As I reflect back over things I’ve written here over the last couple of weeks, it seems that the contrast I drew between the two thieves being crucified on either side of Jesus has more and more relevance as days move forward in our present pandemic situation. One thief just wanted to get back to his life as it had been. (We hear a lot of this today.) The other thief was willing to simply cry out and put himself at the mercy of Jesus. (And not so much of this today.) The Israelites had been led by Moses out of captivity in Egypt. They had spent 40 years going through the wilderness toward the land God had promised to give them. Now they were on the east side of the Jordan River, and about to enter. Moses reflected on all they had been through over those years. Including the times they wanted to stone Moses and return to their life in Egypt. Moses said to them, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”(Deuteronomy 8:2) “To humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart,…” Does our current situation present any indication of this to us now? It is not that our Lord doesn’t already know what is in our hearts. But do we? Do we – all of western civilization which has been substantially baptized Christians up to the last two generations – do we recognize the idols we’ve have put in place of our one true Creator/Redeemer God? Perhaps the penitent thief hanging next to Jesus has something to teach us today.
Life is full of uncertainties. We have things to do, tasks that must be accomplished. Some routine, we’ve done numerous times. Others more difficult and uncertain. No matter the task there is always a degree of uncertainty, perhaps apprehension. We don’t know the future. We can’t control all the variables. We never have a guarantee that all will go smoothly. Case in point, the current global pandemic. As much as we try to control our life there is always uncertainty. Yet we believe that the Lord is involved in all life, is concerned about all that touches us, and, in fact, goes before us on the path we take. When Moses led the nation of Israel out of captivity in Egypt there was much uncertainty. The people had been told they were going to the Promised Land, but they didn’t know all that could or would happen, all that they might have to face. But they went with a promise,“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) This is a prayer I’ve prayed in many situations over the years. “Lord, please go before me today. Guide, and strengthen me for whatever I need to do.” The Lord is ahead of us. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He has already walked our path. He has taken our sins, paid the great debt we owed, and given us His pure white robe of righteousness for our journey. Now He is up ahead waiting for us. These are images, or human expressions of our journey through life, but as those who believe in our gracious Saviour, they are true. He has already walked the path. He is up ahead waiting for us. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,
It is not usual that I post a Good Morning message on Sunday, but these are unusual times. One of the beautiful characteristics of the Christian Church is their bond of unity together in the love of Christ. Unfortunately, we are being prevented from physically meeting together because of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic we currently face. I miss this greatly, but we have no control over it. There have been numerous times in past history when authorities have denied believers the freedom to gather for worship. In this case it is for our good to stop the spread of the virus. Even so, we are being denied the privilege of gathering as the Body of Christ in one place. However, as the saints who have gone before us have so rightly found, authorities can control our outward actions, but they cannot control our hearts. On this Lord’s Day know and believe that you are just as much a part of the Body of Christ in your home as you are in a church building. You are just as much loved and cared for as ever. You also care for one another by your prayers and contacts.
We may not “gather” for worship, but we worship nonetheless. Many of our churches are taking advantage of our technological age by sending out their services by video over the internet. (Please see the note below.) Ideal? No. But maybe it is a real blessed gift from our Lord. Let’s see it that way. It is so easy to take life fore granted. We all would like to get back to business as usual. This is an opportunity, however long it lasts and whatever else will come from it, to examine ourselves and strengthen our faith. This is still the Lord’s Day. It is a day of grace He has given. It is still the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is still the day that we know He is truly alive, and because He lives we will live also. Worship our gracious Lord today, and know that your are a loved part of His Body.
(Note: Look up one of the many worship services on Facebook or on YouTube. If you would like to share in our service it is on Facebook.com. Type in Christ Lutheran Church AALC. Click on the video feed. It begins at 10:30AM Easter Daylight Time with our Pastor Abraham McNally. The recording is available for viewing anytime after that.)
God bless you richly today, take away all fear from your heart, and deepen in you His peace that passes all human understanding.
O Worship the King
1. O worship the King, all glorious above
O gratefully sing HIs wonderful love
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days
Paviolioned in splendor, and girded with praise
2. O tell of His might, O sing of His grace
Whose robe is the light and canopy space
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm
3. O measureless might, ineffable love
While angels delight to worship above
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend
You alone are the matchless King
To You alone be all majesty
Your glories and wonders, what tongue can recite?
You breathe in the air, You shine in the light
I love St. Peter. He has a strong character. He is not afraid. He is the first one to step up and declare his loyalty to the Lord. “I will lay down my life for you Lord.”(John 13: 37) Yet Jesus had to say to him, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.” Within not too many hours of Peter’s declaration of loyalty he was in the courtyard of the High Priest waiting to see what would happen to Jesus after He was arrested. Confronted by a servant girl and two others Peter denied even knowing Jesus. I can’t imagine what Peter felt when he heard that rooster crow. He was crushed. He had denied the One he said he loved. He denied the One with whom he had spent the last three years in close fellowship. He had denied the One who had sent him on missions with the power to heal and cast out demons. He had denied Him, and he was crushed. But it had to happen. It has to happen to all of us. After Jesus’s resurrection, in His marvelous grace, He restored Peter to fellowship. But Peter’s fall was necessary. It took his eyes off of himself, his strength, his abilities, and focused them on the only One who could truly give him strength and guide his abilities. In whatever time or situation we find ourselves, where are our eyes? In whom is our confidence? We use the gifts we’ve been given, but our strength is only in Jesus.
What is happening? The reports say the Coved19 virus is spreading worldwide with an increasing death toll. World financial markets are responding with tremendous losses. An oil price war had started between OPEC and Russia. People are hoarding products. Extra measures are being taken to disinfect public areas. Restrictions…Quarantines… What is happening? Is this something like the Old Testament judgments that God brought when His people rejected Him? I don’t know, and I would never label it as such. But do we believe that God is involved in the human life He created? Do we believe that God knows and cares about all that touches us? We say this often enough. So where are our eyes? On the world alone, or on the Lord who redeemed us? That doesn’t mean that we don’t take proper precautions for cleansing and providing the things we need. We should, but where do we place our trust? In a quick fix, a new vaccine, a financial rally, or in the gracious Lord who has shown His love for us in so many ways? We may get the virus. We may suffer financial loss because of it. We may suffer in other ways. That’s not pleasant, but we must understand that trusting God is not an automatic Get Out Of Jail Free card. Remember the penitent thief I wrote about a few days ago. Trusting God is committing ourselves into His pure and unmixed love knowing that His will for us is always good. What is happening? I don’t really know, but trusting in the One on that center cross we can be at peace.
A friend of mine who was a serious woodworker used to say that when he felt down or depressed it was time to go buy another woodworking tool. That always picked up his spirits. Well, I’m not sure that’s the best remedy, and it certainly is only temporary. We all have times of feeling down. It is often a matter of the direction in which our eyes are looking. Are we looking only at the problems, or to the One who is greater than all we might face. Take some time today and read Isaiah 40, especially vss. 21- 31. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? … Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. … To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? … Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” Draw your strength from the Lord today.
In yesterday’s writing I strongly opposed the scientific emphasis on gaining longevity. I don’t ever mean to make light of the pain caused by physical death. The separation from a loved one is terribly difficult. Whether it is a parent loosing a child, a spouse dying, or the death of a close relative or friend, it is a pain that is not forgotten. A bond of love built over years is broken. It is why Scripture calls death an enemy. But we above all people remind ourselves that we are Easter Christians. The grave was not able to hold our Lord. While there is pain at the time of a death, it has been defeated. We have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are living eternal life today. Those who die in the Lord step over into the glory of God’s Kingdom. This is the truth and promise of Scripture. We must hold to this assurance. The only reason for desiring added years is for fruitful service to our Lord. This is the truth upon which we build our life, and the absolute hope we have at a time of death.
Do you remember the West Wing TV series of some years ago? West Wing was the drama series set in the White House. It followed the various high power characters through national and international situations. I once remarked that it was like putting 50 or so Type A personalities all in the same place, butting heads trying to solve problems. Now, Type A personalities are fine. They get a lot done and put their energy to good use. I think the Apostle Peter had such a personality. He was the first to move ahead, to seek a solution, to declare his allegiance, but he also needed to be tempered with humility, patience, and quieting of spirit. Sometimes a hard lesson to learn as it was with Peter when, after a great confession of allegiance, he denied the Lord three times. It took our Lord’s redeeming grace on the shores of Galilee after His resurrection, to restore him. Only then was Peter truly useful in the Lord’s service. The Psalmists has written, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; … “(127:1) We are not to be lazy or ignore problems that need to be dealt with, but this points out the necessity that all right directions need to be guided by the Lord. We can only hear His voice in humility and quietness of heart. Sometimes that means just sitting down, being quiet, and giving the Lord enough time to speak.