Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Laws of Love

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1).

An interviewer once asked several people, "What do you think of the Ten Commandments?" One person just stared at the interviewer and gasped, "Are you kidding?" Another said, "Well, I don’t take them literally." One person replied with a laugh, "Well, I think rules were made to be broken." Another said, "It’s fortunate we don’t have to keep them anymore." But one woman replied, "Well, I think God loved us an awful lot to give them to us—to protect us from ourselves."

People don’t like laws. We don’t like being told what we can and cannot do. We often think that laws are fine for other people, but they are a nuisance when they put limits on what we want to do. But you know what? God gave us His laws because He loves us. Think about the commandments. You are to treat your parents with respect, you are not to kill, you are not to cheat on your spouse, you are not to steal, you are not to lie, you are not to be envious or jealous. These are not restrictive commands; these are commands to love and respect each other. Jesus summarizes these commands this way: love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).

But as important as these commandments are for our well being and the good of society, they are not the first commandments. The first commandments are these: you are not to regard anything as more important than God, you are not to disrespect God, and you are to set aside time for God every week. Jesus summarizes these commandments this way: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). These are not restrictive commands either; these are commands of love that seek to save us from eternal misery. If we have no relationship with God when we die, we cannot live with Him in heaven; we will be separated from God forever in the place called hell. So our Lord urges us, in no uncertain terms, to place Him front and center in our lives now because He wants us to always be with Him. God gives us the Ten Commandments because He loves us and wants the very best for us, both here in life and hereafter in eternity.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"I am coming soon!"

The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place."

"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book."

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"

Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.

"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 22:6-13)

Today’s New Testament lesson comes from the last book of the Bible, the Revelation to Saint John. In this book, John was given a vision of the future by one of God’s angels. Chapter 22 is the end of the book. Here the angel of God tells John that everything he has seen and heard is true and should not be kept secret, but be published for all to read. But we are especially interested in the angel’s words when he quotes our Lord Jesus: "Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book...Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

When God sent his angel to give John this revelation, the church of Christ was going through some tough times. Some congregations had gotten lazy and stopped trying to win new converts to Christ. Some congregations had turned into cliques and were unwilling to admit new members. Some had allowed false doctrines to be taught in their midst, leading members away from Christ. And many congregations were cowering in fear of persecution, persecution from both Jews and Rome. Christians of this time lived in uncertainty. Do we belong to the right religion? How much worse can things get in this world? Has Christ forgotten about us? So John was given a divine revelation of the way things truly are, and the way things will be in the years ahead. John is told to publish this revelation so that everyone can benefit from it. But is this vision a comfort or a warning?

"Behold, I am coming soon!" What does this mean to a non-Christian? Probably not much. A non-Christian doesn’t believe that Jesus, if He ever existed at all, was anything more than a wise man like Confucius, Gotama Buddha or Muhammad. Such a person doesn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God; indeed, the unbeliever may not believe that there even is a God. In any event, this Jesus is certainly not returning to this world, let alone as someone who has any kind of authority to sit in judgment over non-Christians. The unbeliever does not fear that anyone is going to hold him to account for the things he’s said and done in his life. What he has done with his life is no one’s business but his alone. To the unbeliever, "I am coming soon" is the empty promise of a religion based on empty hope.

The day of Jesus’ return is going to be a rude shock to the unbeliever. Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet, the language that Revelation was originally written in; Omega is the last letter of that alphabet. In English, Jesus might have said, "I am the A and the Z, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." The Son of God is eternal, just like His Father—He has no beginning and He has no end. The Father created our world through the hands of His Son, as we read in the first chapter of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." The Son will also be sent by His Father to judge the earth at the End, as we find written in Romans chapter 2 verse 16: "This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ." All of creation, everyone living in this world, is under the jurisdiction of Jesus Christ. And the writer to the Hebrews warns us: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

Jesus is returning to act as judge. He said, "I will give to everyone according to what he has done." For the unbeliever, this is grim news indeed. If a person has lived his life without faith in Christ, he will have no hope of mercy. Life without faith in Jesus is life under the complete control of sin, and God will judge unrepentant sin as evil. Peter wrote, "the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12). Jesus Himself said, "whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Jesus promised that He will accept no excuses from those who rejected Him; "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, `I don't know you or where you come from.' Then you will say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will reply, `I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'" (Luke 13:24-27). If a person has spent his life ignoring Jesus, Jesus will ignore his pleas for mercy on the Last Day.

When Jesus has completed His judging, sin will be brought to an end. Those who were judged guilty of living in unrepentant sin will be sent to hell, where they will pay an eternal price for their sin; "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:40-42). The earth itself, corrupted by mankind’s sinfulness, will be destroyed. Peter wrote, "The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" (2 Peter 3:10). When Jesus returns in judgment, all sin will be ended forever. There will be no more evil deeds, no more lustful thoughts, no more betrayals of trust. There will be no more wars, no more hatred, no more lies. Every work of Satan and sinful men will be at an end.

There is a temptation for us to respond to God’s righteous wrath with smugness. How many people have hurt you and never gotten their just desserts? How many criminals have escaped justice in this life? There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that, in the end, every evildoer will get the punishment that he deserves. But as Christians, we shouldn’t feel this way. God created every soul of every sinner, with the intention of taking those souls to heaven as repentant, forgiven believers. Every person doomed by his own sinful pride to everlasting torment is a brother or a sister eternally lost to us. While we do heave a collective sigh of relief that Satan’s followers will never be able to hurt us again, we must regret that the light of faith that shines in our hearts will never have another opportunity to shine in theirs.

"Behold, I am coming soon!" What does this mean to a Christian? For a person who lives in faith, this is the most comforting of promises. For Christians, life is an unending struggle with the devil, the world, and our flesh. We are constantly assailed by doubts, like whether or not there really is an invisible, loving God who is in control of the universe. We are constantly hurt by the selfish words and deeds of people who listen to no authority but their own. We are constantly tempted to give up on living life by God’s standards and enjoying every sinful pleasure that comes our way. We cry out "Lord, how long?" and Jesus answers "I am coming soon."

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Jesus is our Alpha and Omega. Jesus is our source of life and He is the source of our eternal rest. Jesus brought us life when He was born into a human body and lived the life of love that we failed to live. Jesus brought us life when He assumed the responsibility for all our sins and was punished for them by His Heavenly Father on the cross, a punishment ending with Jesus’ death for our crimes. Jesus brought us life when He returned to life from death, because He now stands at the right hand of the Father, as Paul writes: "Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Romans 8:34). Jesus brought us life by removing the guilt of our sins, and the death that was the penalty of that guilt. We have freedom from guilt and death; all we need do is confess that we have done wrong and Jesus forgives our sins, freeing us from the threat of judgment. Jesus is also our end. When Jesus gives us faith and we in turn dedicate our lives to Him--no matter how late in life--He promises us that we will have life beyond death. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26). Jesus is the beginning and the end of every believer’s life.

Because we trust in our Savior’s love, we have no reason to fear His Second Coming. Jesus said, "My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done." What has the Christian done? What will we be rewarded for? Near the end of his life, Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Jesus will reward those who have kept the faith that He entrusted to them. Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32). Those who cling to the words of Jesus in the face of all the troubles that life brings will be rewarded with life everlasting.

Jesus comes to end our life-long battle with the forces of Darkness. Jesus fatally wounded Satan’s power when our Lord freed us from slavery to sin and death. It was only through sin that Satan could control us. It was only by death in sin that Satan could claim us as his own. Ever since Jesus rose on Easter morning, Satan has been fighting a desperate series of battles against the forces of Light, knowing that the final losing battle is drawing near. When Jesus returns in glory, Satan will be judged and confined to the torments of hell forever. When our Lord returns, all sin will be brought to an end. Paul tells us, "Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). We will live again in our bodies, bodies free of the taint of sin, free of weakness and evil desires. Even the earth will be remade, free of disease and destructive weather and warring nations: in his revelation John wrote: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea [when used figuratively in the Bible, the 'sea' refers to the forces of chaos]. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:1-4).

What a glorious vision! Try to imagine life without fear or anger or pain or loneliness. Try to imagine a life lived in God’s presence, where everything is beautiful and at peace. Try to imagine being loved by your Lord and being loved by everyone who lives on the new earth with you. No cross words. No days when you feel moody or depressed. Every day is perfect, and you will live each day knowing that the next one will be perfect too. Try to imagine how wonderful it will be.

"Behold, I am coming soon!" Yes, Lord, please come soon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Give thanks? For what?

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land--a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you
(Deuteronomy 8:1-10).

It’s been a tough year. Hurricanes have destroyed so many homes and businesses in the Gulf States and points further south. There was the tremendous earthquake in Pakistan, killing tens of thousands and leaving millions without shelter. There has been significant flooding along the northeastern seaboard. And let us not forget the Tsunami of last December, which killed over 100,000 people in several Asian countries.

It’s been a tough year. The death toll of American soldiers serving in Iraq has now exceeded 2,000 slain. Fuel prices hit a record high, impacting the cost of producing and marketing food, the cost of getting to work, and the cost of heating our homes and businesses.

It’s been a tough year. Sickness has touched either you or someone that you care about. People that you love have left you by moving away or dying. Over these past twelve months you have seen something precious to you lost, damaged, or taken away. It’s been a tough year for everybody.

How then can anyone come before God this Thanksgiving and honestly tell Him "thank You?" Thanks? Thanks for what? What do you have to be thankful for?

Let’s start with the fact that you are alive today. Has God ever promised that you would live to be a senior citizen? No. God does not guarantee long life to anyone. From reading the Bible we see that death can come at any time. During the past 24 hours, over 150,000 people worldwide have died from various causes; these deaths span the range of infancy to old age. The fact that you are alive today is a gift from God, pure and simple.

Then there’s the fact that you are reading this devotion. Your interest tells me that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart. If you did not have a relationship with God’s Spirit, you wouldn’t be here—Scripture tells us: people who aren't Christians can't understand these truths from God's Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them because only those who have the Spirit can understand what the Spirit means (1 Corinthians 2:14).

When God’s Spirit lives in you, you have what is necessary to be saved—faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The Spirit reveals God's Law to you—that you are a sinner, condemned by God to hell for not only being impure, but also for enjoying your corrupt desires. The Spirit also reveals the Gospel to you—the Good News that Jesus took your place on the cross of your sins, took the punishment that God had reserved for you and died the terrible death that you had coming. When the Spirit lives in you, He forges a bond between you and Jesus, a bond of faith by which the Lord pulls you to Himself and restores you to the family of God, forgiven and declared pure.

Did God have to send His Son to suffer and die for you? Have you done anything to deserve Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf? No. The fact that you can receive salvation by faith in Jesus is a gift from God, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8-9: God saved you by his grace through faith in him. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Because of God’s mercy, you have been spared hell and promised heaven.

Your life has been blessed with people who care about you. This might include parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, cousins and friends that you’ve made over the years. The people who’ve cared about you might include a husband or a wife, children and grandchildren, son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws. But most importantly, Jesus loves you, and those who Jesus loves, love each other as well—the love of Christ makes us all brothers and sisters through our common faith. No matter what is going on in your life or where you live, there are Christian brothers and sisters who care about you and are praying for you.

Has it occurred to you that God has surrounded your life with beauty? Think of the colors you can see—the rich blue of the sky, the healthy green of the grass, the warm reds and oranges of autumn leaves, the brilliant white of new-fallen snow. Think of the things you can see—the wonder of birds in flight, the majesty of a deer in the woods, the smile of love on a face that is dear to you. Think of the music that surrounds you—amid the clutter coming from radios and televisions, there is truly beautiful music in this world. Think of the sounds that chase away the loneliness—bird songs in the morning, the patter of rain against a window, the laughter of a happy child. Think of the textures brushing against your skin—the cool smoothness of cotton sheets in the night, the massaging warmth of a vigorous shower, the gentleness of a hand held lovingly in yours. Think of the smells that gladden your heart—the fragrance of spring lilacs, the inviting odor of bread baking in the oven, the hint of perfume or aftershave clinging to the person you love. Think of the beauty brought by taste—the simple pleasure of a grilled piece of meat, a serving of steamed vegetables, a bowl of cereal or a fresh piece of fruit. Your five senses are bombarded with God’s gifts of beauty every day; there is so much beauty in your life that you have grown accustomed to it and tune out most of it.

What else do you have to be thankful for? How about the fact that the world is still here? God has not revealed when the Last Day will come; you might even be a bit surprised that God hasn’t ended things already! But the sun still rises and sets, the seasons still come and go, and because of this we have the opportunity to tell our Lord thank you. We can thank Him with our prayers. We can thank Him by singing hymns that praise His glory. We can thank Him by giving a gift of money to support the work of His Church. We can thank Him by becoming an active member in one of His congregations. We can thank Him by giving Him the credit when someone pays us a compliment on a job well done. We can show our appreciation by how we live our lives—so every day that we have on this earth is a chance to thank God for all that He has done for us.

What do you have to be thankful for? Plenty! And I haven’t even touched on your home, your job, or the things that fill your closets, your basement, or your garage. God has blessed you in ways that are uncountable; you and I have an embarrassment of riches, of blessings that God has given us. Yet how often do we fail to notice them or appreciate them? It’s easy to overlook such simple things when we’re busy throwing ourselves a pity party. Did God guarantee us any of these things? Did God promise us a lifetime of good health, a six-figure income, and loads of leisure time? Not at all. Does God owe us anything? Are we so important or so useful to Him that God must shower us with gifts? Not at all. James tells us, Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17). Everything that is good in our lives comes from God, and they come as gifts, expressions of His unwarranted love for us.

The Israelites spent 40 years walking through the wilderness because of their ingratitude. God had brought them to a good land--a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey. But when they saw that moving into this land would involve fighting the people already living there, the Israelites were not grateful—instead, they threw up their hands in despair and talked about returning to their former lives of slavery in Egypt. They could not see the blessings of the Promised Land, only the potential problems. They did not thank God for the wonderful opportunity for a new life that He offered them; instead of trusting in God’s care, they complained. So God led them in circles out in the wilderness until the complainers had all died off. During that time of wandering, their children came to appreciate every little thing God did for them. During all those years of living in barren land, God gave them bread from the morning dew—although they had the same menu day after day, they appreciated God’s gift of food. During all those years of walking, their feet did not swell up nor did their clothing wear out—although they did not have rest from travelling or fancy new clothes, they appreciated these evidences of God’s continuing care for them. Hardship can help us see God’s blessings with greater clarity.

It’s been a tough year. Nevertheless, if we stop with the self-pity and instead look carefully at all the wonderful things God has gifted us with, it is evident that we have much to be thankful for. So tell your Lord how thankful you are today. Tell Him with your mouth and show Him with your life. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever (Psalm 106:1).

Monday, November 21, 2005

Built on the Rock

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).

Off the southwestern tip of Great Britain, on a great boulder some distance from the shore, stands a tall and massive column of solid masonry known as the Eddystone Lighthouse. After several previous failures by others, John Smeaton, a pioneer civil engineer, built the present lighthouse, laying the foundation deep into the rocky core of the foundation boulder. His faith moved him to engrave the following words of scripture onto the side of his lighthouse: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." Unshaken by howling wind or crashing wave, this lighthouse has stood for two hundred years, a tribute to the skill of a man who, in humble faith, built on the solid bedrock of Eddystone.

Eddystone Rock typifies Jesus Christ, the solid Rock upon which wise people build their lives. Jesus is our Rock of Ages—the solid foundation that time cannot destroy. He is the Rock of our Salvation, where we can find security when the storms of life threaten to drown us in trouble; David wrote, the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer (Psalm 18:2). He is the cornerstone of the Church; Paul says in him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:21).

All too often, we are disappointed when someone we have depended upon fails us in our hour of need; we say that such a person has "feet of clay." Our God is a trustworthy foundation stone because there is no impurity within Him, no flaws that weaken Him; Psalm 92 verse 15 says the LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him. And God is the only Rock where we can find everlasting protection; in Isaiah 44:8 our Lord says is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. This is why Jesus says, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash (Matthew 7:24-27). So let us join our voices with King David, who urges us: Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation (Psalm 95:1).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Taking your faith seriously

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

"At midnight the cry rang out: `Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'

" `No,' they replied, `there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'

"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

"Later the others also came. `Sir! Sir!' they said. `Open the door for us!'

"But he replied, `I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, everyone knew that it was coming. Yet in spite of this knowledge, some people were still caught unprepared. They were not prepared for the severity of the wind damage or the storm surge; they were not prepared for the breaching of the levees or the prolonged crippling of city services. The people who chose to ride out the storm thought they were prepared—tragically, they found out that they weren’t.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus warns us to be prepared for His return. There will come a day when the Lord will part the heavens and come down to us in blinding glory, surrounded by the angelic armies of heaven. Every man, woman and child, wherever they are living, will be brought before Him; every person who has died will be raised from the grave to join us before the Throne of Judgment.

For the unbeliever, this will be a time of utter terror—the God who they denied will be proven to be the Ruler of the universe, and an eternity of anguish in hell will be His sentence upon them for rejecting Him. But Christians need not fear His judgement—after all, we bear His name as a badge of honor. Christ’s return will be a time of joyful vindication for us—won’t it?

Jesus speaks of ten virgins—ten people who have kept themselves pure. They have not cheated on their Master by partying with other men. In spiritual terms, they are the faithful, those who have never cheated on Jesus by leaving Him for other religions. The ten virgins represent the Christians of the world.

Do all these Christians get into heaven to spend eternity with their Lord? Regrettably, no. Some of them are unprepared when their Master returns and find themselves locked out of paradise. When they plead to be let in, the Lord gives only this chilling answer: I tell you the truth: I don’t know you.

Not everyone who claims to be a Christian will get to enter heaven. In Matthew chapter 7 verses 21-23 Jesus warned: "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

Sobering, isn’t it, to realize that many people who identify themselves as Christians will not be accepted into eternal peace? How do we know who will be found acceptable and who is in danger of being shut out? Are you a 'wise virgin' who is prepared, or are you 'foolish virgin' who is not ready for Christ’s return?

The problem of a 'foolish virgin' is that such a person does not take things seriously enough. Such a person is not terribly concerned about being absolutely sure they are ready for the Master’s return, nor are they particularly worried about the possibility of being excluded from the celebration to follow. To say it more bluntly, the foolish Christian does not devote much thought or energy to living a Christian life, nor does he take seriously the threat of hell.

The foolish Christian does not worry about his faith life. The possibility that he might stand face to face with Jesus for judgment before this day is over doesn’t occur to him. Because he assumes that his meeting with Christ is years in the future, going to church to worship the King is not a high priority—there’ll be plenty of time for that when he’s older. He doesn’t realize that bad habits are hard to shake. He doesn’t consider the likelihood that if he attends church only occasionally now, he may stop coming altogether over the years to come. He doesn’t see how being a stranger in church could one day result in him hearing the words: I don’t know you.

The foolish Christian is comfortable. She managed to squeak through Confirmation, so she obviously knows everything she needs to get into heaven. She is blind to the fact that every year she is forgetting more of what she learned. She is unaware that Satan is filling her mind with lies and half-truths through the TV shows she watches, the magazines she reads, the unbelieving friends she hangs out with. She does not heed the warning in 2nd Peter chapter 3 where we are told: be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She does not see how important Bible study is to strengthen her faith and to expose Satan’s lies for what they are.

The foolish Christian focuses his attention in the wrong direction. All around him are people who need his help, because when Judgement Day comes they have nothing to look forward to except the despair of hell. But the foolish Christian does not dwell on the welfare of their souls; he does not want to spoil his time with his drinking buddies by bringing up religion. He has so little joy in his heart over being saved by Jesus that he has no passion for the souls of others. In fact, he is so wrapped up in his own joys and sorrows that he scarcely has time to think about loving anyone besides himself. He has forgotten Christ’s command, Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

The foolish Christian spends her money on the wrong things. Giving money to God for His use is a way of telling Him ‘thank you’, but the foolish Christian rarely thanks God for anything. For her, money is a way to feel good, so the best way to spend it is upon herself. For such a person there is always more to buy than there is money to spend. Owning your own house is good, owning a big house is better. Having a set of wheels is good, having a luxury vehicle is better. Comfortable clothing is good, designer fashions are better. Generic food is okay, name brands are better, and eating out is the best of all. The foolish Christian is so fixated on shopping that she has nothing but spare change to spend on the upkeep of God’s house or the work of His missionaries; she has forgotten that the Lord says: No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).

Foolish Christians do not take seriously the reality of hell. They know that God threatens to send unrepentant sinners there, but they are fuzzy on what hell is. They don’t understand that hell is the worst place anyone could possibly go; hell is the place that God designed to incarcerate and torture Satan himself. If the leader of the devils will find hell to be unbearable, what must it be like for mere human beings to endure? The Bible describes it as a place of physical pain and spiritual pain. The physical torment is compared both to being severely burned and to rotting with maggots chewing through your body; mentally, hell is described as a place of despair, regret, frustration and tears. Hell has no love or mercy or hope, and its suffering never ends.

Foolish Christians don’t worry about being sent to hell—they believe that they are bound for heaven because of how they are living their lives. They do good things, but they do them for the wrong reasons. They think that they can impress God by how often they go to church, how much money they put in the collection plate, how many charitable organizations they belong to. Certainly God would not send godly people to hell? They forget that Scripture says: God saved you by His grace through faith [in Him]. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it (Ephesians 2:8-9). To foolish Christians Isaiah says, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Since our good deeds are flawed by the sin that flaws us, they cannot earn our entry into heaven—and so Paul writes: no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands…a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16).

Through today’s parable, Jesus warns foolish Christians that they may end up locked out of heaven. Christians must take their faith seriously. It is said that ‘if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck’; in other words, a person may claim to be a Christian, but if his daily life looks no different than the life of an unbeliever, then he isn’t really a Christian—he is only pretending to be. James tells us: faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17). James instructs the foolish Christian to look carefully at her life to see how her relationship with Jesus shows itself to others; if there is no outward sign that Christ is truly important to her, then she should be concerned—because her faith, if not already dead, is certainly dying.

Wise Christians views things differently. They take their faith seriously. Wise Christians both fear and love God. They fear the threat of hell, because they know how deeply God hates sin. Sin angers God so much that only the offering of His Son’s life on the cross was enough to exchange our punishment in hell with the opportunity to join our Lord in heaven. Jesus suffered hell on that cross in our place, torment that He did nothing to deserve. Jesus suffered for us because He loves us, and because of that love He was willing to endure anything, even our hellish punishment, that we might be spared the agony that was rightfully ours.

This is why the wise Christian loves the Savior. The heart of the wise Christian is filled with appreciation for what Christ has done. Such a person shares Christ’s concern for keeping people out of hell; he cannot wait to tell everyone he knows about Jesus’ great sacrifice of love that now offers the possibility of heaven. The wise Christian sees God’s church as his first and best investment for money, because through the church the wise Christian can help spread the message of salvation to people he would not otherwise be able to speak with personally.

The wise Christian does not take her relationship with the Lord for granted. She takes every opportunity to worship the Lord in church as a way to show her love and gratitude. She seeks out opportunities to join with fellow Christians in studying God’s Word together, because she knows how easily a person can be tricked by the devil’s lies. She wants to be ready when the Lord returns, and to enter into His eternal kingdom with joy.

Which type of Christian are you? Are you behaving like one of the foolish or one of the wise? If the foolish Christian sounds uncomfortably like you, it is not too late to get ready. Go to Jesus in prayer and tell Him you’re sorry. Ask Him to change your priorities. Depending on Him, make a commitment to regular worship and Bible study. Make a commitment to invite an unbelieving friend to come with you to church. Write a family budget that dedicates your money to God’s use, not Satan’s. Live each day as if your Savior is only hours away from His return; remember Jesus’ words: keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Good News

Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live (Isaiah 55:3).

There is nothing better for humanity than the Good News about Jesus Christ. There is nothing more suited to meeting the needs of humanity than the Gospel of our Lord.

It is better than philosophy. Philosophy can only reveal what is in the heart of man; it can only describe and classify. Philosophy cannot heal or cure; it is like the physician who knows the disease, but has no remedy. But the Gospel of Christ is superior; it prescribes an infallible and universal cure for the problems which ail mankind.

The Gospel is better than education. Education can only inspire and develop those qualities that man already has; but the Gospel recreates the human heart and lifts man up to stand in imitation of Christ Himself. Education can only help man to build a future on the sins that riddle his life; it is the Gospel which saves man from sin and gives him a sure foundation upon which to build.

The Gospel is better than morality. Morality is conformity to law. In a perfect world where the law is always obeyed, there would be no hurts, no defensiveness, no desire for retaliation. But humanity has broken the law, and each hurt provokes more defensiveness and more acts of retaliation—a vicious cycle that appeals to morality cannot bring to an end. But the Gospel can. The Gospel brings man back to God, makes him one with the Lord, provides a new start, and helps man to forgive and let go of hurts, just as he himself has been forgiven by Christ.

The Gospel is better than philanthropy. Philanthropy is the love one person has for another—but the Gospel is the love of God for all people. Philanthropy concerns itself with improving man’s lot here in life; the Gospel is concerned, not only with this world, but with eternity. The Gospel not only wishes to spare man from grief in life, it also desires to unite him with God in joy forever in heaven. Please join me in praying:

Holy Spirit, we may not be smart, we may not be wise; we may not obey the rules, or love each other as we should. But we need only one thing: that You would fill our hearts with the Good News of Jesus, the Son of God who offers us freedom from sin’s power and eternal death, asking only that we repent and follow Him. In Jesus’ Name we pray, amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

One dark, moonless night, a man was walking down an unfamiliar road. On either side was a deep ravine. Suddenly he stepped into space and began to fall. Thinking that he was falling to certain death, be began flailing his arms and clutching for anything that he could get his hands on. He was able to grab a protruding bush, and he hung onto it for dear life. It was agony; his arm became numb. At last, in weakness and despair, he let go and dropped—six inches to the bottom of the ditch.

Think of the needless agony that that man went through because he didn’t let go sooner. Think of the needless agony that you go through in the midst of your worries because you won’t let go. Peter says to cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you. But so often, we turn to God only as a last resort. It’s an old joke: "when all else fails, read the directions." Think of all the times you couldn't find something at the store, you had lost your way while travelling, or you were trying to assemble a toy for a child without success. In each case, help is available--you only needed to pick up the instructions, unfold the map, or ask an employee for help. Why didn't you? Because we are all full of stubborn pride. We don’t want to look stupid or weak or needy—we want to reach our goals without help.

When you are sick, you go to the doctor—but when do you pray to God for help? After the doctor has failed to help you? Wouldn’t it make more sense to pray to God before you go to the clinic, and ask Him to give your doctor wisdom in prescribing your treatment? When you are falling behind in paying your bills, you might seek credit counseling or take out a loan from the bank—but when do you pray to God for help? After your loan application has been turned down? Wouldn’t it make more sense to pray to God before you try any other solution for your problems?

Our sinful pride doesn’t like us asking for help. We’d rather try and fix things ourselves. Besides, if we ask God to get involved, He might not solve our problem in exactly the way that we would like. But let’s be honest: God is much wiser than we are—He can offer a much better way to solve our problems than we can come up with on our own. So trust God. When you have a problem, pray to Him before you do anything else. Let go, and let God.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

God keeps His promises

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his fee and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, `Who touched me?' "

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?"

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat (Matthew 5:21-43).

The prophet Jeremiah lived in a time of chaos and despair. All around him, society was collapsing. The country of Judah had been ruled by a series of evil kings. The nation was threatened by hostile foreign nations. More and more, people ignored God and lavished their affection on the things He had created. Justice in the courts was hard to find. Sexual immorality was widespread. Time and again, God had sent His prophets to tell the people to repent of their sins and turn back to their Creator. By the time that God called Jeremiah to be His prophet, He was ready to take drastic action to purify His people from their corruptness. God allowed the nation of Babylon to conquer Judah, destroy Jerusalem and deport her leading citizens. Jeremiah, seeing his homeland utterly corrupted by sin and laid waste by God’s righteous wrath, wrote the Book of Lamentations to express the sorrows of a chastened people.

Our world of today is not so very different—indeed, in some ways it is worse than in Jeremiah’s day. Although the kings of Judah were evil, they could not be removed from office; in America, a president was impeached for lying in a court of law and yet the people did not demand that he be removed from office. In Jeremiah’s time, sexual immorality was common; in America, some states are giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages; some schools distribute condoms to their students instead of teaching abstinence until marriage. In Jeremiah’s day, people worshipped idols instead of God; today, Americans not only credit evolution for the creation of life, but they forbid schools from teaching creation by God as an alternative. Will God chasten America as He did Judah? Considering the school shootings at Columbine High School, the terrorist attack on 9/11 and the destructive hurricane season just ending, some think He has already begun to abandon our nation to the weight of its sin.

Our fellow Americans are looking for solutions to their problems, relief from the distress that surrounds them. A huge portion of our paychecks goes to fund government agencies that are supposed to protect us. Our nation puts policemen on the beat to stop crime, yet our courts and prisons keep returning criminals to the streets. Our government hires social workers to protect families from disintegration, yet children and spouses are killed by abuse daily. Our teachers get better training and higher wages than ever before, yet parents forbid their children to be disciplined in the classroom and many graduate from high school functionally illiterate. Leprosy, the dread disease of Bible times, has been largely brought under control by medical science, only to be superceded by AIDS. In Jeremiah’s day, people put their trust in idols and foreign alliances instead of God. Today, Americans put their trust in science, education and our military might instead of God. Without God, the decay of sin overran Judah; without God, the decay of sin is overrunning America.

From time to time, every Christian shakes his head in wonder that God hasn’t given up on mankind long ago. It’s inconceivable to us that anyone could be as patient as God is with us. The reason we cannot comprehend God’s patience is that we cannot comprehend the true nature of His perfect, eternal, infinite love for us. The apostle John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8); God alone is the source of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Because God is good and kind, He is grieved to see His once-perfect creation groaning under the rot of sin; because God is love, He sent His Son to free us from the guilt and pain of sin. Because God is faithful, He always keeps His promises—and God promises us deliverance from bondage to sin and the guilt that it brings.

Jeremiah knew that God is faithful. That is how, in the midst of devastation and despair, he was able to say these words in Lamentations chapter 3:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him."
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the LORD has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust--
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.

What hope! What trust! In spite of all that had happened, Jeremiah did not turn away from the Lord in bitterness. No, he reminds us that if God punished us, as we truly deserve, there would be nothing left! The fact that we have the opportunity to see our sins and repent before judgement demonstrates God’s mercy to us.

Jeremiah was no false prophet; God did indeed restore His people to the land He had promised them. 70 years after the Exile began, God moved Cyrus, king of Persia to allow the captive Jews to return to Judah. The Jews knew that God would keep His promise to free them from their suffering; as soon as they had returned home they rebuilt the temple altar and offered thanks to God for His mercy.

God does not always make us wait such a long time for deliverance. In today’s Gospel lesson, when Jairus came to Jesus to plead for his daughter’s life, Jesus went with him immediately. Then, while they were on the way, they received word that the little girl had already died. Jairus may have been tempted to believe that the situation had become hopeless. He may have thought: "It’s all my fault! If only I had found Jesus sooner. If only we had walked faster. What can be done now?" But it wasn’t too late for Jesus. Jesus knew what Jairus needed to end his suffering, and Jesus knew when it was time for the miracle to occur. Jesus told Jairus "Don't be afraid, just believe" and He then restored Jairus’ precious daughter to life! Just when things seemed utterly hopeless, Jesus granted the sweetest relief.

The restoration of the Jews to their homeland and the restoration of life to Jairus’ daughter were wonderful testimonies to God’s faithfulness. But the greatest testimony of God’s love to each and every sinner was the sacrifice and resurrection of God’s only Son to fulfill His promise of restoration to God’s favor. When Adam and Eve sinned that very first time, the gates to God’s throne in heaven were slammed shut and no man or woman ever again could truly know God or please Him in any way. God is holy, and unclean things cannot stand in His presence. As descendents of Adam and Eve, we have all inherited the taint of their rebellion against God. But as soon as God confronted our first parents with their sin, He also promised them that He would restore the relationship with Him that they had broken. God sent His Son Jesus to live among us, to fulfill God’s demand for holiness on our behalf, and to die a criminal’s death in our place. On the cross, Jesus bore in His broken body the punishment for our broken relationship with God; when Jesus died, so also died our guilt. Now Jesus stands in the presence of His Father, alive forevermore, and re-opens heaven to those who rely on Him alone for release from sin, sorrow and death. God has kept His promise.

While we know that God loves us and will deliver us from suffering, we still have times of doubt. Sometimes God makes us wait for release, as the Jews were made to wait in Babylon for 70 years. Sometimes God grants release at the point where all hope seems lost, as He did with Jairus. God’s timetable is not our timetable. And when we are waiting for release, Satan whispers in our ears vicious lies to make us doubt: "God is far off and does not hear" Satan says. Or "God is displeased with you—you are not worthy of His attention." Worst of all, Satan tries to make us believe that God does not exist at all, and that our faith is a delusion. When Satan begins to whisper words of doubt and unbelief, read again Jeremiah’s words of confident hope, read again of Jesus’ miraculous gift of life restored. Remember that God is faithful to His promises. God takes His promises so seriously that He allowed His only Son to be murdered in order that the promise of salvation would be valid for you and for me.

God has promised release from suffering. We know that release will come at a time of God’s choosing, not ours. God provides us with patient strength to bear the trials of waiting. He has given us the Holy Bible to read at home and to hear in church. He has given us Communion at His table to strengthen our faltering faith. He has put Christians in your life to help share your burden until the hour of release comes. Thank the Lord that He is faithful! Praise the Lord for His mercy! Pray that the Lord will give you patience as you wait in joyful hope of the peace that only God can give. "The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Who cares?

But they paid no attention and went off--one to his field, another to his business (Matthew 22:5).

Apathetic, indifferent people bring great sorrow to the heart of Jesus. Consider this poem by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came in modern day, they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would never give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do;"
And still it rained the winter rain, that drenched Him through and through;
The crowd went home and left the streets, without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

How can we understand religious apathy? How can anyone not care about their eternal soul? It’s because we live in a world of distractions. The television distracts husbands and wives from strengthening their marriage by talking to each other. Sex with a string of casual dates distracts singles from their loneliness. Drugs and alcohol distract people from thinking about where their lives are headed. Whenever there is a chance that we might take the time to think about the meaning of life and the prospect of death, the Devil tries his hardest to distract us with new fashions, new technological toys, or an invitation to immerse yourself in having a good time. Compared to the excitement of modern entertainment, time spent with God in repentance and worship can seem awfully boring. Please join me in praying:

Dearest Jesus, move us to take a break. Help us to take a break from shopping, from dating, from renting another DVD to watch. Help us to put the business of our calendars on hold for a bit and really reflect on the quality of the things that consume our time. Are they meaningful? Will they last? Will they give us comfort when we lie close to death? Where are You into our daily planner? Forgive us for our misplaced priorities. Amen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Grow in knowledge

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Martin Luther said that he studied the Bible the way that he gathered apples. First, he shook the whole tree, so that the ripest fruit might fall. Then he climbed the tree and shook each limb, and when he had shaken each limb, he shook each branch, and after each branch every twig, and then he looked under each leaf.

Let’s follow Luther’s example. Let’s start with looking at the whole Bible, reading through it rapidly as you would any other book. Get ahold of a paraphrase like the New Living Translation, and read just three chapters a day—in a little over a year, you will have read the entire Bible! Then, shake every limb; use a more literal translation like the New International Version, and read each book of the Bible carefully--now that you know how it fits into the larger picture of God’s Word. Start with Genesis, then follow it with Luke and the other Gospels; then the rest of the New Testament and the Old. See how man became sinful and alienated from God, and how God addressed this problem by sending his Son Jesus to die in our place so that we could live beyond the grave, free of sin forever. Then, shake every branch and twig; look under every leaf. Find a good commentary on a favorite book of the Bible and start studying it closely; use the footnotes to see where Jesus and the apostles quote the Old Testament, proving that Jesus is the Christ promised all the way back in Genesis, and that God always keeps His promises.

Some people are leery of trying to study the Bible because they think that they won’t be able to understand all of it. Don’t let that stop you! The Bible is God’s own Words--even preachers realize that they cannot completely understand everything that God has given us in this precious book! Studying the Bible is a life-long curriculum; after all, if you picked apples the way that Luther said he did, you know that he must have spent a long time in that tree! The task is made easier when done as part of a group. Join a Bible study group, or form one of your own. If you would like suggestions on course materials, just send me an email. I only ask that you remember the words of St. Paul: faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The parable of the minas

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. `Put this money to work,' he said, `until I come back.'

"But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, `We don't want this man to be our king.'

"He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

"The first one came and said, `Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'

" `Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. `Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'

"The second came and said, `Sir, your mina has earned five more.'

"His master answered, `You take charge of five cities.'

"Then another servant came and said, `Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'

"His master replied, `I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'

"Then he said to those standing by, `Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'

" `Sir,' they said, `he already has ten!'

"He replied, `I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me.' "
(Luke 19:11-27)

In today’s Gospel lesson, we heard Jesus’ Parable of the Minas. As you read these familiar words, I am sure that you figured out that the king represented Jesus and that the servants represented us. I am also sure that you realized that the parable speaks of what will happen when Jesus returns to judge the world in respect to righteousness. But what about the minas? What did you think they represented? Many people think that the minas are the talents that God gives us, skills that He expects us to use in His service. But is that what they really are?

The parable begins by talking about a ‘man of noble birth’. Clearly, this man is our Lord Jesus, who was born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, born without sin; there can be no more noble a birth than His. This ‘noble man’ journeyed to a far country to receive His appointment as king. Jesus went to a far country to be appointed king; Jesus ascended into heaven and has been made king over all the earth, as we read in First Peter 3:21-22: “[Baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” Jesus was appointed king because He had been faithful in carrying out His duties. Jesus said “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). Jesus came to seek and to save us. We were lost, lost in the impenetrable fog of our sin. Our sinful nature blinded us, making it impossible for us to see the road that leads to heaven. We needed someone who was not blinded by the fog, someone without sin who could take us by the hand and lead us back to our heavenly Father. We also needed someone who could appease God’s anger at us, for wandering off into the fog of sin. Jesus came to do both these things. Jesus cleared away the fog by teaching us about His Father, and He earned our trust by giving His life on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf we do not fear letting Him lead us back to His Father, because God is no longer angry at the lost who return by following Jesus. Jesus did all this according to His Father’s divine plan; the writer to the Hebrews said, “He was faithful to the one who appointed him” (Hebrews 3:2). And because Jesus has been the perfect faithful Son, God the Father has appointed Him King over all.

But not everyone wanted the ‘man of noble birth’ to be their king. They went so far as to send a delegation to the far country to protest the appointment. Most people haven’t wanted Jesus as their king. Most people enjoy wallowing in their lives of sin, and they don’t want to be held accountable for their behavior by anybody. So they have sent delegates to heaven in protest; they sent martyrs like Stephen and Peter and Paul. They have killed God’s followers so that those saints can go to heaven and say, “those people don’t want Jesus to be their King.”

But before the ‘man of noble birth’ left, He gave His servants something to do while He was away. He gave each of them a mina to manage on His behalf. A mina was a coin that was worth about 3 months’ wages, perhaps around $3,000. They were to put this money ‘to work’ until the ‘man of noble birth’ returned. When He returned as King, He called for an accounting. He was greatly pleased with the servant who brought to him 10 minas, a 1000% return on His money; He called this servant ‘faithful’. The King was also pleased with the servant who brought to Him 5 minas, a 500% return on His money. To each servant the King gave great responsibility and the honor that comes with such trust, the administration of cities. But the servant who hid the money was an entirely different matter. The servant disobeyed his King by not putting His money to work. To make matters worse, the servant made excuses for his behavior by labeling the King as a harsh, demanding ruler. In response, the King showed no mercy. If the servant did not expect mercy, but only harsh judgment, then that is what the King would give him. The mina was taken from him, and the servant was left with nothing except unity with those who opposed the King’s rule, unity with those condemned to die.

What does the mina represent? The parable says that each servant was given one mina to work with, so the mina cannot be our talents and abilities. Some people are more talented than others, but Jesus says that everyone started off equally. When the first servant brought his minas to the King, he said “your mina has earned ten more.” The servant did not claim that he had earned the ten additional minas; he gave credit for the increase to the mina given him by the King. The only gift that God gives us all in equal measure, the only gift that has the power to bring increase regardless of our own talents, is the Word of God. We have all been given the gift of God’s saving Word. We have all been given access to the Bible, to worship in church, to the Sacraments, to Bible class and Sunday School. And it is because of the Word of God that we have faith and forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. The mina given to each servant is the Word of God that Jesus entrusts to every person who believes in Him.

In the Bible, the number 10 represents completeness. The 10 servants in the parable represent the sum total of all who believe in Jesus. While Jesus remains in heaven preparing for Judgment Day, He has given every Christian His holy Word, with the instruction to ‘put it to work’. How do we put the Word of God to work? St. Paul tells us how in Second Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We put Jesus’ Words to work when we tell our friends about the Savior who died so that they might live. We put Jesus’ words to work when we stand up to another person in love and tell them that what they are doing is displeasing to God, and that He will forgive them if they are willing to change their ways. We are putting Christ’s mina to work when we are firm in guiding our children along God’s path of life. We put Christ’s mina to use when we study the Scriptures, preparing ourselves for whatever task the Father gives us to do.

When Jesus comes again, this time in glory as King of the world, He will call for us to give an account of our stewardship. The servant who gained 10 minas more was called faithful, because 10 is the most a person could possibly get—10 is the number of completeness. Such a Christian is a true hero of the faith, a person who puts the spreading of God’s word above everything else. We think of people like Peter, Paul, John and Martin Luther, people who devoted their lives to spreading the word of God’s redeeming love to anyone who would listen. The servant who gained 5 minas more was also rewarded with great responsibility and honor, even though his return was not like that of the first servant. Such a Christian is a person who has heard the Savior’s call and tries to be faithful in carrying out Jesus’ work among his family and in his community. We think of persons like you and me, people who struggle to raise our children in the faith and find the courage to speak of our faith with those who don’t believe.

Jesus’ parable also mentions a third servant. This servant is also a Christian, for Jesus has given Him the gift of His saving Word as well. But the third servant did not put Christ’s mina to work. This servant hid God’s saving Word carefully in his heart, not letting anyone know that he had it. Such a person does not push his children to go to Sunday School or attend Confirmation classes. Such a person might not attend church or receive the Lord’s Supper with any kind of regularity. He certainly doesn’t lead his family in devotions or thank God in prayer before eating. He doesn’t speak of religion with his buddies, unless it is to criticize the church for being too demanding on his time and money, or being too critical of the kind of life he likes to live.

The King criticized the third servant for not putting His mina to work. The servant tried to make excuses, but the King would have none of it. “Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?” he said. It can be intimidating, speaking about our faith with others. We can be tempted to react like Moses, who said: "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10). But even if we are not good at telling others about Jesus ourselves, we can still support those who do. Supporting the Church or a missionary is the same thing as putting the King’s mina on deposit with a bank. In both cases, trained men take the deposit and ‘put it to work’.

When Jesus returns, Christians like the third servant will be afraid. The third servant did not expect to find mercy in the King, only harsh judgment. But the third servant wasn’t doomed because he failed to put the King’s mina to work. The servant was doomed because he didn’t trust the King to show him mercy. If the third servant had only cried out in trust “have mercy me, oh King!” he would have been spared. The same is true for us. When Jesus comes on the Last Day to judge the earth, none of us will be able to take pride in how well we have put His Word to work in our lives. If all we have in our hearts is the fear that we have not lived up to God’s standards, He will indeed take away our mina, take away His saving Word. If all we have in our hearts is the fear of God’s justice, we will be put to death eternally. But if we have trust in our hearts that Jesus will be merciful, if we believe that the King who comes to judge is the same ‘man of noble birth’ who died to give us the gift of forgiveness, then we have no need for fear. When Jesus comes again, we can say, as we say every day, “Have mercy on me, O Lord!” and He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Then we will spend eternity with our Lord, the reward reserved for Jesus’ servants alone.

Jesus has given you His mina, His holy Word. Consider well what you can do with it. The Lord is coming back, but He hasn’t come back yet. There is still time to ask for forgiveness, for sometimes wrapping up your mina and hiding it. There is still time, with your sins forgiven, to put Jesus’ mina to work in your life and in the lives of others. May the Lord grant you a rich return on His investment.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The kiss of death, the kiss of life

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

In December of 1878, the death of Princess Alice the second was announced to Parliament. Her death had come about through an act of love. Alice’s daughter had contracted diphtheria; the royal physician had forbidden her to kiss her child, lest she also contract the deadly disease. But during a bad spell of delirium, the young mother could not hold back; she took her daughter in her arms to soothe her. When the child eventually opened her eyes and said, "Mama, kiss me", the princess was overcome with love. Without stopping to think, she kissed her sick child on the lips—but this proved to be the kiss of death. In a few days, the daughter had recovered, but her mother lay pale and cold beneath a royal funeral shroud.

Princess Alice gave up her life out of love for her child. This is the same kind of love that Jesus has for us. We are all sick with a terminal disease—the disease of sin. Sin makes our lives miserable. Our bodies suffer from disease and the effects of encroaching old age. Our minds are clouded by sinful thoughts and desires. Eventually, the infection of sin will kill us. Left untreated, not only will our bodies die, but our souls will experience an eternity of dying in hell.

Because of His love, Jesus came to rescue us from the sickness of our sins. In the waters of holy Baptism, our Lord takes His children in His arms and gently kisses them. At baptism the infection of our sin is transferred to the Son of God, who died from that terrible infection on the cross of Calvary. But the death brought by our sin was not strong enough to keep Jesus in the grave; on the third day He rose to new life, completely cured, completely healthy. He rose so that He could continue to love us—to hold us and sooth us while we live in a world made sick by sin, and to rescue us from the grave so that we can live in eternal health with Him in heaven. Please join me in praying,

We thank You, Lord Jesus, for loving us so much that you would give Your life in exchange for ours. Please forgive us for the times when we try to push You away. Hold us in Your loving embrace, and give us the blessed assurance that You will make everything okay. Amen.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

An artist was asked to illustrate what a ruined church looked like. He painted a beautiful structure equipped with all the most modern conveniences. The nave contains a richly carved chancel, a magnificent altar, an elaborate organ, and beautiful stained-glass windows. Many fashionably dressed worshippers fill the pews. The choir members and acolytes have beautiful gowns to wear. But in a corner, attached to the wall, there is a little box marked "for missions." A spider web has been woven over the opening of the box. That church is not mission-minded; thus, it is a ruined church.

An old saying goes "charity begins at home." When money is tight, it is our first reaction to cut things out of the budget that seem to be luxury items. But is mission work a luxury item in the life of a congregation? Did Jesus say, "go and make disciples of all nations when you have enough money to"?

For many years, churches have distinguished between "missions" and "evangelism." In reality, they are the same thing. Both mission work and evangelism are about the church taking the word of God to those who do not yet believe. This is what Jesus commanded us to do. Every believer belongs to Christ because of mission work. It is mission work when a parent brings a child to Christ through holy Baptism. It is mission work when an aunt brings her niece to Sunday School. It is mission work when a man invites his girlfriend to come with him to church. It is mission work when you read words of hope from the Bible to a dear friend who lies seriously ill in a hospital bed. These are all just as much mission work as financially supporting a missionary in Africa or sponsoring a devotional program on television.

When mission work stops, churches die. When there is no concern for introducing the lost to Christ, there will be no baptisms or confirmations. Weddings will be held at the courthouse and funerals will be conducted in the funeral home. When people stop speaking of Jesus and His sacrificial death that brings us life, people are denied the knowledge they need to enter heaven; Paul tells us everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?… faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:13-14, 17).

If you believe in Jesus, you are a missionary. When Jesus says go and make disciples, He means you. Go and make a disciple by inviting a friend to church. Go and make a disciple by reading God’s Word to an invalid. Go and make a disciple by reading a Bible story to a child at bedtime. Go and make disciples by donating to mission work here at home or overseas. Please join me in praying,

Forgive us, Lord Jesus, for so often ignoring Your command to go and share You with others. Give us courage to speak of Your wonderful love, Your sacrificial death, and Your glorious resurrection to everyone who does not yet know You. Please bless others through our service to You. Amen.

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