St. John – The Final Victory

“Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

John was incredibly blessed.  His very name means “graced by God.”  He of all the disciples was especially beloved by the Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry.  He was given long life, concluding with a breathtaking vision of the final victory of the Lamb of God and the saints.  Indeed, Jesus’ words must have echoed in his head many times during this great Revelation: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me.” (John 21:22)

And follow Jesus he did, although the words were not spoken directly to John.  One of the greatest blessings John received during his life was to witness a vision of the Lord’s triumphant return.  What comfort this must have brought the suffering saint – to see his Lord and Savior come back in the flesh and bring peace and rest to His people!  How awesome to observe heaven and earth pass away as God Almighty made all things new!  How he must have trembled with joy at the words: “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:6-7)

John was living in dark times.  Exiled, scorned, and deeply saddened by the state many in the Church had fallen into, John’s suffering undoubtedly caused him to watch carefully for the Last Day.  But given his close relationship with Jesus while accompanying Him on His ministry, I would expect that John looked forward to that day with all the more longing as he anticipated a personal reunion with his Lord and Savior.

Like John, we yearn for the Lord’s return.  Yes, we would like to see an end to the darkness and corruption of this fallen world.  Yes, we want to see the old order of things pass away, watching the renewal of the Church of God and the end of all suffering.  But I think I better understand where John’s desire came from as I imagine falling into my Savior’s embrace at last and picture my children run laughing up to Him to be held and touched by the Son of God.

Despite the darkness and suffering of this world, I can’t help but smile at this vision; the final victory – our reunion with God forever.  John’s great blessing is passed on to us today as we look forward to that day when we receive the crown of life from our gracious and merciful God.  Then, all God’s warriors will rest.  The heroes of the faith will have their reward in the person of Jesus, who is even now our comfort and assurance – our joy made complete when we see Him face to face.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!

“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 21:3-4)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have given me Your Spirit and Your own Son as my comfort and reward as I toil through this life.  Grant me the grace to remain strong and faithful, bearing witness to You through Your Word.  In Your mercy, continue to grant faith and belief to many more souls during this time of tribulation, that they too may honor and glorify You now and forevermore; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord – my strength and joy and sure reward!  Amen!

Titus – Training Tomorrow’s Warriors

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  These, then, are the things you should teach.” (Titus 2:11-15)

Like Timothy, Titus was faced with a monumental task.  Paul had left him with the people of Crete, and while the Holy Spirit had begun to work in their hearts, it was evident that the “raw material” was, well…it needed some work.

However, Paul was confident that the people of Crete were in good hands.  Oh, Titus was certainly a very capable leader.  He was entrusted with several important missions in the New Testament, and Paul had a great deal of faith in his abilities.  But it wasn’t Titus that Paul was trusting to shape the hearts and lives of these new converts, it was the Potter Himself – the Lord God Almighty.

Titus was working with men and women, young and old, who were used to a rather ungodly way of life.  The darkness of the society from which they were coming made the road of sanctification long and arduous.  And yet, this very darkness would allow the light of the Gospel to shine forth from each of them all the more brightly by contrast as they were changed and renewed by the grace of God.

The reason Paul was able to have such confidence in “drill sergeant” Titus was that he knew that Titus understood the crux and impetus of the Lord’s training regimen.  Titus was there for two purposes: 1) to share the Word of God so that those who heard it might be redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and 2) to train these “new recruits” in righteousness and godliness so that they could be effective witnesses to those around them who remained yet in darkness.  Thankfully, Titus knew the importance of putting “the horse before the cart” so to speak – he understood that any change or purification was a result of God’s free grace, unlike those who were still preaching that God’s favor was gained by first amending our outward lives.

Why was this spiritual training program so important for these poor Cretans?  After all, if they were saved by grace through faith and not by their own works, why did it matter if they underwent such “purification” at all?  First of all, this change in their hearts and lives would be a natural response as a result of receiving God’s mercy.  It’s sort of like when you turn a four-year-old loose at the playground and tell her to “Have fun!” as if you could really stop her from having fun it that situation.  In the same way, when God freely bestows His grace upon us and we see all of our sin and wretchedness being washed away, the new man cannot be restrained, but breaks forth and serves the Lord in gladness.

And yet, Titus is instructed to remind these men and women of Crete what might be riding on the example of their good works and godly lives.  Again and again, Paul reminds Titus that the reputation of Jesus’ Gospel is at stake in the model of Christian life: “…so that no one will malign the word of God” (2:5); “…so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (2:8); “…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (2:10); “These things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (3:8).

So no, we do not perform good deeds, speak in kindness and compassion, and serve in humility for the sake of our salvation.  We do these things for the sake of the Gospel message and the salvation of those around us, that through our example their hearts may be softened and plowed, ready to receive the miraculous seed of God’s Word and produce a harvest of saving faith.  That is both the reason and goal of our spiritual training here on Earth – may this training enable us to be always ready for service to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that all new warriors of Your faith may be trained and equipped for service and evangelism, inspired to serve You solely out of love and thanksgiving for Your great gift to us.  Help us to be Your faithful ambassadors here on Earth, that we may prepare the hearts of men for the Gospel which we sow; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Timothy – Being a One-Man Army

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11-12)

If you’ve ever felt like the expectations placed on you are too great, just consider Paul’s young friend Timothy.  Here we find a young warrior left with little ammunition in a battlefield surrounded by enemies.  Paul’s advice?  Fight hard!

First of all, Timothy was facing fearsome adversaries on every side.  All around him were men teaching false doctrines, promoting “godless myths” and sowing dissention and discord among the believers.  Paul commissioned Timothy as the last line of defense between God’s people and these heretics and blasphemers.

As if the spiritual threats of false teachers and hypocrites weren’t enough, Timothy must also face the many worldly assaults that are so prevalent in Ephesus: lies, murder, gossip, slander, sexual immorality, and all manner of illicit and illegal activity.  While combatting the lies and enticements of the heretics, Timothy was also supposed to stand firmly against the evils of his own secular society.

But that isn’t all.  For the sake of the Gospel and the reputation of the Church, Paul also instructs Timothy to carefully monitor and regulate the worship practices of the church in Ephesus.  He was to guide the lives of God’s people there, instructing everyone from the laity to the overseers and deacons on how to live and being accountable for their behavior and actions.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed yet?  Well, too bad.  Because we haven’t even mentioned the fact that in the middle of this battle zone, Timothy will have to grapple with his greatest enemy all the while.  The Devil will use Timothy’s own sinful nature against him, throwing every temptation at him to try and topple this young Church leader from the holy hill whereon he is making his desperate stand against the forces of darkness.  And it won’t be enough to simply avoid falling into sin and shame; Timothy will have to be a model citizen, a pillar of righteousness and worthiness.

Oh yes, and one more thing: there are a host of other social issues that need tending to in your spare time – everything from the treatment of widows to the attitudes of the wealthy in your church and community.  See to it that you take care of these problems for me, will you Tim?  That’s a good boy.

I don’t know about you, but thinking about all this makes me want to sit down and weep while banging my head against the wall.  How is one person expected to manage all this?  Despite the fact that Timothy must have known he couldn’t do all this perfectly, and most certainly didn’t, it still must have been a tremendous amount of pressure – truly, one man against the world.

The scary part is that you and I are called to exactly the same desperate scenario as young Timothy.  We are hard pressed on all sides by false teachings, worldly enticements, and our own sinful desires.  The responsibilities laid upon God’s warriors can be staggering at times as we constantly encounter those in need of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional help.  There are certainly many times when it feels like “me against the world,” and this couldn’t be more true.  But as we look to the cross of Jesus Christ for strength to fight on and for forgiveness for our failures, we can be encouraged by this excellent promise from our Lord Himself and find peace in His Word:

“In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the triumph of Your Son over all the adversity I face in this life!  Grant that I may face whatever struggles I am called to confront not only with strength and courage, but also with the joy that comes from knowing You are by my side as I serve You; though Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Apollos – Armed and Dangerous

“He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately…he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24-25,27-28)

Since we’re on the subject of spiritual warfare, and since this is “The Armory” after all, let’s talk a little bit about some of your weapons.

The first thing that we need to understand when we analyze our personal spiritual arsenal is that every weapon with which we have been armed is from God.  There are no exceptions.  All of our gifts and abilities come to us by the grace of our Heavenly Father, and we are to use them in service to Him.

Now I realize that you’ve worked really hard at honing your intellect, or strengthening your physical abilities, or sharpening your public speaking skills, or developing a killer talent with creative writing, or whatever else you pride yourself on being great at.  But once you start to trace the origins of your personal knacks and aptitudes, it doesn’t take long for God’s hand to clearly appear in the picture.  He planted a seed in your mind or body, grew it daily by guiding your life in a certain direction, and brought it to fruition by mercifully preserving your faculties so that you could use this gift to His glory and in service to your neighbor.

That’s one type of weapon, and these God-given/God-grown abilities can certainly be useful in battling the unbelief that is so rampant in our dark world.  But unless they are coupled with the Word of God and with the faith that is given to us through the Holy Spirit, they will never penetrate the enemy’s defenses.

The real armaments of God are undisputable gifts to us, given in mercy by the grace of a loving and caring Father.  He has caused the Word of God – our Sword of the Spirit, a weapon of keen power and flawless design – to be passed down to us through many generations by the miracle of faith in every age.  He has sent His Holy Spirit to stir up our hearts in faith toward Him, enabling us to use the many abilities we possess as munitions against Satan’s worldly onslaught.

Apollos was certainly a force to be reckoned with.  He possessed a brilliant mind.  He had been given a fine education.  He was endowed with remarkable boldness, tremendous public speaking skills, and profound powers of persuasion.  But even with all this, he would have been a useless drone if it weren’t for the other gifts of God: his knowledge of the Scriptures, his Christian upbringing and instruction, and the faith that grew out of this spiritual training.

Like Apollos, you have been given many personal abilities and gifts that could be used for a variety of worldly purposes.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; invest your energies first and foremost into study of the Scriptures, prayer, worship, and receiving the Word of God and His Sacraments.  Witness the miracle as your own faith grows and is strengthened by God’s grace.  Then all that you are and all that you possess will be transformed into a weapon of Divine Light as God uses your whole person in His service.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the many gifts and abilities which You have bestowed upon me.  I thank You most of all for the free gift of salvation through the faith that You have granted me by Your grace.  Help me to use all that I have and all that I am in service to You, glorifying You for Your great mercy and serving those around me in love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Paul – The Weapon of the Enemy

“All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?  And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’  Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:21-22)

Imagine waking up to this news: Richard Dawkins, regarded by many as the world’s foremost atheist, has just converted to Christianity and is boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus.

What do you suppose would be the reaction to news such as this?  I’m sure shock and puzzlement would be the immediate response by people from all backgrounds.  There would probably be suspicion on the part of the Christian community, and perhaps even some anger directed at Mr. Dawkins.  What is he playing at?  How did this happen?  Even after the news had sunk in and been accepted, there would probably be some wondering why God would choose a man such as this instead of one of the many willing warriors already in His service.

And it would be the reaction of Mr. Dawkins’ fellow atheists that would give us the greatest clue as to the answer to this last question.  While Christian preachers, missionaries, and apologists might not hold much sway with this group, a prominent individual from among their own midst certainly would.  Indeed, many of them likely have adopted or confirmed their “beliefs” as a result of his “testimony.”  Upon his conversion, how many across the world would question their views on evolution and humanity’s place in the universe?  Wouldn’t it baffle the unbelieving world to see someone who seemed so grounded in their worldly philosophy suddenly turn to Jesus in faith?

Whether it’s Richard Dawkins or the Dalai Lama, there are certainly individuals who have the power and authority to sway the thinking of a great many people.  While I think it is sadly unlikely that either of these men will convert to Christianity, such things have happened before.  In fact, the reactions described above were just the type of response generated by the conversion of the Pharisee Saul (later to become St. Paul).

Saul/Paul went from trying to stamp out Christianity to being the most active evangelist in the history of the Christian Church.  Through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, God has many times taken some of the Devil’s most influential proponents and brought them into His own service.  The blood of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to forgive even the sins of those who have gone so far astray as to wage open warfare on the saints of God.

We must remember that our “spiritual warfare” is not a battle against “flesh and blood,” but an attack against the Devil’s lies that have captured so many men and women through false religions and ideologies.  We do not fight against unbelievers, but against their unbelief.  Jesus died also for them, and we have no more merit or worthiness in us than they do, except that which we have received from Christ.  It may be that the Word of God we share with them is snatched up by the birds of the air or choked out by thorns and thistles.  But then again, it may be that God has chosen them to be His instrument to those you or I may have great difficulty in reaching.

“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:7-8)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, send Your Spirit in power to change the hearts of unbelievers through the preaching of Your Word.  Grant that they may come to know You through Your Son and obtain the riches of His life and salvation.  Use all those who have been called to faith, that they may minister boldly and effectively to people of every background, fearlessly proclaiming Your Gospel; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Ananias – Preaching in the Danger Zone

“Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)

“Lord, you’ve got to be kidding…”

I’m sure something like this was going through the mind of Ananias when God called him to go minister to Saul.  After all, this guy was viciously hunting down the Christians, putting them in prison or worse!  He was bad news, and it was practically suicide to approach him in the name of Jesus.

Yesterday’s devotion focused on following the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He directs us to minister to people in all different walks of life.  But sometimes the High Commander gives us orders that are so absurd, so ridiculous, so dangerous, that we can’t help but second guess.

It must certainly have taken a lot of guts and a lot of faith for Ananias to go to Saul and heal him in the name of Jesus.  For one thing, he was putting his own life into the hands of a sworn enemy of the Way.  For another thing, helping this nemesis of the Church probably would not have been a very popular choice among the believers in Damascus.

Most of us probably aren’t called to witness in situations quite as hostile as this.  However, we must recognize that God can and does use very unlikely men and women to act as His chosen instruments.  Besides, we are called to bring the Gospel to all nations – even to those who may initially react to it with hostility.  We must certainly pray continually for those who boldly follow in the footsteps of heroes like Ananias, bringing the message of salvation into the “danger zones” of spiritual enmity.  We ask God to watch over them and keep them safe, and also to send His Holy Spirit to bend the hearts of those to whom they minister.

Even if we don’t face physical danger for the sake of our witness, we may still be able to relate somewhat to Ananias’ situation.  There are people in our society that many believers feel are “unworthy” of receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some men and women have done terrible things in their past, hurting or even killing innocent people.  It may not be popular – even within the Church – to show kindness to them and bring them the message of salvation after what they have done.  So we pray also that God would give us the strength and courage to bring His love even to terrible “sinners” who don’t deserve it (I know the irony isn’t lost on you…), and also that the Holy Spirit would work in all believers to foster an attitude of forgiveness and evangelism within the Church.

God’s Word is powerful.  Many times before, the roots of the Gospel have sprung forth and penetrated even hearts of solid stone.  In fact, it is these unlikely plots that often produce some of the most amazing crops!

“’Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?’  Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’  ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.” (Luke 7:41-43)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me a deeper understanding of Your righteous Law, that I may fully appreciate the vastness of my debt of sin.  Help me to boldly share the Gospel even with those who despise You and Your servants.  Watch over all those who proclaim Your Word to their own hazard.  Bless the Gospel message that they preach, that those who hear it may come to know You, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Philip – Led by the Spirit

“But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12)

I don’t think I ever really appreciated what an incredible person Philip was.  Like so many heroes of the faith, it is easy to overlook his courage and the tremendous impact he had on the early Church.

Imagine being chased from your home and driven from your own town by the threat of imprisonment or death.  Just think of all the things that would be on your mind: How will I live?  Will I ever see my friends and family again?  Can I ever go back?  Will I be safe somewhere else?  I know I can sadly speak for myself when I say that telling people about Jesus probably wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind in that situation.

But that’s exactly what happened to Philip, and that’s exactly what he does.  He faithfully and boldly follows the urging of the Holy Spirit and travels away from Jerusalem, proclaiming the Christ wherever he goes.

First, he goes to the Samaritans – the “enemies” – and finds fertile soil in the hearts of many men and women who are eager to receive the Gospel.  The power of God’s Word turns their hearts from pagan practices and witchcraft, and even Simon, the great magician, is baptized and becomes a follower.

Then, God sends Philip on the road again.  The Holy Spirit prompts him to strike up a conversation with – of all people – an Ethiopian eunuch who served as an important official to the queen.  Here he finds that the seeds of faith have already been planted through the Law and Prophets.  God has sent Philip to water this man’s heart with the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God even provides an opportunity for Philip to baptize him, opening the door for the Gospel to be spread to distant lands on another continent.

But that wasn’t the end of Philip’s incredible journey.  The Spirit leads him through other lands and villages before finally bringing him to Caesarea, where he would evangelize for decades to come.  There, Philip would undoubtedly sow the seeds of faith to many merchants and travelers, to be carried by the winds and waves throughout all the lands of the Mediterranean and beyond.

We can breathe easy, since not many of us are called to wander boldly like Philip from town to town and along dusty roads.  But the Spirit does lead us in ways just as wonderful and mysterious as it carried Philip from place to place.  In seemingly unlikely places, we are goaded by the Holy Ghost to sow the seeds of the Gospel on ground that appears, well, “horticulturally challenged.”  That’s okay; we’ve got plenty and to spare, and the Spirit bids us cast the seeds of God’s Word with reckless abandon.

By trusting in God to provide for us, we allow Him to take our focus off of ourselves and place it where it truly belongs; on the ministry He has given us.  Then we can let go and allow the Spirit to blow us where it pleases, guiding us to new and exciting opportunities to witness for our Lord.  And from there, there’s no telling where the Spirit will carry the seeds that we scatter!

“The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20)

Prayer: Lord God, guide and direct me by Your Spirit.  Lead me into what fields You will, and help me to cast the seed of Your Word far and wide; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Stephen – Rejected by Men

“Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him” (Acts 7:52).

If you have ever been scorned, ridiculed, tormented, or in any other way persecuted for speaking the Gospel, then know that you are in good company.

Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8), paid the ultimate price for his witness concerning the Lord Jesus.  While the apostles had recently rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41), Stephen now gains the distinction of becoming the first recorded martyr of the Christian faith.

Stephen and the other apostles discovered the hard way that sinful human beings don’t enjoy hearing God’s Word.  We (all of us) become defensive when convicted by God’s just and righteous Law.  We even resist the Gospel because it forces us to bear our souls before God and face our own wretched sinfulness.  It leaves us helpless and vulnerable, reminding us that we are powerless to achieve salvation through our own works.  We would rather exalt ourselves in the eyes of men than humble ourselves before the mercy seat of Almighty God.

Those who preach and confess the Word publicly are often met with resistance and hostility.  For the apostles, it meant torture and humiliation.  For Stephen, it meant death by stoning.  For us, it sometimes means loss of reputation or even employment.

How are we to react when our testimony is met with hard hearts and stiff necks?  We can take our cue from the great heroes of the faith who have gone before us.  The apostles rejoiced that they were permitted to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name.  Stephen – like his Lord – forgave his murderers even as they carried out his death sentence.  We too should try to recognize that those who revile us are prisoners of darkness who need our prayers and the Holy Spirit in their lives.  God instructs us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to love even our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).  His exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23) reminds us that our ministry to others may require personal sacrifice on our behalf.  Others undoubtedly sacrificed much to bring the Gospel to you and me, and Jesus sacrificed all to make that Gospel a reality.

In the midst of whatever suffering we are called to endure for the sake of Jesus’ name and whatever resistance we are met with, we must never forget that the Word of God is living and active.  Though our own powers of persuasion may be feeble and faulty, God’s Word is at work doing what it says it will.  In the time of Stephen and the apostles, scores of people were coming to faith in Christ Jesus – including many priests and influential Jews – despite the suffering and persecution of those who proclaimed the Gospel.  In our time, the Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of those who hear the words we proclaim; even in those who seem only to scorn and revile us for our testimony.  For this, we give thanks to God for His exceeding grace and mercy!

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the strength and courage to proclaim Your Word without fear or hesitation.  Send Your Spirit to work in the hearts of all those who hear, that they may believe and live; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

The Beautiful Beggar – Returning Thanks

“When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:9-10)

His story is the story of every Christian who has received from the Lord free and abundant life.

He was crippled from birth, unable to help himself in any way.  He had to be carried daily to the temple, where he depended on the mercy of others for his daily bread.

He had no merit or worthiness in him.  He did not even ask to be healed.  But Jesus came to him through the witness of two men, and in a single day his life was changed forever.  His legs – that had never walked a step throughout his life – bore him instantly up with a strength that came not from himself, but from God.

Like this poor, crippled beggar, all of us were born spiritually lame and weak under the curse of sin.  We could not believe through our own power, being unable to take even a single step toward our Savior and the life He could offer.  If left to our own devices, we would have gone nowhere.

But God came to us, through the preaching of His Word by faithful men and women in our lives.  Through this Word and by our Baptism, our souls were filled with a strength that came from beyond ourselves.  Jesus took us by the hand and bid us rise and walk with Him – and by His grace, we were able to do just that.

Since this has been the pattern of every Christian’s life, you may think that it’s hardly the stuff heroes of the faith are made from.  But the most remarkable part of this crippled beggar’s account is yet to be seen; it is in his response to the great work that has been done in him.  He cannot contain himself – he rushes into the temple, “walking and jumping, and praising God.”  He simply must use this new God-given ability, and it seems he can only use it to glorify the Lord and testify to His goodness.

You see, we aren’t walking our way to heaven.  We don’t earn forgiveness by jumping up and down and praising God any more than a cripple can “earn” the use of his legs by running and leaping; it’s simply impossible.  Our saving faith, like the beggar’s miraculous mobility, is a free gift of God.

The crippled beggar is a hero of the faith because he shows us the appropriate response to being healed of our sin.  In faith, we run and jump and shout and praise God for the miraculous gift He has given us.  The beggar’s response draws many onlookers to him, and his thanksgiving becomes the catalyst for thousands of others coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  May God grant that our own thank offerings would bring such fruitful results!

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord say this” (Psalm 107:1-2)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for redeeming me from all my sins and enabling me to rise and walk with You.  Give me always a thankful heart, that I may proclaim Your goodness and mercy wherever I go; through Jesus Christ, You Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Thomas – No Doubt About It

“[Jesus said] ‘Stop doubting and believe.’  Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28)

I don’t think there’s anyone in the Bible who gets a bum rap quite as unfairly as Thomas does.  He has gone down in history as “doubting Thomas” thanks to his refusal to believe the disciples’ word about Jesus’ resurrection and the Lord’s subsequent seeming rebuke: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Of course, we tend to ignore the fact that every other disciple had also fallen victim to exactly the same spirit of despair and unbelief: “But [the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).  We also ignore that the world in general feels the same way regarding the message of the resurrection – that it pretty much sounds like nonsense: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

So what does it take for a skeptical, worldly-wise heart to believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and all the promises that go with it?  It takes the same thing that prompted one of the greatest confessions recorded in Scripture from the lips of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”  It takes the same thing that opened the eyes of Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, causing their hearts to burn within them for Jesus’ sake.  Belief in the Gospel requires the hand of Jesus Christ acting in our lives, opening our hearts through the Holy Spirit and His Word.  Thomas is a hero of the faith who demonstrates the appropriate response to Jesus’ command: “Stop doubting and believe.”

This command and promise is for us as well.  We all – like the disciples – struggle with doubt, despair, and unbelief.  Sometimes we need the example of bold heroes of the faith like Thomas to give us the strength to follow Jesus despite danger and hardship.  Yes, you heard me right: “Doubting Thomas” is the same man who only shortly before Jesus’ death walked willingly with Him into the hands of vengeful enemies, saying to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

What a phenomenal testament of courage and faith on Thomas’ part!  And yet even a bold warrior like this could soon after have his belief and devotion overshadowed by fear and doubt.  So how much more do we need the powerful command of Christ Jesus: “Stop doubting and believe”?  We also, like Thomas, need to encounter the risen Lord personally in His Word, seeing Him face to face and being assured that His promise of salvation is fulfilled in the cross and the empty tomb.  We too need to be strengthened in faith through Holy Communion by His body which was broken on the cross and His blood which was poured out from His hands, feet, and side.

By His saving Word, the Lord Jesus comes to us through the locked doors of sin and unbelief.  We seek him there in times of doubt or despair.  We reach out for His precious body and blood.  And strengthened by these gifts, we are able to confess Him as “My Lord and my God!”

“Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:21)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, dispel my doubts and fears through the power of Your Holy Word and Sacraments.  Give me strength and courage to follow to You, even in the midst of Your enemies, that they too may see the message of the cross and turn to You in faith; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.