all the people in the world who are starving.  We think of the third-world countries in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, some even here in the United States.  We picture so easily the sad children of those places, who never know where their next meal will come from, or even if they’ll have a next meal.  Our hearts can’t help but go out to them, and often we wish there was more we could do.

As Christians, we ought to do what we can to help those in need.  Sometimes that does mean donating money to charity, or even providing literal bread to someone in need.  Truly noble acts, but how much do we think about the long run?  A loaf of bread may feed several children for a week, but they need more than that.  They need the means to have food for the rest of their lives.  But they need even more than that.  They need access to food that will keep them from ever going hungry.

In the text today, Jesus provides the access to that very food.  “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger,” he says.  He’s not speaking about a loaf of baked bread.  He’s speaking about eternal, spiritual food.  Any earthly bread will keep our earthly bodies alive, but what about our souls?  Our spiritual bodies will need nourishing as well, and this we get by faith in Christ.  This Jesus states clearly: “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  By faith we take part in the nourishing bread that is Christ.  By believing in him, we have access to the true feast of God, that nourishment that will give us life eternal.  Because of that holy bread, we will never die—not really.

Jesus came from heaven with that mission, to share eternal life with us.  That way, whoever dies in faith can be described as only sleeping, because on the last day their bodies will wake up to new life, to full life, to eternal life.  Jesus’ resurrection on Easter gives us a picture of what that will be like for the rest of us.  Our bodies are frail and breakable and living only in shadow now.  But when we are glorified in him, our bodies will be pure, whole, and really living.

So we look to Jesus to have that pure food, to have that eternal life.  And this is a food that is easy to share with others.  We direct their eyes to the same Jesus.  We tell them his Word.  We declare that it is free, that we don’t need to do anything to get this heavenly bread, but it is given to us by God’s grace.  God loves a cheerful giver.  We can give earthly bread, earthly money to support those in need—and those things are important.  But don’t forget the most important thing: the bread that feeds our souls for eternal life, Jesus Christ.

Direct our eyes of faith, O heavenly Father, to your Son, and the great gift you have given us through him.  We often feel so harshly the temporary nature of this earthly life.  Yet as you give us our daily bread to nourish this life, do not leave us without the bread we need for eternal life.  Strengthen our faith which looks constantly to Jesus Christ as our Savior, and through him, grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation, all that we need to never go hungry.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #20 – See My Hands and My Feet

Feasting with God #20

See My Hands and My Feet

Text: Luke 24:36-43

36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”  37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter Sunday we Christians rejoice in our risen Savior, because he not only died to take the punishment that our sins deserved, but he rose to life to prove that God had set his seal of approval on Jesus’ sacrifice.  Therefore we know that we, too, will rise again to new life through our faith in him.

Of course, that fact means little if we never heard about it.  It could have easily been left as a mystery in the ages what happened to Christ’s body.  He could easily have become just one more idealist who died for his beliefs.  But the plain fact is that he didn’t stay dead.  And we know this because he appeared to his disciples alive again, proving to them that their sins were paid for.

Think of the progression: Jesus rose from the dead, then he appeared to a few on Easter Sunday.  Those few told others, and Jesus himself appeared to others in the days that followed.  Then the message spread from those who saw him to others, who told others, who told others, until, 2,000 years later, you and I heard about it.  Hearing this message should bring us such joy!  Hearing that our Savior rose from the dead should give us confidence to go through life, because we know that only joy and blessing await on the other side.

At Jesus’ resurrection we commonly talk about the beginning of his “exaltation.”  While he lived on earth, from his conception until his death and burial, we speak of his “humiliation.”  That was the time that Jesus humbled himself, brought himself down to our level, was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5).  But at his resurrection he returned fully to his Godly power.  Now that the work of redemption and salvation was complete, he could come into his power once again to attend to the work of preserving the world, of exercising God’s power and authority in heaven.  And yet, even after his humiliation was complete, Jesus demonstrated some of that humiliation again.

The almighty God needs no food.  The Creator of the universe doesn’t need something cooked up by men in order to survive.  And yet, Jesus asked, “Have you anything here to eat?”  He ate not for his own nourishment, but for the benefit of his disciples.  He showed a little bit of humility once again, stooping down to do something as simple and base as eating.  By this he proved two things: 1) He wasn’t a ghost, but real, flesh-and-blood, alive; and 2) He is still a human being.  This is comforting to us on two accounts.  First of all, we see the proof that our Savior has really risen from the dead!  He has come back to life so we know that the price he paid has been accepted, and there’s nothing more we need to add.  Second, that Savior, our God, who sits in heaven, shares still in our human nature.  He still eats and drinks with us, and he understands the weaknesses, frailties, sorrows, and even joys of our humanity.  We have a God and a mediator who knows all we go through in life, and he promises to hear us and care for us through it all.

As the season of Easter progresses, rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord, and see what it means for our comfort and our salvation!

Dear Jesus, who suffered even the torments of hell in our place, we rejoice today in your resurrection.  Help us to rejoice in that event ever after.  Keep us from growing bored or tired of hearing the message of your resurrection, and lead us to acknowledge its truth.  Each time we sit to eat, remind us that you are there as well, as a human being the same as we are, and that you are also true God who hears our prayers and works for our benefit.  In your name and on account of the pure merits of your life, give us those blessings you have promised us of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #19 – Communing with a Betrayer

Feasting with God #19

Communing with a Betrayer

 

Text: Luke 22:19-23

19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

The Lord’s Supper is often called simply “Communion.” We refer to it in this way because in this meal, as we eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood we find ourselves in communion or fellowship with him. This meal brings us so close to Jesus, it is as though we are sitting down to an intimate dinner with family and close friends.  And not only are we in such close communion and fellowship with Christ, but we are with our fellow communing Christians – those who stand or kneel next to us at the altar rail, those in all other churches around the world, and even those who have died, the saints in heaven.  This sacrament is a sacrament of community, by which we confess that we share in the beliefs and mission of those we commune with.

But the first communion hosted an intruder.  It should have been the most intimate of suppers: Jesus and his closest followers, his twelve disciples.  But among them was the one who would betray their master.

Paul warns other Christians against the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).  The Lord’s Supper brings us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  These are brought to those who are in true communion with their Savior and with one another, but anyone who eats and drinks as though he is part of this communion and yet is not “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:29).  This difference we see between Judas and the other disciples, when we examine their ends.  Judas, who betrayed him, hanged himself in sorrow, unwilling to accept any forgiveness that would be offered to him.  The other disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, were sent into the mission of their Lord, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and to teach them Jesus’ doctrines and truths.  This they did joyfully, because the forgiveness that was offered to them on account of Jesus’ death – the forgiveness tangibly fed to them in this communion, inspired this new life in them.

Let us be aware of the forgiveness we receive in this communion, and of the closeness of our relationship with our Lord and one another.  Judas sought silver to replace all that, but what could be a greater treasure than forgiveness, life, salvation, and communion with God and our fellow Christians?  All that is possible because of the sacrifice Jesus made and the Supper he instituted.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the great gift you have given us in the Sacrament of Communion.  Guide us to see the wonder of the forgiveness, life, and salvation we receive there, and move us into ever closer fellowship with you and one another.  Make our faith and new life sincere, and strengthen it by this Supper.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.