Are you ready for Christmas?

“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mothers womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13-17

“Are you ready for Christmas?” is a question we often hear people ask at this time of year. And, what is meant by this question? Usually it has to do with being done with the Christmas shopping, having up the decorations, and having many goodies baked and prepared for family celebrations.

But a far more important question to consider is this: “Are you ready for Jesus’ coming?” Having His people be ready for Christ’s coming is indeed very important to the LORD God; for He mercifully delays the day of Christ’s return and judgment, not wanting any of us to perish but desiring that all of us repent of our sins and unbelief and receive forgiveness and life eternal through the sacrifice of the Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). But, we know that the Day of the Lord is coming!

This is why God sent John the Baptist into this world. He was to prepare God’s people for the coming of their Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ. John, whose name itself means that the LORD is gracious, would be the prophet of God promised in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb and would drink neither wine or strong drink (Num. 6:1ff.). He would “go before Him [the Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Like Elijah of old, John would boldly rebuke unbelief and sin and call upon God’s people to repent and trust in the coming Messiah and Savior (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:1ff.; John 1:29ff.).

Whether young or old, John called upon all to repent and believe in Christ Jesus, baptizing them for the forgiveness of their sins. To be ready for the coming of the Christ, the fathers had to humble themselves and trust in the LORD God with child-like faith (cf. Matthew 18:1-4). And those who had been disobedient to the LORD needed to be converted to the wisdom of the just (those who humbly acknowledged and confessed their sins and received forgiveness in Christ Jesus (cf. 1 John 1:8ff.). In this way, John prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

But are we ready for Jesus’ coming? How can we prepare? By heeding the message of John the Baptist: by humbling ourselves before the LORD God, our Maker, and acknowledging and confessing our sin before Him; by trusting in the blood of Jesus, which was shed for us upon the cross, and receiving the forgiveness and life which Christ won for us and offers and gives to us through our Baptism; and by amending our sinful ways and seeking to live for Christ Jesus, who has redeemed us and who will soon return in glory to take all who trust in Him to the eternal joys of heaven (cf. 1 John 3:1-3)!

Dear LORD God, our Maker and Redeemer, prepare us for Christ’s coming by working in us true repentance, true sorrow over our sins and true faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ! Grant this to us for the sake of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

[Scripture quotations from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

‘Bless the LORD, O my soul….’

“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits….” Psalm 103:1-2 (Read Psalm 103)

It’s so easy to neglect to thank and praise the LORD God and to forget that it is He who has so richly blessed us with all that we have and need. And, when we do speak words of thanks, it is so often only an outward expression and not the true response of our heart and soul. For this reason, David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, calls upon his own soul to bless the LORD and not forget all His blessings.

What are the benefits with which the LORD God has so richly blessed us? He gave us His own Son to suffer and die in our stead, and He forgives all our sins and iniquities for Jesus’ sake. He heals all our diseases. He redeems our life from destruction. He crowns us with His loving kindness and tender mercy. He fills our mouths with good things and renews our youth. He executes righteous judgments for the oppressed. And through His Word, He makes known to us His ways and His mighty acts. Cf. Psalm 103:1-22.

What a reason for us to join in with the psalmist and bless and praise the LORD from our very soul! He forgives our sins, removing them as far as the east is from the west, and accepts us for Jesus’ sake! Instead of judging and condemning us, He deals with us in mercy, provides us with all that we need, and assures us that His mercy is “from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him”!

Stop and consider all the blessings which the LORD God has provided for you, beginning with His great mercy and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Then, with the psalmist and believers around the world, bless and praise and thank the LORD with all your heart and soul!

O LORD God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I bless and thank and praise You for Your great goodness and mercy to me, a sinner. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

It’s time to wake up!

“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Romans 13:11 (Read v. 11-14)

Even though we confess it almost every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed, we often forget the fact that the day of our Lord’s return to judge the living and the dead is drawing closer each and every day. Truly, it is high time to awake from the sleep of our sin-darkened minds and make ourselves ready for the coming of our Lord and Savior, God Himself in the flesh, the judge of the living and the dead!

Rather than be lulled into the false security that our Lord’s return and the day of judgment is far off and thinking we will have time later to repent and prepare ourselves for His coming, now is the time to “cast off the works of darkness, and … put on the armour of light. ” Now is the time to “walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” Now is the time to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

While we may not see and recognize it, not only is our salvation threatened by the temptations of the devil and of the world around us, our own flesh – our old nature, inclined to sin and wickedness (cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:18-19) – threatens to turn us away from Christ and back into the sinfulness and rebellion from which Christ has set us free.

We ourselves cannot overcome sin and drive it out of our lives. Thus, the Word of God directs us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ – to place our faith and hope in Him – and not provide opportunity for our old sinful flesh to drag us back down into the muck and mire of sin (cf. Heb. 12:1-2).

As the light of God’s Word shines upon our hearts, we are reminded that Jesus is coming and coming soon! He endures the wickedness of this world a little longer only because He desires all to repent and come to the knowledge of His grace and mercy in Christ Jesus (2 Pet. 3:9). Now is the time for us to repent and look to Christ Jesus and His blood, shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, for mercy, forgiveness and life everlasting!

O coming Savior, grant that I not be lulled to sleep in the darkness of sin but repent of my sins and wickedness and look to You for mercy, forgiveness and the eternal joys of heaven You have prepared for all who trust in You. Amen.

[Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

Whose word is the Bible? How should we use it?

Sad to say, even among those who call themselves Christian, many do not regard the Bible as God’s unerring word. Rather, they view it as any other book written by men and pick and choose what they believe to be true and what they regard as opinions of another time which are not binding today. But true followers of Christ Jesus have a different attitude toward the Bible, that of Jesus, who regarded every word of the Scriptures as God’s revealed truth.

Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18). The Law and the Prophets was what the Old Testament Scriptures were called, and a jot is the smallest Hebrew letter and a tittle, the smallest part of a Hebrew letter. Jesus regarded every letter, even the smallest part of a letter, true and important.

He also said, when referring the wording of the Old Testament Scripture: “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). And, in rebuking those who did not believe in Him, Jesus said: “Ye have not his [the Father’s] word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:38-39). Jesus called the Scriptures the word of God the Father and told His hearers to search the Scriptures because they testify of Him and His work.

Jesus said: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28). And, Jesus, when praying for His disciples, said: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

The Bible is true throughout

Believers in Christ Jesus believe that each and every word, as well as the entirety and whole, of the Bible was given by inspiration of God and is therefore the true and unerring Word of God, for that was the view of our Lord Jesus and that is what the Scriptures say of themselves.

The apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:19-21). The prophecies of Scripture are called a sure word because they were not written by the will or decision of men. Rather, they were written when the Holy Spirit moved men to write, gave them the thoughts they expressed and guided them in the words they used to express those thoughts.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16); and to the church in Corinth, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). The Scriptures are called God-breathed or inspired because they are the words and truths taught by the Holy Spirit Himself.

Of David, the writer of a great many of the psalms in the book of Psalms, the Bible says this: “Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:1-2).

The Scriptures, like Jesus, testify to the truthfulness of all of the Bible. In Proverbs 30:5, we read: “Every word of God is pure.” Psalm 119:160 says, “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.”

It is because the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God that the Bible, which is made up of 66 books and letters written by about 40 human authors over a period of almost 2,000 years, is in total accord and agreement throughout. That’s something not found outside the Bible.

The Word of God has not been lost or corrupted

Though many believe the Word of God has been lost, at least in part, or corrupted over the centuries since it was first recorded, Jesus’ testimony and the teaching of the Scriptures say otherwise. Jesus said: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come … Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:14, 35). Jesus said the Gospel will be preached unto the end of time as a witness to the nations and, though heaven and earth pass away, His words will not pass away. And, again, He said: “Verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).

The Scriptures themselves, which are the Word of God, testify: “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89); “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8; also quoted in 1 Peter 1:24-25).

Therefore, followers of Jesus believe the Word of God has been faithfully preserved by God down through the centuries as a witness to all the nations, that it is still accurately recorded in the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Majority (Received) Texts, and that it can be read and studied in faithful Bible translations such as Luther’s German Bible, the King James Version and the New King James Version of the Bible.

And, since the Bible is the Word of God and every letter is important, followers of Jesus reject and discourage the use of texts and translations of the Bible which are unfaithful to the preserved texts and corrupt the Word of God. In fact, God warns against it when He says: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2); “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28); “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-19); and, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

The Bible is the only source and judge of Christian doctrine

Since all of the Bible is God’s true and unerring Word, followers of Jesus believe and teach that the Bible is to be the source and judge of all Christian doctrine. What is not in accord with God’s Word is not to be taught as Christian doctrine. Christians believe and teach as Christian doctrine only what is taught in the Bible, nothing more and nothing less!

It is as Isaiah wrote: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Jeremiah also wrote: “The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:28-32).

Psalm 119:128 reveals the attitude of a true believer to God’s Word when it says: “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.”

St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

And, the Scriptures hold up the example of the Bereans, who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

People often say there are many ways to interpret the Bible, but there is really only one right way and that is to interpret it as God intended it to be understood. Therefore, followers of Jesus look to the Scriptures to find the correct interpretation of Scripture. Christians let the Bible be its own interpreter; thus, passage interpretations which are not in agreement with other clear passages of Holy Scripture are rejected as erring interpretations. Remember that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Isaiah wrote: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

Followers of Jesus read and study their Bibles

Finally, followers of Jesus diligently study and hear the Bible for it reveals to mankind the only way of salvation, which is through faith in Christ Jesus, and it guides the Christian in living according to God’s Holy will. The Scriptures “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15); and we read and study the Scriptures because they testify of Christ Jesus to give us a knowledge of Him and all He has done for our salvation (John 5:39). As John wrote, those things recorded for us in the Bible “are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). And, of course, followers of Jesus read and study their Bibles and listen attentively when it is read and explained because, as the psalmist says: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Colossians 3:16).

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

 

‘Unblameable and unreproveable in his sight’

“For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.” Colossians 1:19-23

It was the plan of God the Father to send His only-begotten Son into the world, a true man, to establish peace between God and man by shedding His holy and precious blood upon the cross for the sins of the world. And that is what Jesus has done. He made atonement for mankind’s sin and His resurrection is proof that God accepted His sacrifice. He took the sins of all upon Himself and paid in full the just punishment in order that the whole world of sinners might be reconciled to God.

The people of Colosse, as well as you and I, were at one time separated from God and alienated from Him in our minds because of wicked works. We were enemies of God by nature. Instead of loving God and gladly and willingly seeking His perfect will, we were all in rebellion against Him and went our own way, desiring and doing what we deemed to be pleasing and best for us at the moment.

But even while we were yet in rebellion against our God and Maker, He gave His Son to redeem us, to atone for our sins and to pay the price of our redemption. And then, through the preaching of the Gospel, He reconciled us to Himself by bringing us to faith in Christ Jesus our Savior (cf. Romans 5:6-11). The believers in Colosse – and you and I – have been“reconciled in the body of his flesh through death.”

And why did Jesus die for our sins, and the sins of the world? Why did He pay the price of our redemption and atone for the sins of all mankind? That He might present us “holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight .” Jesus died on the cross and paid the just punishment for your sins and my sins – indeed, for the sins of the whole word – that He might present us to Himself without sin and unblameable in His sight! Jesus paid the penalty for your sins and mine that He might pardon and forgive us and present us to the Father without fault, free of all sin and guilt.

And how does this forgiveness and reconciliation become our own? How do we appropriate it for ourselves? How can we be presented holy and righteous and unblameable in His sight? Through faith in Christ Jesus! This pardon and forgiveness, this reconciliation won for us by Jesus, becomes our own simply by believing the Word of God which tells us Christ died for our sins and rose again, that atonement was made through Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross! That is how the believers in Colosse became saints in God’s eyes, and that is how you and I can be presented holy and righteous before our heavenly Father.

It is as Paul says, “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” The Holy Spirit worked faith in the Colossian believers’ hearts and He continues to call us to faith in Jesus yet today. It is “faith of the operation of God” (Colossians 2:12).

Jesus, God the Son in human flesh, made atonement to the Father for the sins of the whole world by His innocent sufferings and death in our stead. He paid for the sins of the Colossians, and He paid for your sins and mine when He shed His holy and precious blood upon the cross. Through faith in Jesus, the believers in Colosse and you and I are justified and forgiven – we are reconciled to God and can be presented before God the Father faultless, holy and without blame.

Trust in Christ Jesus – He has done it all and we are complete in Him! By the working of God’s Spirit, trust that in Jesus, no matter how great your sins have been, you have forgiveness and life in God’s eternal kingdom. Trust that in Jesus you are indeed “holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” Why? Because Jesus paid in full!

O Jesus, my Savior, thank You for going to the cross and shedding Your holy and precious blood to reconcile me and make me acceptable and righteous in Your sight through faith in You and Your atoning sacrifice. Preserve me in that faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible

Reason to give thanks and praise!

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Psalm 100

It is sad how few truly know and recognize the truth expressed by this ancient psalm. In spite of what we may think, the LORD (Jehovah), is God. He always has been and always will be.

He made us. We did not make ourselves, nor are we the product of some chance evolutionary process. Not only did the Almighty God create the first man and woman (Genesis 1-2), He caused each of us to be conceived in our mother’s womb and He created and formed us there (cf. Psalm 139:13-16). We are indeed “His people and the sheep of His pasture.”

We have every reason to “enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise,” every reason to “be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.” Why? Because “The LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”

Think about it! Are we deserving of His care and blessing? Does He owe it to us to give us our families, our jobs, our food and our health?

When we consider how we have rebelled against Him and so often set aside His commandments, we truly deserve only His wrath and eternal punishment. Yet, He is merciful to us and continues to give us all that we need.
In His mercy, God even gave His own Son, Jesus Christ, to obey His commandments in our place, to suffer and die for our sins and the sins of the world and then rise again from the dead on the third day. For Jesus’ sake, the LORD God deals with us in mercy, graciously calling us to repent and return to Him in faith for forgiveness and life everlasting.

And we can be thankful, too, that “His truth endureth to all generations.” His Word, the Bible, has not been lost or corrupted through the ages as some assume. He has preserved it as a witness to all people of all time of His goodness and mercy toward us in creating and redeeming us. His Word continues, even yet today, to teach us to know the LORD God who made us and sent His Son to die for us and redeem us.

Through the Bible, we learn who the true God is. We learn His holy will and see our sinfulness. But we also learn of His love and mercy toward us for the sake of Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead. And we learn that the forgiveness and life eternal which Jesus won for us when He suffered and died upon the cross and then rose again are ours through faith in Christ Jesus!

We thank You, dear heavenly Father for Your goodness and mercy toward us for Jesus’ sake. We praise and bless Your holy name. Amen.

[Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible]