“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
It is strange that Jesus, the one who calls Himself the Good Shepherd is also a lamb. As a lamb, Jesus Himself is one of us, a member of the flock, our brother and companion. But He is a special member of that flock for He is the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins and the sins of all mankind. As Shepherd He is God Almighty who sustains and guides us and rules over all. In Revelation 7 we read of John’s vision of those over whom the Lord reigns, a vast uncountable number of people from every tribe and nation.
This vision tells us a very important fact that is vital to us who live in 21st Century America. We are not primarily Americans or any combination of that form (Italian-American, African-American, Chinese-American, Democrats, Republicans, etc.). We are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is composed of and open to people from every ethnic group, race, language and nationality. Thus racism, nationalism, and ethnic pride and arrogance have no place in the Kingdom of God. They separate, divide and create hostility.
We believers are called by faith to obey the Lord, to follow His commands, and to love each other. We the faithful are equal in faith and status to every believer throughout the world. Thus we must treat all believers, no matter who they are or where they are from with respect and love. The Kingdom of God is the only way to bring peace to earth, to calm the fears of hurting people, to find forgiveness for sin and freedom from shame. For only through faith in our Good Shepherd as our sacrificial Lamb can we find oneness with God and peace with each other through Him.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:27-31)
In the midst of the violence and persecution of our day, it is normal to have questions Doubts often arise when we go through severe trials. But if we are so fearful of the bad things that might happen we may fail to accept God’s blessings and His miracles in our lives. Maybe we think it would be so much easier if we could see Jesus with our eyes or touch Him with our hands. But we do not need this. We have the testimony of trustworthy men and women, the testimony of eyewitnesses, men like the Apostle Thomas.
We are not told why Thomas was not present the evening of the first Easter. Maybe he was too scared and stayed home in bed, hiding under the blankets. We may laugh at such a thought but tragically when people get severely depressed or suffer the loss of a loved one through sudden violence, that is what many tend to do that. They want to stay home and lie in bed, too afraid, too indifferent to do anything. And yet great revelations often come from doubts. As we wrestle to understand God, we often receive enlightenment and blessings. Certainly we are all enriched by these words of Jesus in response to Thomas’ skepticism. “My Lord and My God!” These words tell us the great truth of the uniqueness of Jesus, of His oneness with the Father, of His deity. Were it not for Thomas’ question, we would not have this great affirmation of Christ’s deity.
Their testimony of Thomas, the women who followed Jesus, and His disciples compose a great truth that has been handed down by the Holy Spirit through the church to us and through us to a world that needs truth, hope and direction. Our God is real; He is alive; He is in control. No other religion has such truth. Go to a Buddhist or Hindu temple. Go touch the statues. You will not touch flesh but cold dead metal or stone. You will not find a God in any religion who, out of His great love for us died for our sins. You will find no love at all in Buddha or Allah or the gods of the Hindus or any of the world’s religions or cults. You will find a living and loving God only in the Christian Faith. Only we serve a Risen and Living Savior!
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.'” (Luke 24:1-6a)
In the 21st century Christians are constantly reminded through the scriptures and the church of the significance and reality of the resurrection of Jesus. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead means our sins are forgiven, that we have a God who gives us peace, comfort, and joy and provides meaning and purpose for our lives.
Yet those in our modern culture still need to have the resurrection explained to them since our social structure no longer centers on the Judeo-Christian faith and the scriptures. Our culture dismisses the resurrection of Christ as a myth or fairy tale that merely stresses the hope of rebirth embodied in the season of Spring. They dismiss the scriptures as the struggles of a group of people trying to make sense out of the world, a world, then as now, filled with violence, hatred, pain, and injustice.
Yet the reality is we have the testimony of several reliable eyewitnesses that proclaim to us that Jesus did rise from the grave. Their testimonies form the basis of our own. These men and women had no reason to lie nor could they fabricate such a story. The followers of Jesus had never heard of anyone rising from the dead. The closest they had experienced were the three people Jesus raised from the dead. But someone raising himself from the grave was something they could not even conceive. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection was so totally beyond their understanding that the women who were the first to hear it from the mouth of the angels did not know what to make of it. Neither could the disciples when they heard. They had no idea that Jesus was going to do what He did though He had told them. So we can understand why those disciples were confused at first. They needed someone to explain to them what had happened and why.
The great thing is that we do have that explanation embodied in the words of the gospels. Our faithful response to those words forms the testimony that we are to present to others that they too might believe, repent, and receive the mercy and forgiveness of a loving God. The truth and meaning that all men seek is embodied in Jesus and His Church.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
Jesus tells us that He is the only way to heaven, a concept which most of the people in our world reject. Instead an increasing number of people including Christians subscribe to the concept of pluralism. This concept maintains that the many religions that exist are all equally valid. They are just different roads that all lead to heaven whatever form that may take. This is not a biblical concept. As Moses maintains here, there is only one God, not many, and He alone is responsible for all that exists. Consequently, He alone can help and save us. Yahweh is a rock: sure, steadfast, unmovable, and unchangeable, one who can always be trusted to keep His word.
We humans often worship other things or even people as gods. We give them loyalty, time, energy and adoration but, in effect they possess no love or real power. I guess that is why God is so offended by them. He is a loving person. He is all powerful. What do we frail humans choose in His place? We choose things that cannot deliver us, cannot forgive us our sins, cannot love, cannot give us the real comfort we need in times of adversity and sorrow. He alone has forgiven our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.
When humans reject God’s gift of salvation, He does not feel angry as much as hurt but He does not cast us off. Instead He disciplines us to bring us to Him. Such discipline, though painful, is a necessary blessing. Often we think that blessings come when we are on the mountaintop of victory and joy when we feel God’s presence. Yet the real blessing comes when we are in the valley of darkness and despair. It is there that we reach out for God’s presence because we do not feel Him. That is where faith thrives and flourishes for the absence of feeling His presence does not mean He has left us. Faith tells us that He is there even though our feelings say otherwise.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
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“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Paul here presents us one of the greatest and most dynamic passages in all of scripture, one which testifies to the dual nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus was and is fully God yet he sacrificed His glory to become a human being like us and die for our sins. He did not lose His glory or divinity but temporarily set them aside by veiling them in mortal flesh. He took on human weakness, He died a horrible death, he bore the awesome weight of our corruption to redeem us from sin.
Paul made this wonderful proclamation in order to exhort his brethren to righteousness so that the fellowship of all believers might truly be harmonious and glorifying to the Lord. We do not grow in righteousness and harmony just by becoming ecstatic over Paul’s words of high praise but by emulating the example of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. We are called to work out our salvation by putting put off self-indulgence and putting on humility. We do not live to please or glorify ourselves. Our ultimate concern is for others, not self. We serve God by serving others.
Now in the process of serving others we will, like Paul, suffer and endure deprivation and loss so that God’s Kingdom may flourish. And this we should do without complaint! This is all part of the process of dying to self and living for the Lord. In our self-centered world we might not like this idea of service to others at all. We fear that other people will use and manipulate us, that they will take advantage of us. We are afraid to lose what we think we need or what we think is our right and privilege: we want what everybody else has. Yet as servants of God we are not in control of our lives: the Lord is. He uses us as He sees fit while our purpose in life is to obey totally and completely. Only by accepting this call, on our jobs, in our families and all our relationships and activities, will we find true peace and joy.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Luke 20:17b-18)
In their zeal to eliminate Jesus as a threat, the Pharisees sent several groups of their followers to try and trap Him into saying something to incriminate Himself. None of their efforts succeeded. Jesus had real wisdom and always spoke the truth. His authority was above reproach. In His wisdom he turned the tables on the Pharisees with the parable about the tenants and the vineyard. This parable indicated that Lord had sent many prophets to Israel over the centuries who attempted to lead the people to repentance and faith in Him. Each in turn had been rejected. The same was going to happen to Jesus, the Son of God. The very people the Lord was trying to redeem would kill Him.
Consequently those who thought themselves to be the Chosen people would find them opposed to God. They would lose their eternal inheritance all because they were proud of their heritage and works but unwillingly to admit their sinfulness and lack of love or God and man. The Lord was going to cut them out of His Kingdom. He was going to bring in others to build His Kingdom. These newcomers were the very people the Pharisees and their followers despised: Gentiles, the immoral, idolatrous sinners, the dregs of society, the rejected and downtrodden. They would make up God’s Kingdom with Jesus as the cornerstone, the stone which was rejected. As such Jesus did not fit in with the Pharisees’ way of thinking of what the Kingdom of God was or what a Messiah should be.
Jesus is still that stone which does not fit in with what the world thinks today of who God is or should be. God in Christ Jesus extends love, mercy and forgiveness to all. He grants faith to those who do not boast in their riches and famous, beauty or power and humble themselves and repent of their sin. He grants faith to people who deserve nothing, people who realize they are helpless and hopeless sinners, people the world calls “losers”. As Jesus’ followers we share or ought to share the same rejection as He did. We should feel out of place in this world for it is not our home. We are first and foremost citizens of His Kingdom.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville