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“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” 2 Corinthians 13:5a

This Word of God calls upon all who call themselves “Christian” to examine and test themselves to see if they are truly in the faith. And this is indeed important, for many deceive themselves and think that all is well with their souls when, in fact, they are living in sin and unbelief!

How can you test yourself? How can you be sure you are a Christian? Consider the following questions, which are based upon both the Scriptures and Luther’s Small Catechism.

1. Are you genuinely sorry for your sins, or are you securely or intentionally continuing on in your sinful ways?

2. Do you trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal salvation, or do you rely upon your own works or life to merit God’s acceptance of you and a place in His heavenly kingdom?

3. Do you sincerely desire, with God’s help, to amend your life and live for Christ in accord with His Word, or are you unwilling to give up some sin or evil practice in your life?

If you are not sorry for all your sins, not trusting in Christ Jesus for salvation, or are not sincerely desiring and seeking to amend your life, you fail the test and ought consider the consequence of continuing in sin and unbelief and repent before it is too late. Cf. Psalm 32; Psalm 51; 1 John 1:5 – 2:6.

The Bible tells us: “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

The Bible also says: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Those who remain impenitent and continue on in their sinful ways will reap the end result: eternal death and damnation. But those who repent of their sins and look in faith to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world will receive God’s pardon and forgiveness and the eternal joys of heaven for Jesus’ sake.

O Dearest Jesus, for the sake of Thy Holy life and innocent sufferings and death upon the cross, forgive me for all my sins and iniquities, cleanse my heart, and grant me the sincere desire to amend my sinful ways and live for You. Amen.

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

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“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (Read verses 1-18)

God did the most amazing thing: we, being totally dead in our sins and unable to please God or come to Him, God sent His only begotten Son (the eternal Word, true God with the Father and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all things visible and invisible) into His own creation as a man to redeem mankind and give us life!

God’s Son became flesh – a true man with flesh and bones and blood, like you and me – when He was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary through the miraculous working of God’s Spirit. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us….”

Yet Jesus was not only a man, for the Apostle John writes: “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father….” John and the other disciples witnessed Jesus’ glory in His mighty miracles, in His glorious transfiguration, and in His resurrection and ascension. There is no cause to doubt – Jesus is the very Son of God come into this world a true man.

Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” In Jesus, we see the fullness of God’s grace toward us sinners. In Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, God’s undeserved love reached down and provided a way of salvation for lost mankind; and, in Jesus, God still reaches down to us lost and condemned sinners, offering us forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith in Jesus’ name.

In this sin-darkened world, God’s truth has been revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the truth – only in Him is there forgiveness and life everlasting! He is “the way, the truth, and the life” and no one comes to the Father but through faith in Him (John 14:6; Cf. Acts 4:12).

O eternal God, our heavenly Father, we thank you for the gracious gift of Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior and the only true way to life everlasting. Amen.

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

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“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 (Read Luke 2:1-20)

Far more than a quaint story, these verses from Luke, chapter two, describe a historical event which occurred at a real time and in a real place. It happened in the days of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Cyrenius was the governor of Syria.

Though Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, the ancient prophet foretold the birthplace of Messiah to be in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2ff.); and God, in His divine providence, moved Caesar Augustus to take a census at just the right time, making it necessary for Joseph and his espoused wife to be in Bethlehem when the days were fulfilled for Mary to bring forth her firstborn son.

When Messiah Jesus was born and laid in a manger, an angel announced His birth to shepherds living a field nearby and keeping watch over their flock by night. The heavenly messenger brought them good tidings of great joy for all people; for that very day in Bethlehem, the city of David, a Savior was born, the Messiah, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself in human flesh.

And, as the angel choir said in its hymn of praise, this child brought about peace between God and man and God’s good will toward sinful man. How would this be? Christ Jesus satisfied the righteous demands of God’s holy law for us, and He suffered and died on the cross and paid in full the just punishment for the sins of the world that God might have mercy upon us and graciously forgive our sins when we look to His Son in faith for pardon and peace!

Having heard these things, the shepherds were not content to go back to their work of guarding the flock; they went to see the things of which the angel had told them. And, they found it just as the angel had said. They found Mary and Joseph and, with them, the Christ Child lying in a manger.

Nor did the shepherds keep the good news to themselves; they told everyone — they made known abroad — what the angel had told them concerning this Child born in Bethlehem. Mary herself treasured up the words of the shepherds concerning her Son and pondered them in her heart.

When the shepherds returned to their flock, they were glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, which was just as the angel had told them. They were rejoicing in God’s gift of a Savior who would redeem them and give them a place in God’s eternal kingdom.

Of course, these events in history have great significance for each and every one of us today. God’s own Son was born in Bethlehem on that historic day. His birth is good tidings of great joy to us as well, for He is the long-promised Messiah, the LORD God Himself; and He went to the cross for the sins of the world — for the sins of each of us — and He rose again in victory that each and every one of us might have forgiveness for all our sins and life eternal through faith in Him!

O dearest Jesus, we thank you for coming into this world a true man — that babe born in Bethlehem — and going to the cross to redeem us and make us Your own. Move us to take the time to see, to worship and to spread abroad the good news of Your salvation. Amen.

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

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“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Matthew 11:2-3 (Read v. 2-15)

Whether John the Baptist had questions concerning Jesus or wished to point his own disciples to Jesus we don’t know for sure, but he did, from prison, send two of his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

Notice that Jesus’ answer was not just an affirmative claim but clear evidence of fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. After healing many and casting out evil spirits in their presence (Luke 7:17ff.), “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matt. 11:4-6; Cf. Isa, 35:4ff.; 42:5ff.; 61:1ff.)

Indeed, the one who does not stumble and fall in regard to faith in Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ) and Savior is blessed, as Jesus said.

What about you? Do you ever have questions or doubts about Jesus as to whether He is the promised Messiah and Savior of the world? Consider His works! He opened the eyes of the blind, healed those who were lame, cleansed lepers, opened the ears of the deaf and raised the dead, including rising from the dead Himself on the third day after being crucified and dying for the sins of all. And Jesus proclaimed the gospel to the poor – to those destitute of their own righteousness before God, to those who were guilty and stood condemned under the holy law of God. To them, Jesus preached release, forgiveness and entrance into God’s kingdom through faith alone in His name.

And who was John? Jesus asked the multitudes what they went out into the wilderness to see? Was it a reed shaken with the wind – one that easily swayed in his teaching to accommodate the popular winds of doctrine? No, John was unbending in his doctrine, calling upon all, including kings and religious rulers, to repent. Was it a man dressed in soft, expensive clothing like that worn of kings or of the priests and rulers of the Jews? No, for John dressed coarsely in a garment of camel’s hair, much like Elijah, and wore a leather belt around his waist. In fact, in many ways, John and Jesus were opposites in their food and drink. John drank no wine and ate locusts and wild honey, and Jesus drank wine and ate a variety of foods, and many of their hearers were critical of both (Matt. 11:16-19).

Jesus said John was a prophet, greater than all the Old Testament prophets because he was sent to prepare the people for the coming of the LORD God, their Messiah and Savior.

Jesus said (Matt. 11:9-11): “But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Jesus called John the Elijah who was to come (v. 14).

Jesus said (Matt. 11:12-13) “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”

Though many of the Jewish leaders rejected both the baptism of John and the ministry of Jesus (cf. Luke 7:29-30; 36ff.), many people – including tax collectors and known sinners – were pressing their way into God’s kingdom. They took hold of the Gospel in faith and looked to Jesus as their Messiah and Savior and took God’s kingdom of grace for themselves with the same fervor as conquering soldiers take a kingdom and seize the spoils of war.

And what about us? Do we receive the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus and repent of our sinful ways, looking to Jesus and his cross for mercy and forgiveness? John preached a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4); and Jesus preached that all people should repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). Jesus also commanded His disciples to preach “repentance and remission of sins … in his name among all nations” (Luke 24:46-47), and so we preach today.

Are we, like so many of Jesus hearers, rejecting the idea that we need to repent? Are we critical of Jesus for offering mercy and forgiveness to the religious traitors and lowlifes of His day? Or, do we take the preaching of John and of Jesus lightly and go about our lives impenitent and seeing no need for repentance and faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus?

Sad to say, I don’t see people breaking down the doors to get in and hear the Gospel. Though, as Jesus said, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John because we can proclaim the fulfilled Gospel – the message that Christ died on the cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the world and then rose again in victory on the third day – how many desire to hear that Gospel?

Instead, people criticize the preachers – some for being too formal and liturgical and others for being too casual and contemporary. Preachers are required to be faithful stewards of God’s Word, of Christ’s message (1 Cor. 4:1ff.). Whether dressed in formal robes or a garment of camel’s hair, they are commanded and required to preach “repentance and remission of sins” in Jesus’ name among all the nations (Luke 24:46-47; Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:22-23). Woe unto preachers if they don’t – if they are like reeds shaken with the wind! And, woe unto the hearers who fail to repent of their sinful ways and look to Jesus and His cross for mercy and forgiveness!

Blessed is the one who is not offended in Christ Jesus!

O dearest Jesus, grant us ears to hear and hearts to believe the Gospel. By Your Holy Spirit’s working through the Gospel, grant that we repent of our sinful ways and to look to You and Your sacrifice on the cross for mercy, forgiveness and life everlasting. Amen.

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

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“And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” Luke 1:50

Young Mary expressed a truth many fail to understand in our day. The LORD’s mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation.

In other words, not all receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. Though God “so loved the world,” and Christ died for the sins of all (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 John 2:2), not all are pardoned and forgiven. Rather it is those who humble themselves before the LORD God, acknowledge their sinfulness and look to Him for mercy for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus, God the Son in human flesh and our Savior.

This same truth is expressed in Psalm 103:17-18: “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.” (Cf. Psalm 95:7ff.; Isa. 53:1; Rom. 10:16.)

In Exodus 20:5-6, we read: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (cf. Ex. 34:6-7).

The truth expressed by Mary, as well as in the Psalms and Exodus, is not that anyone can merit God’s mercy by his works or keeping the Commandments but that God shows mercy to those who confess their sins and look to Him for mercy in Christ Jesus, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; cf. Psalm 32:1-6).

To fear the LORD is to honor and respect Him as our God, Creator and holy Judge. It is to acknowledge that His ways are right and ours are wrong and sinful and deserving of His judgment. And, it is to take Him at His word and trust in His promises of a Savior who would take our sins upon Himself, pay the price and make atonement, and redeem us to God (cf. Gal. 4:4-5). It is to repent of our sins and sinful ways and look in faith to Christ and His cross for mercy and forgiveness!

And God’s mercy is on those who fear Him – on those who partake of His covenant of mercy – from generation to generation. God’s mercy was upon the Old Testament saints, upon the young Virgin Mary, upon Jesus’ disciples in the first century, upon all who repented and trusted in Christ down through the centuries; and it is upon us today when we turn from our sinful ways to Christ Jesus for mercy and forgiveness.

Indeed, “His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.”

Lord God, grant that we not be proud, self-righteous and impenitent, but penitent and trusting in our crucified and risen Savior for mercy. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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

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