“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6)
The Lord called His Chosen People to be separated from sin. This would be a challenge as they entered the Promised Land for they would come up against pagan peoples and their false gods. On the one hand the various pagan ways and idols would be a temptation because they were less demanding than the Lord’s commands and promoted sexual indulgence. God’s people would be tempted to compromise with evil and worship false gods which promised a life of comfort and ease but would only bring them grief. On the other hand they would also be tempted to fear the pagan peoples who would proclaim the superior power of their gods over Yahweh.
In both cases the Lord reminded them to recall who He is: He is God. He is love. He shows His loving-kindness by pouring out His blessings on undeserving people. As they recalled this, their faith would be strengthened; their trust in Him would increase. They could then more easily see in the midst of the battle that Yahweh is indeed the Supreme God, the one who has actually revealed Himself and shown His lovingkindness, revelation which displayed the capricious unpredictability and emptiness of the pagan gods.
Here we find an important lesson for our own spiritual warfare. Daily we are faced with temptation to sin, fear, doubt and compromise. In order to resist we must remember who the Lord is as well as what He has done for us and for His people. That is why we must daily be in the Word of God as this is the greatest weapon He has given us in our battle. As we read it and meditate on it the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, will show us His love and power so that our faith will be increased and we can more readily resist the attacks of Satan.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40-43)
Most of the parables that Jesus told concerned various aspects of the Kingdom of God. This parable speaks of hell and the last judgment. And it is a strange parable. The Lord seems to allow the righteous and the evil to dwell together until the time is right to harvest. He does not want to tear up the weeds lest he destroy part of the good crop. This may seem odd to us. We would like to see the wicked judged and punished in this life yet they continue to flourish and prosper while we suffer often at their hands. We need to have the patience and wisdom of God. Many of those we deem wicked and perverse now still have an opportunity to come to repentance and faith in this life. The Lord knows who they are; we do not. So let us refrain from hasty judgments and condemnation and pray for those who persecute and abuse us.
In the parable Jesus also speaks of hell as a fiery furnace. This too may strike many today as odd and antiquated. Our society through the media is working systematically to delude everyone into thinking hell does not exist or that no one really goes there except really bad people such as child molesters or serial killers. The dominant concept about life after death seems to be that most are really not that bad. We may sin a bit but it can be excused, explained, pardoned, ignored, or redefined.
And yet Jesus speaks of the fiery punishment of hell here. To say then that hell does not exist or that no one will suffer eternal punishment is to call Him a liar. As for we who are believers we should not reject what the Lord says for He never lies. Thus we must work to continue to spread the gospel that all may know that there is a fiery judgment coming. The only way to escape it is by grace through faith in Jesus.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
I like what Paul has to say about the groanings of the Holy Spirit on our behalf. I groan often! Many times I feel out of place in this world. I often feel out of step with what is popular in our culture, as if I were some sort of misfit. And often I feel like a pariah even in my own family! And then there is the suffering, pain, and violence of our world which all evoke further groaning in prayer or on social media.
Now no one likes to undergo suffering, loss and pain but, as we see in these words of Paul, such suffering is part of living in a fallen world. All creation groans for sIn controls the world and the people in it resulting in heartache for everyone. Yet these words of Paul provide comfort to hurting Christians in those times of sickness, suffering and tribulation. Like Isaiah, Paul upholds the truth of God in Christ Jesus as our rock of strength and consolation, a rock which is not available to those who reject Him. What they place their trust in is as weak and useless as the idols and false gods the pagans worshipped in ancient times.
These words of Paul should help believers realize that for the Christian these feelings of being out of tune with the rest of the world are not unusual, nor are they a sign of emotional disorder: they are the norm! This world is not our home. This is why we groan and cry out to the Lord. We are in the world but not of it. We are part of the new creation, the Kingdom of God which is already but not yet. It has arrived in the person and work of Jesus the Savior and King, it is manifest in the Church, imperfectly but still present and active. Yet the Kingdom of God has has not yet taken over the earth. And so we suffer with temptation, sickness, violence, and persecution. If we feel too comfortable and at ease in this world, then we are in danger of lapsing into idolatry. But if we groan and feel uncomfortable, confused and powerless, if we cry out to the Lord daily, we are to rejoice for we are in the Kingdom of God.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:8)
Isaiah proclaims the uniqueness of the Lord as The Rock. He is the only true deity. In ancient times idols were made of rock or stone or even wood. In contrast to the living God, idols were useless. They were supposed to contain or channel various pagan deities. These were limited by place and time and were useless to help in times of trouble and suffering. Yet the people of God engaged in idolatry and the Lord judged them rather severely. He wanted them to take comfort in Him alone. He is Almighty God who will remain steadfast and true to those He loves through all tribulations and suffering.
We may tend to minimize the concept of the idols because we think of them useless objects as those people worshipped in the days of Isaiah. The idols then were objects which represented spirits and demons. Today many people really do worship such things as statues or images or the demons they represent but idolatry exists is a much more serious and insidious form. An idol is anything that takes the place of Almighty God. An idol exalts and glorifies some thing, person, idea or lifestyle and puts that into the place which should be held by God. Our idols can be our rulers, our form of government, celebrities, money, science, self and even our our family, anything we value or which we place our trust in our times of need. But Almighty God is a Spirit who can be reached anywhere, anytime. He alone is our steadfast rock who holds us up and carries us through the storms of life.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, . . “ (Romans 8:15-16)
Paul speaks here about the flesh but refers primarily to the unregenerate human nature, not necessarily just the body. The flesh is human nature that stands opposed to God, is subject to sin, weakness, limitations, and death. The flesh cannot please God at all. Thus it is only by the indwelling Holy Spirit do we have spiritual life now and eternal life assured. And so since we have the new life by the Spirit, we ought to live it, for the Holy Spirit accomplishes what the law could never do because of our weakness and frailty. The Holy Spirit enables us to follow the Law of God. Though we follow imperfectly we now have a new relationship to God as sons. We now can come to Him freely.
The term “Sons of God” is quite radical. It indicates that the relationship that we have with the Father is the same relationship that He has with Christ, because He is the Son and we also are sons. We are not equal in nature but in relationship, in inheritance. The term applies to all Christians, men and women, slave and free, noble and commoner, celebrity and unknown. In Paul’s society, this would have been much more radical than we perceive now for then, in general, only male sons had rights, privileges, property and inheritance. Women were an inferior class. What Paul was saying was that there are no legal or social distinctions among Christians. All have equal rights before God in terms of access to Him, the blessings of the regenerate life and the assurance of the future eternal inheritance.
In our new relationship we can go to our Father without fear. We can call Him “Abba, Father” the same words used by Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). These words were used in the context of the intimate family relationship, and were never used by the Jews to refer to God. But we can use them! We as children may always approach the Father and find a listening ear, comforting words and a helping hand. We have access to God, we have freedom from sin and we have the eternal assurance of life everlasting.
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23)
Jesus used parables to convey truth in story form. Many people tend to learn more readily from stories and images rather than from straightforward lectures and didactic teaching. Stories, at least those that are noble, disquieting, or comforting contain items that catch our attention and so are easy to remember.
The parable of the farmer sowing seed is one of those stories. Yet in one sense it is a parable about parables! Jesus used it to explain why not all those who heard His parables understood the ideas He was trying to convey. Not all who heard His words believed in Him. They heard the truth but did not heed it. Their eyes, ears and hearts were closed to it. Jesus interpreted the parable of the farmer sowing seed so His disciples (including us) might learn the reasons why people do not believe the gospel, why so many reject Christ, His grace and His mercy. This parable also explains why many of those baptized as Christians, catechized, confirmed and brought up in the church fall away from the truth.
Some ignore the truth because they are spiritually dull, too enamored of worldly allures and values, too sold out to the lies of Satan to recognize it. They think Jesus’ teaching to be just so much unrealistic nonsense on the level with fairy tales. Some are so attracted by Jesus at first because they think they understand or because the word of God speaks to them. And yet when they find out what the cost of discipleship is, self-sacrifice and persecution, they refuse to pay that price and so depart. Finally some people are initially attracted to the gospel but then the desires of the flesh, peer pressure or the cares of life take away their joy. Since the gospel never had any root, they too hear but do not heed or obey. These all stand condemned and without excuse for they have heard the word but chosen to disregard it.
So as we go forth to preach the gospel of faith in Christ, we have to be patient and loving. Not everyone we present the gospel to will accept it. And that is sad for they are choosing a tragic end: eternal separation from God. And yet the Lord does promise that His word will not return void. For some that word means judgement, while for many others who do believe that word means they will share in the joy of eternal life in Christ.
“. . .so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
This chapter of the prophet Isaiah is filled with images and promises that excite and elate us. Yet he proclaimed them originally to a people who were had been defeated by the Babylonians. They had lost everything and were now going into exile far away from the Promised Land. To people undergoing such great suffering, the words would seem to be empty promises, like a dream compared to what they were actually experiencing. The words Isaiah prophesied the joy of those Jews who would return from exile some 70 years later. The exiles were urged not to look at what was happening and so be discouraged, but look to the future as well as to the past to recall what Israel as a people had experienced throughout her history. As they did, they would realize that God had always been faithful to His word even whether He was promising victory and blessing or judgment and tribulation. Thus His promises of future joy made here are as good as realized.
In the midst of our earthy sufferings we too must look to the past to remember what God has done not just for us but for His people the Church. He has always been faithful to His promises. His word does not change. And the great promise that we hold on to is eternal life. This is freely given without cost to us. This does not mean that every human being is saved or inherits eternal life. God’s grace is not cheap grace. The offer of free salvation is bestowed only on those who have faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Faith is the necessary requirement for salvation because without it, one does not really know he/she needs God’s mercy to be saved or that he/she is a sinner. Those who do not or will not repent cannot agree with the Lord as to their sinfulness and thus cannot have fellowship with Him. Those who request His help will, however, definitely find that He is there to lift them up. They alone will experience the eternal joy of heaven. Why do so many people not accept the offer of salvation? Why do they spend money on what is not bread?