Persecution brought spread of the Word

“Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4 (Read Acts 8:1-4)

How hard it must have been for the believers in Jerusalem during the days when Saul (whom we know as Paul) persecuted the church! The Bible tells us that this was a time of great persecution against the church at Jerusalem, that the believers (except for the apostles) were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria and that Saul made havoc of the church, entering into the homes of believers and dragging off both men and women to prison (Acts 8:1-3).

Think what it would be like if this were to happen to you today – if you could be arrested, imprisoned, tried and even put to death just because you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and follow His teaching! The day could easily come.
Yet, even through all this sin and evil on the part of Paul and others (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12-17), God brought about good. “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.”

Jesus had commanded His disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16; Cf. Acts 11:19; Romans 8:28).
Persecution scattered the believers and spread God’s saving word.

What about us today? Are we not scattered over a wide area? While this may make it more difficult for us to gather together for worship and study of God’s Word, could it be that God has permitted us to be scattered over many communities so that we bear witness and preach the Word to more people? When we consider all that Christ has done for us – how He became true man, fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s Law for us and then suffered and died on the cross for our sins to redeem us and give us everlasting life with Him in heaven – how can we help but spread the Word everywhere and “speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20)?

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, we know that You have commanded us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel of salvation to every creature. Grant that we who are scattered abroad for various reasons may go everywhere, preaching the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, knowing that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23

shepherdJesus described the people of the world – even those who were outwardly associated with the church of His day – “like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36); and this description is still true today. But what comfort we believers have with the LORD as our Shepherd!

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). We “were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).

With Jesus as our Good Shepherd, what could we possibly lack? He died for us and won for us forgiveness for all our sins and place in heaven. He provides for all our needs of both body and soul and will bring us safely into His everlasting kingdom (1 John 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:18).

He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters. He nourishes us with His Word and protects us from false teaching and deception. Though we by nature would go our own way, He leads us in the paths of righteousness, teaching us to live humbly before our God, acknowledging our sin and wickedness and trusting in His mercy and forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s blood shed for us upon the cross. He leads and moves us, as His sheep, to live our lives for Him (2 Cor. 5:15).

When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, what have we to fear? Christ, our Shepherd is with us to protect us and keep us. And, even when we die, no evil will befall us; for we have been redeemed by the holy and precious blood of Christ, and our risen Savior will also raise us up on the Last Day unto life everlasting!

Even though the devil and the world wait to devour us, our Good Shepherd prepares a table before us and nourishes and blesses us through His Word and Sacraments. He pours out His Spirit upon us and keeps us in His mercy and grace throughout our earthly lives; and, finally, we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!

O Jesus, tender Shepherd, grant that we hear Your life-giving Word and trust in You to provide for all our needs of both body and soul. Grant us forgiveness for all our sins, nourish and keep us in the true faith, and lead us safely through this world to Yourself in heaven. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Do You Know the Risen Jesus?

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” 1 John 2:3-6

Many claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus Christ but not all who make such claims know Jesus. Some are hypocrites and some deceive themselves into thinking they are Christian when, in fact, they are impenitent and do not trust in Jesus and His blood shed upon the cross for cleansing and everlasting life.

God’s Word teaches us that we can know whether we truly know and trust in Christ Jesus as our Savior by our attitude toward Jesus’ word and commandments: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.”

The one who knows and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and life everlasting will gladly and willingly obey His commandments. This desire to obey God’s Word is evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and of the new nature created in believers which loves God and desires to serve Him. Of course, as John wrote in the first chapter (1:5-10), believers are not without sin in this world and cannot claim to be sinless and holy of themselves, for they still have their old sinful nature inherited from Adam which balks at and resists living in accord with the Word of God. True believers continue to confess their sins and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus (cf. 1:9; 2:1-2).

Nevertheless, believers can see evidence of their regeneration in their new-found love for God and in their desire to keep the words and commandments of Jesus. Those who come to know the great love of God in sending His Son to suffer and die for our sins and the sins of the whole world are moved to love Him in return for providing salvation for lost sinners.

If we continue to trust in Jesus as our Savior – if we acknowledge our sinfulness and look to Jesus’ shed blood for pardon and life everlasting – we will, as a fruit of that faith, seek to conform our lives to His. We will seek to live and conduct ourselves as Jesus did in this world – in obedience to God the Father, with utmost respect for God’s Word and with love toward lost sinners.

“He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

Jesus, our Savior, You have redeemed us and all mankind from sin by Your atoning sacrifice upon the cross, and You have graciously brought us to know Your great love and mercy toward us in shedding Your blood to cleanse us from all sin. Grant that we grow ever deeper in the knowledge of You and Your love for us and so move us in return to love You and gladly obey Your commandments Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Office of the Keys

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

On the evening of that first Easter Day, Jesus appeared to His disciples where they were gathered together behind closed doors for fear of the Jews and showed them His hands and His side to prove to them that He truly was Jesus and that He really had risen from the dead (John 20:19-20).

Two times Jesus said to them: “Peace to you!” Since Christ had died upon the cross for their sins and was risen again in victory, they had peace with God – the peace of having all sins pardoned and forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus (cf. Eph. 2:13ff.; 1 John 2:1-2).

The Bible says: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).

Not only did Jesus bless them with the peace of sins forgiven, He breathed on them, gave them His Holy Spirit and commissioned them to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain (not forgive) the sins of impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent (John 20:21-23). We speak of this as The Office of the Keys because it opens the gates of heaven to those who are sorry for their sins and look to Christ and His redemptive work and closes the gates of heaven to those who are not sorry for their sins or do not trust in Christ for forgiveness. And, indeed it takes the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to rightly use and apply these keys to others, but this is what Christ our Savior would have us do! Cf. Luke 24:46-47; Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 18:15-18; James 5:16.

Some would object and say, “How can we, as believers in Christ, forgive and retain sins? Only God can do that!” This power is given us precisely because of Christ’s death upon the cross for the sins of all mankind and His glorious resurrection on the third day. Since Christ has paid for all sin and is risen in victory, we can announce and proclaim God’s pardon and peace to penitent sinners (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-21). And since Christ is the only way of salvation, we must also warn those who continue in sin and unbelief of the coming judgment of God.

As Jesus says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we thank and praise You for Your death on the cross for our sins and for Your glorious resurrection and ascension. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may always trust in You and find peace in the pardon You have won for us, and help us to rightly apply Your Word to others that they too might receive the comfort and peace of knowing their sins are forgiven and that they too might have life everlasting through faith in Your name. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Confidence in the Face of Death

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job 19:25-27

Each week I edit the obituaries before they are published in the newspaper. And, as I grow older, I see more and more listed there who are my age or younger and am reminded of the fact that one day, too, I will die. Unless Christ returns soon, we all will die and our bodies will be buried and decay.

But death is not the end! You and I have hope! Because of the events of that first resurrection Sunday, we can be assured that we too will be raised up. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Cor. 15:23).

Because Jesus did not stay in the tomb, because He rose from the dead on the third day after suffering and dying on the cross to pay the just punishment for the sins of the world, because the tomb was empty when the women arrived to anoint the body of Jesus, because He appeared to the women, to Peter, to two on the road to Emmaus, to the eleven in the upper room and even to more than 500 people at one time – most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing (cf. 1 Cor. 15; Mark 16) – we have hope and the certainty of our resurrection on the Last Day.

Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). Those words would mean little if Jesus did not rise from the dead. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave on the third day, we would still be dead in our sins and without hope (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17ff.). “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus was “delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He paid in full for our sins and was raised up, showing that we are indeed justified and forgiven in Him and that we too will be raised up on the Last Day when Christ Jesus returns!

Therefore, we can say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Though we die and decay in the grave, our risen Savior will raise up our bodies and we will see Him who died for our sins and rose again to give us life everlasting! Cf. 1 Thess. 4:13ff.

“I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives….”

O my risen Savior, grant that I live and die in the confidence which Your resurrection gives, and raise me up on the Last Day to the eternal joys of Your kingdom. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Jesus’ Death: What Does It All Mean?

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

These words, spoken some 700 years before the birth of the Messiah, summarize it all. All of us — every one of us — like sheep have gone astray. As the Scriptures say elsewhere, “There is none righteous, no, not one … They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, 12; Psalm 14:1-3).

We might like to think that these words are talking about somebody else, but they are talking about us — about you and me. We have turned aside from God’s ways, every one of us, to our own ways. Instead of walking after the LORD God who made us, we turn aside and go in our own direction. We live for ourselves and for our own goals and ambitions, and we seek to do what we desire rather than submitting to the LORD God and His holy Word. Instead of modeling our lives after the God who made us, we fashion and model a god in our own image, who thinks as we do and accepts us the way we are! However, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:6-9).

What did God do to redeem us from our sin and rebellion? What did God do that we might not have to suffer the eternal consequences for our sin? “The LORD has laid on Him [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all.”

God took all your sins and all my sins, together with the sins of all mankind, and laid them upon Christ Jesus and punished Him in our place! Jesus Christ the righteous made full atonement for all our sins as well as for the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 John 2:1-2). That is why Jesus was in such agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. That is why He did sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. That is why He was beaten and scourged and condemned to die upon a Roman cross. That is why He cried out before His death: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

And, as we shall again see, Jesus not only bore the full punishment for our sins and died upon the cross; He also rose again in victory. And He calls upon all of us – upon you and upon me – to repent of our sinful ways and turn unto Him for forgiveness and life everlasting!

O dearest Jesus, we thank You for bearing upon the cross the full punishment for our sins. For the sake of Your shed blood, forgive us for turning aside to our own ways and rebelling against You, and graciously raise us up to life in communion with You – to life everlasting! Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

 

We come to partake of the New Covenant meal

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.” Mark 14:22-24

Why are we here tonight? Of what have we come to partake? In many churches, a Passover Seder is observed, with the Lord’s Supper added in as a sidelight. But we come to take part in a New Covenant meal – one established by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and the shedding of His holy and precious blood upon the cross for the sins of the world.

The Seder, many parts of which are only tradition and neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture, commemorates the passing over of the angel of death in Egypt and the sparing of God’s people through the blood of the lamb upon the door posts and lintel of their houses (cf. Ex. 12). The sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the eating of the sacrifice points ahead to the sacrifice of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and our partaking of His sacrifice (Mark 14:22-24).

Observance of the Passover was commanded under the Old Covenant that God’s people might remember how God spared them from death and delivered them from bondage in Egypt through the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. Jesus commands us, under the New Covenant, to partake of His Supper often that we might remember how He died upon the cross as our sacrificial lamb and paid for the sins of all the world (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-21).

And, as God’s people under the Old Covenant, partook of their sacrifice, so the risen Christ Jesus gives us to partake of His sacrifice – to eat of His body and drink of His blood which was given and shed for us upon the cross to establish the New Covenant in which our sins are paid for and forgiven, we are spared God’s eternal condemnation and we are given the everlasting joys of Christ’s heavenly kingdom (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 9:14ff.; 9:23ff.; 10:1ff.; John 5:24; John 14:1ff.).

Dear Lord Jesus, we have come to partake of Your sacrifice that we might be assured of the eternal blessings won for us by Your death upon the cross and pledged to us in the New Covenant sealed with Your shed blood. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

What is Palm Sunday all about?

“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” John 12:16 (Read John 12:12-19)

Do you know what Palm Sunday and the events of that day are all about? Yes, you may know what happened on that day – how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt and was hailed King of the Jews, but why? What does it all mean?

If you don’t know, you’re not alone. Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand these things until after Jesus was risen from the dead and glorified. As John writes, “then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.”

What was written about Jesus? From the Book of Zechariah, we see the ancient prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). We see these very words fulfilled; the people shouted words of praise to Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of Israel. They hailed Him as their King. And, Jesus was riding upon a donkey’s colt, just as the prophecy said and similar to the way King Solomon was made known as king of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 1:32ff.).

And what did they cry out? John tells us the multitude cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!” In Matthew 21:9, we read: “Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” Compare that to the words of Psalm 118:19ff. Hosanna, which is a call to the LORD to save now, together with the references to Son of David, King of Israel and He who comes in the name of the LORD is an acclamation of Jesus as the Messiah and promised Savior who would save His people and establish an everlasting kingdom (cf. 2 Sam. 7:16).

Thus, the events of Palm Sunday were a declaration that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah, the Son of David and King of Israel who would save His people and establish an everlasting kingdom. The people were calling upon Him to save them as God had promised. He was the one who would “redeem Israel From all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:8). And, this, just days before He was crucified and died for the sins of the world to provide that promised salvation!

And we too cry out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!” We pray that He would usher in the day of our salvation – the salvation he won for us upon Calvary’s cross. We long for Him to come again and enter into the gates of the New Jerusalem and establish His everlasting kingdom and be our God and King forevermore! Cf. Phil. 2:5ff.; Rev. 19:11ff.; 21:1ff.; 21:22ff.

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! We praise You, Christ Jesus our Savior, and pray that You would come and establish Your everlasting kingdom and reign over us as our God and King. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Who Condemned Jesus?

“So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.” Mark 15:15 (read v. 1-20)

Who condemned Jesus? Who found Him guilty and condemned Him to be put to death by crucifixion? Consider Mark 15:1-20.

It was, of course, Pontius Pilate. He examined Jesus, sought to release Him but ultimately commanded that He be crucified (cf. Matt. 27:11ff.). Yes, the Jewish chief priests, scribes and council accused Jesus and persuaded the people to demand He be crucified, but Pilate had the authority and issued the judgment!

But who was the real cause of Jesus’ condemnation? Jesus was innocent – without sin and righteous in His thoughts, words and deeds – but our sins cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Though Jesus, the sinless Son of God, should have been acquitted and we condemned, God released us, laid our sins and their guilt upon Christ Jesus and condemned Him in our stead – and not only to a horrible death by crucifixion, but to be condemned and forsaken of God Himself (cf. v. 34; Isa. 53:4-6,10; 1 Pet. 1:18-21; 3:18).

And because of this, God justly passed over and forgave the sins of all people who went before the Christ, and God justly has forgiven the sins of all who have lived since Christ’s atoning sacrifice (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; 1 John 2:1-2). Because God the Father laid our sins upon Jesus and punished Him in our stead, you and I are pardoned and forgiven. We are made acceptable to God and forgiven for the sake of His blood shed for us upon the cross.

The Bible tells us: “He made us accepted in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:6,7).

Instead of condemning us to the punishment we have deserved, God condemned and punished His own Son and reaches out to us with pardon, forgiveness, mercy. He would have us accept and receive in faith His pardon and forgiveness. He would have us look to Him in faith and believe that in Christ Jesus we have forgiveness for all our sins and everlasting life! Cf. John 3:16, 18.

Dearest Jesus, holy Son of God, it was our sins that brought about Your condemnation. Our sins cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Thank You for bearing the condemnation for our sins – for taking our place and suffering our just punishment – that we might be pardoned and have everlasting life. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

How can we cleanse our ways?

“How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word … I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. …” Psalm 119:9, 15 (Read Psalm 119:9-16)

Are you looking for direction in your life? Do you wonder how you can ever get back on track and going the right way? Psalm 119 tells us how to cleanse our way: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” Jesus says it this way: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

God’s Word calls upon every one of us to repent of our selfish and sinful ways and to turn unto the LORD for His mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and God’s Word also teaches and guides us in the way He would have us live (cf. Psalm 32).

Therefore, we would be wise to read and study the Bible, to meditate on His precepts and to consider and have respect for His ways (cf. 2 Tim. 3:14-17; John 8:31-32). We would do well to hide God’s Word in our hearts that we might always walk in His ways and not forget and turn aside into sin and unbelief.

It is indeed sad that so few take the time to do this. What a tragedy to miss out on knowing the LORD and His ways! What a waste to live one’s life and not know or receive the blessings which He offers and gives for the sake of the shed blood of His only begotten Son! How foolish to neglect so great a salvation simply because do not hear, read and heed God’s very Word to us!

O LORD God, give us the desire to read and study the Bible and learn of You. Grant that we seek after You with our whole heart. And graciously make us “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.