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Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9

Not many ministers would do as John the Baptist and address their hearers, calling them a “brood of vipers.” Yet, when we read Romans 3:13 or Psalm 140:3, that is how God’s Word describes the evil and impenitent. It is how we are in our corrupt and sinful human natures. If we are to be ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord, we need to repent and be cleansed from our sins and sinful ways (cf. Mal. 3:1-7).

As we prepare for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Day of Judgment, we would do well to heed the advice of the apostle Paul: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).

In the 1943 Catechism (A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine), Question 324 states: “We should examine ourselves to see – A. Whether we truly repent of our sins; B. Whether we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior; and C. Whether we have the good and earnest purpose with the aid of God the Holy Spirit henceforth to amend our sinful lives.”

It’s not enough to lay claim to being children of Abraham, nor is it enough just to be born and raised in the Lutheran Church – baptized, confirmed, married and buried. To be ready and prepared for the second coming of the Lord Jesus and His judgment upon the living and the dead, we need to repent and look to the Lord Jesus and His cross for forgiveness.

It’s not enough to simply go through the outward motions and say all the right words. Repentance needs to be genuine. It is being truly sorry for our sins and our sinfulness and trusting in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for pardon and forgiveness. And, where there is true repentance, the fruits of seeking to change and amend our lives in accord with God’s Word will follow.

The Spirit of God brings us to see our utter sinfulness in God’s eyes and to agree with God about our sin and the just punishment we deserve (cf. Psalm 51:3ff.; 1 John 1:9), and the Spirit of God brings us to see that Jesus Christ paid in full for all our sins when He suffered and died upon the cross. Jesus did this that we might look to Him in faith and cling to His cross for our salvation (1 John 1:7 – 2:2; Eph. 1:6-7). And, finally, the Spirit of God, when He brings us to faith in Christ Jesus, also creates in us the desire to amend our sinful ways and live in accord with God’s Word (cf. Psalm 51:10ff.; 1 John 2:3ff.).

You see, if there are no fruits of faith, there is no faith because, as James writes, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17; cf. v. 20). And where there are no fruits, the ax is ready, at the root of the trees, to chop them down and cast them into the fires of hell (Luke 3:9).

Therefore, I call upon you to consider your ways, to examine yourselves and repent – admitting and acknowledging your sins and looking to Christ Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness and then seeking His help and strength to amend your ways and produce fruits fitting of repentance.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23f.). Amen.

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

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Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon- possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Matthew 15:21-28

What right do we have to go to Jesus for help? Not only are we, for the most part, not descended from Israel, we are poor miserable sinners undeserving of God’s grace and mercy. We have no standing of our own, no basis to expect God’s Son to hear us or to help us!

As we see from Matthew 15 and Mark 7:24ff., that did not stop a Greek-speaking Syrophoenician woman from coming to Jesus for help and deliverance for her daughter who was demon possessed. She was a Gentile from the Phoenician part of Syria and not of the House of Israel, and Jesus was sent first to His own people; but she still came, asking not to take away what rightly was for the people of Israel but to eat of the crumbs which fall from Israel’s table.

This woman’s daughter was demon possessed, something we hear little of in our day though it likely still exists but is diagnosed with other names. It appears, in such cases, that the devil or one of his evil spirits takes control of a person’s body, often seeking to destroy both body and soul. She begged Jesus to cast out this demon and make her daughter whole again. And Jesus granted her petition. The demon was cast out and her daughter was made well.

While we may not be bodily possessed by the devil, the truth is that each and every one of us comes into this world under the control and sway of the evil one. Ever since the fall of Genesis 3, people are born into this world “dead in trespasses and sins, in which [they] once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1,2; cf. Psalm 51:5). The Bible tells us “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). And the Bible tells us that “the god of this age has blinded [those] who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Only Jesus, God the Son, can free us from our spiritual bondage and reveal Himself to us as the Redeemer of the world. Only Jesus can raise us up from spiritual darkness and death and free us from the control of the devil (cf. John 8:23-24; 34-36).

We are not, for the most part, of the House of Israel. Nor are we deserving that Jesus should deliver us from our bondage to the devil. But when we humbly come to Jesus in faith, what happens? God delivers “us from the power of darkness and convey[s] us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

The Bible tells us of Jesus: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people ” (Hebrews 2:14-17).

The only-begotten Son of God took on human flesh and blood that He might obey God’s law in our stead and offer up Himself as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins — all that we might obtain mercy and forgiveness through faith in His name.

And God “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” and He brought us to trust in Christ after that we “heard the word of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation” (Ephesians 1:9,13). “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7; cf. John 5:24-26).

God graciously called us to faith in Christ Jesus through the gospel. And, when we come to Christ in faith, believing He atoned for our sins and the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:1,2), He forgives us all our sins, delivers us from the bondage of the devil and gives us new life in Him! Jesus makes us whole.

Have mercy upon us, Lord Jesus! We are unworthy sinners deserving only of wrath and punishment, but we look to You and Your sacrificial death upon the cross for mercy and forgiveness. Amen.

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

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The Lenten season began last week on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter. Lent is 40 days long, corresponding to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, but extends over a period of 46 days because Sundays are not counted as part of the traditional Lenten season.

Since the date for Easter is set based on the lunar calendar — the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox — the season of Lent begins on different calendar dates each year. Though it began on Feb. 14 last year, with Easter on April 1, it is later this year — Easter is April 21 and Lent began on March 6. The first full moon after the vernal equinox is April 19, making Sunday, April 21, the date of Easter in most Western Churches.

On most years, the date for Easter or Pascha falls later in the Eastern Churches. Easter dates were the same in 2017, but this year the date is April 28 in the East (Eastern Churches use the same formula to determine the date for Easter but use the Julian Calendar, while Western Churches and most of the world use the Gregorian Calendar).

Some churches do not observe the season of Lent at all. It is not specifically commanded or forbidden in the Bible, so churches which do not observe the special season cannot be faulted, and anyone who insists it must be strictly observed goes beyond the teaching of the Bible. Nevertheless, the observance of Lent can be a good thing if it is observed with the purpose and intent of considering Christ’s sufferings and death for the sins of the world (often called His passion) and as a special time of self-examination and repentance.

While many would simply go through the outward forms of repentance — including ashes on the forehead and fasting during the season — the Bible calls for true contrition and sorrow over our own sinfulness and faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”

Psalm 34:18 says: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”

Psalm 51:16-17 says: “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

John, in his first epistle (1 John 1:8-9; 2:1-2), writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness … If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God desires that we live in continual repentance — acknowledging our sinfulness and the judgment we justly deserve but then looking in faith to Christ Jesus and His death on the cross for our sins and trusting that in Jesus we are forgiven and accepted of God. Therefore, as we contemplate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ bitter sufferings and death for the sins of all, it is certainly also a fitting time to examine ourselves and see that it was for our sin that He suffered and died such an agonizing death.

As Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Many, of course, speak of giving things up for Lent, and giving up things that we might focus on Christ and what He has done for us can certainly be a good thing. But, we need to always remember that our giving up something, whether it be through fasting or some other form of self-denial, can never merit God’s favor or blessing. Our observance of Lenten self-sacrifice will not somehow atone for our sins and make us acceptable to God. It is only through faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), that we receive God’s pardon and forgiveness and are acceptable in His sight.

It is God who makes “us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6,7).

It’s really too bad that more people do not observe Lent in a Biblical and Scriptural way — not just giving up some item for 40 days but, rather, repenting of sin and evil and looking to Christ and His cross for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal. In fact, it’s sad that true Lenten contrition and repentance are not observed by more people year round!

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