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“To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” Psalm 95:7b-11

Will you enter God’s eternal rest, or are you hardening your heart against Him? God’s Word comes to you. You have it in your Bible, and it is still preached by faithful ministers; but will you hear it and believe it?

The Children of Israel heard God’s words through Moses and even directly from God Himself on Mt. Sinai. They saw God’s mighty works in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the wilderness. But did they believe? Did they trust in the LORD God to lead and guide them, provide for them in their journeys and bring them safely into the Promised Land?

The answer is, No! Again and again, they grumbled and complained. Again and again, they disobeyed the commandments of the LORD. And, when it was time to go up and take possession of the land the LORD was giving them, they doubted God’s Word to them and wanted to return to Egypt. Therefore, because of their unbelief, they did not enter into the promised rest.

Now the Word of the LORD comes to you. It calls you to repent of your sinful ways and rebellion against the LORD and receive forgiveness and life through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, God’s own dear Son. Will you hear God’s Word? Will you acknowledge your utter sinfulness and rebelliousness before the LORD? Will you come to God and trust in Him to receive you and forgive you of all your sins because Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God in human flesh, fulfilled the righteous demands of God’s law for you and then bore your punishment upon the cross and rose again?

If you refuse to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus for mercy, you go astray in your heart. You do not know the way of the LORD, and you will not enter into His eternal rest! But if you humble yourself before the LORD, hear His Word and believe, you will receive His mercy and be blessed with the eternal joys of heaven for Jesus’ sake!

LORD God, have mercy upon us and grant that we not harden our hearts against You and the truth of Your Word. By Your Holy Spirit, grant us true repentance and faith In Jesus Christ our Savior. In His name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand….” Psalm 95:1-7a

In Hosea 8:14, we read that “Israel hath forgotten his Maker.” They were still religious people, but they had forgotten who the LORD God was and how to worship and serve Him.

These words are not only true of Old Testament Israel at the time of Hosea the prophet; they are true of us today. As a nation and people, we have forgotten our Maker and we neglect to give Him the glory and praise due unto His name.

We need to remember that “the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

In spite of man’s attempts to escape this fact, the truth still remains that the LORD (Jehovah) God of the Bible (the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost) has created us and all things by His almighty word (Gen. 1-2; Neh. 9:6). It is He who formed us in our mothers’ wombs and gave us life (Ps. 139:13-16), and He it is who sustains our lives (cf. Ps. 145:15-16).

And, not only is He the Creator and Sustainer of all things, He gave His only begotten Son and redeemed us through the innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus that we might have forgiveness for all our sins through faith in Christ and again be alive to Him and worship His name (cf. Ps. 130:7-8; Jn. 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10; Rom. 5:8-11).

Isn’t it about time we remember our Creator; look to Him to forgive our sins for the sake of the holy life and bitter sufferings and death of the Son, Christ Jesus, and then worship and serve Him with our lives?

If we do not humbly kneel before Him now, we shall be humbled and kneel before Him on the Last Day when He executes His judgment upon all people (cf. Phil. 2:5-11; Ps. 2)!

O Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, for the sake of Christ Jesus, our Savior, forgive us for our many sins against You, and grant that we might kneel before You and worship You both now and forevermore in heaven! Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour, he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:1-16

The disciples of Jesus saw the rich young man go away sadly because he was unwilling to give up his riches and follow Jesus, and they had heard Jesus’ words about how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Peter then asked Jesus what he and the other disciples would receive since they had left all to follow Him.

The last verses of Matthew, chapter 19, record Jesus’ answer. Here, Jesus describes the gracious reward which will be given to all who deny themselves and follow Him; but He also adds the words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard illustrates these words of Jesus and warns against the assumption that those who work harder, longer or give up more for Christ deserve a greater reward. In this parable, even those who were hired and began working in the vineyard at the eleventh hour received the same wages as those who had toiled for the full day. The householder graciously paid them for a full day’s work.

God also rewards those who deny themselves and labor in His kingdom, but God’s rewards are rewards of His grace and are not earned or deserved. As sinners, we do not even deserve to be in His kingdom. It is only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ — because Christ died for our sins and rose again — that we are forgiven and brought into God’s kingdom through faith in Christ.

The rewards given for labor and sacrifice in God’s kingdom are also God’s gracious gifts for Christ’s sake. If we assume that we have earned a greater reward because of our hard work in the kingdom, we are in grave danger of losing not only God’s gracious reward for our labor but our place in God’s kingdom as well; for all of this is ours by grace alone!

If one becomes a Christian late in life, works only a short time in God’s kingdom and receives a great reward, we have every reason to rejoice and praise God for the richness of His grace rather than grumble because we did not receive more.

O Father, God of Love, hear Thou my supplication; O Savior, Son of God, grant me Thy full salvation; and Thou, O Holy Ghost, be Thou my faithful Guide that I may serve Thee here and there with Thee abide. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #417, Verse 7)

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

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“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:16-21

The Christian Faith is not built upon cunningly devised fables. It does not rest upon the visions of one or two founders (such as the faith of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists or Islam). The Christian Faith, unlike other religions, is a religion based on historical fact – witnessed by not only a privileged few but by 12 apostles, numerous prophets and hundreds and even thousands of eyewitnesses.

The Apostle Paul could testify in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

If people had doubts about the resurrection of Jesus, there were ample numbers who had witnessed Jesus’ death and had seen Him alive again after His resurrection. They didn’t have to take the word of one or two witnesses. The events surrounding Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were witnessed by so many they were undisputed. If you notice in the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ enemies didn’t dispute the things He had done; they disputed by what power He had done them.

Peter himself was a witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And, as he says in this epistle, he was there on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus (cf. Matthew 17:1ff.) when God the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”

And we Christians have far more proof and documentation upon which to build our faith than just Peter’s testimony. As he writes, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

As Christians, we have the testimony of Scriptures, written over a period of about 1,600 years by approximately 33 different authors – though, in fact, it has only one author, and that is God, who moved these men to write and put into their hearts and minds the words which they wrote so that all of Scripture is God’s own inspired or God-breathed Word (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17).

It is as David said in 2 Samuel 23:1-2: “Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.”

Notice that the Bible does not teach that the writers of Scripture were inspired – though God indeed did move them to write – it says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Scriptures themselves are God-breathed and inspired.

Though recorded by so many different men and over such a lengthy period of time, the Scriptures agree completely and throughout. There are no unexplainable discrepancies. The message is the same from beginning to end: Man has sinned and fallen short, but God provided redemption in His Son.

And so, our faith rests upon solid truth – upon the witness of so many eyewitnesses who were so convinced of the truth they gave their lives for it, and upon the witness of God Himself who gave us the Scriptures and has preserved them down through the centuries as a witness of the truth that we might be made “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15; cf. Matt. 5:18; 24:14).

Yes, the Scriptures reveal the holy will of God and our utter failure to live up to His law, but the same Scriptures assure us that “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” (1 John 2:1,2). The Scriptures assure all of us who believe that God “hath made 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).

We would do well to pay heed to the Scriptures “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” When we read our Bibles, attend church where the Scriptures are faithfully taught and listen carefully to God’s inspired Word, the Scriptures are like a light shining in a dark place – they reveal to us Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, the Light of the world.

Again, the Scriptures themselves say: “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

Through the hearing of God’s Word, God shines into our hearts and reveals our sins but also reveals to us Jesus and salvation through faith in Him and His atoning sacrifice.

It is as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:6), “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

And so, unlike other religions and faiths, our faith rests upon the witness of many chosen apostles and prophets recorded for us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. It rests upon the witness of God Himself, recorded for us in His inspired Scriptures.

God’s Word shines like a light into a dark place – it shines into our hearts to reveal to us our sinfulness and our just punishment, but it also reveals to us Christ Jesus and the salvation God provided for us through faith in His name! It tells us that through faith in Christ Jesus we have forgiveness for all our sins and a lively hope – the everlasting joys of heaven – because Jesus shed His holy and precious blood to redeem us and make us His own and is risen again in victory (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9, 18-19).

God grant that the light of His Word shine in our hearts and reveal to us Christ Jesus and salvation through faith in Him. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” Matthew 8:23-27 (Cf. Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25)

It had been a busy day! Jesus had healed the centurion’s servant, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, healed the sick and cast out devils in some among the multitudes who came to Him, and He had taught about the cost of discipleship to those who spoke of following Him.

He and His disciples then entered into one of the fishing boats and began to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee when a tempest arose. Though the wind and the water were likely calm when they set off, a violent wind storm arose on the sea and the boat in they were making the crossing was being swamped by the waves so that these seasoned fishermen — experienced with storms on the sea — realized they were in peril of dying in the storm. All the while, we read that Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat!

And what if the disciples’ fears had come to pass and the boat sank (along with the other boats mentioned in Mark’s Gospel) and they all perished? If you think about it, that boat carried a very precious cargo. It carried Jesus, the Savior of the world, and His disciples, who were being trained to preach the Gospel of forgiveness and life in all the world! If that little boat had sunk, with it would have perished our only hope of salvation and the founding teachers of Christ’s Church (cf. Acts 4:12; Matt. 16:15-18).

And, in so many ways, Christ’s Church in this world — His little band of true believers — is like that boat being swamped by the waves in the windstorm on the Sea of Galilee. There are, of course, many who claim to be Christ’s disciples and true Christians but, because they reject His teaching and do not repent of their sinful ways and place their faith in Christ alone and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world, they are not true Christians and are not a part of His Holy Christian Church which is made up only of true believers. They are not even in the boat with Christ and don’t experience the storm on the sea!

Like that little fishing boat on the sea of Galilee, the winds of false doctrine (cf. 1 Cor. 11:19) and the waves of persecution and suffering (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12-13) beat against the Church and cause us to fear — at least at times — that Christ’s true Church in this world will perish, that the devil’s attacks with erring doctrine and with ridicule and persecution will send the little boat and Christ’s believers to the bottom of the sea. And, all the while, it still so often appears that Christ is asleep in the boat and unconcerned.

And what does Jesus say when His disciples cry out to Him, saying, “Don’t you care that we are about to perish?” (Mark 4:38): “Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith?” And we do have little faith when we doubt that Christ can and will preserve His Church through the preaching of His Word and the right administration of His Sacraments.

God promises in Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Cf. Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17; Tit. 3:3-7.

Jesus has promised that “the gates of hell” will “not prevail” against His Church (Matt. 16:18). And His Word assures us that He who began a good work in us will continue and complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 4:18).

Though our Lord Jesus may let us struggle for a time against the wind and the waves and suffer the attacks of the devil, the world and our own flesh against us, in His time, He will rebuke our enemies and say, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). And when He does, all who opposed us and fought against us will be silenced and stilled. And Christ’s Church, which He has redeemed with His own blood and made His own through the waters of Baptism will enjoy an eternity of peace and calm in His everlasting kingdom, for all who rejected the truth will be judged and cast out into the everlasting fires of hell and all who have placed their hope in Christ alone will be raised up to the eternal bliss of heaven! Cf. 2 Thess. 1:6-10.

Forgive us, O Lord, for our fears that we will perish in the midst of the winds of false doctrine and the boisterous waves of persecution. Grant that we not abandon ship but hold fast to You and Your cross in faith, looking forward to the eternal peace and joys of heaven You have promised to us and all who believe. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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