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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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Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Matthew 4:10

Who do you worship and serve? We may profess to worship and serve the LORD God who made and redeemed us, but a simple test of how we use our time and talents may reveal otherwise.

If we are so busy with the things of this world that we have no time for God and His Word, no time for daily devotions and prayer, no time to join our fellow believers for Bible study and worship, then maybe the world and the things in this world (money, goods, house, business, success, etc.) have taken the place the LORD God should hold in our lives.

The Bible tells us: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

When Jesus was tempted of the devil in the wilderness, the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and all their glory and offered them to Jesus if He would only fall down and worship Satan (Matt. 4:8-9). What a temptation! Jesus had come into this world to set up and establish a kingdom, and now He was being offered all the kingdoms of the world!

Yet, Jesus did not come to establish or reign over an earthly kingdom. Rather, He came to establish a heavenly kingdom. He “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). He suffered and died on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sins, that God might pardon and forgive us and grant us a place with Him in heaven.

Keeping in mind that He had come into this world to do the will of His heavenly Father and die for the sins of all mankind and that it would be wrong to worship or serve any other beside the LORD God, Jesus responded: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” What an example for those of us who trust in Him as Savior!

Dear Lord Jesus, through the study of the Scriptures, give us a knowledge of You and Your will and grant that we love and serve You alone and not give in to the many temptations of the devil, the world and our flesh. We ask this for the sake of Your holy life and innocent sufferings and death on the cross to redeem us. 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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“For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Romans 7:15

Some would have us believe that, when we become Christians, all our struggles in life go away. But, actually, the opposite is true. When the Holy Spirit washes away our sins and regenerates us through the preaching of the Gospel and by means of Holy Baptism – bringing us to trust in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for our salvation – the struggle begins.

When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ, He also takes up residence in our hearts and continues the sanctifying work which He has begun in us. He regenerates us and creates in us new natures which trust in God and His promises and love God and seek and desire to be pleasing to God and do His will. This new nature trusts in Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation and, as a fruit of that faith, seeks to do all that God commands and teaches in His Word.

The problem is that we still also have our old sinful natures inherited from Adam which do not trust in God and His promises and seek, rather, to gratify our old sinful longings and desires. And so, though we according to the new man – the new natures created in us by the Holy Spirit of God – will and seek to do what God commands, the old sinful nature in each of us would rather do its own thing and wills and does what it pleases to gratify its sin-corrupted self.

The result is that what we will to do we do not practice; and what we hate and do not wish to do, that we do. And how frustrating this is for us as Christians! We trust in Christ alone for pardon and forgiveness and, as a fruit of faith, we seek to be pleasing to Him in all things. Yet, we fail again and again. We don’t do the things we know we should be doing, and we do the things we hate.

With the apostle, we say: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

In fact, that is why we begin our worship services each Sunday acknowledging and confessing our utter sinfulness and our inability to free ourselves from our sinful condition, and it is why we ask God, Sunday after Sunday (actually, each day), to deal with us in mercy for the sake of Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death for us upon the cross.

And the Apostle Paul also tells us the solution to this wretchedness: “I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25); and, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). He explains that when we walk according to the Spirit, we are not condemned because, through faith in Christ, we have the pardon and forgiveness Christ won for us on the cross and we are clothed with His perfect righteous and holy life.

Some might assume that walking by the Spirit is our own endeavor to live a righteous and holy life, but walking by the Spirit is walking in the truth which God’s Spirit reveals to us through God’s Word. Walking by the Spirit is acknowledging and confessing the sins the Spirit reveals to us through the preaching of God’s Law, and it is taking comfort in the Gospel message of mercy and forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s holy life for us and His innocent sufferings and death for the sins of the world. Cf. 1 John 1:5 – 2:2.

Tomorrow, as we come to worship and to receive the body and blood of Christ Jesus which was given and shed for us on the cross, we confess our wretchedness – that we have sinned against the Lord God in our thoughts, desires, words and deeds and that we are truly deserving of God’s wrath and punishments, both temporal and eternal.

But we flee to the cross of Jesus for mercy. Through the preaching of the Gospel and through God’s word of absolution, we take comfort in the fact that “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2). We have a certain hope of God’s forgiveness and of a place in God’s everlasting kingdom because Jesus gave His body into death for us and shed His holy and precious blood on the cross to establish a new covenant in which our sins are forgiven and we are accepted as God’s people. We are comforted with pardon and peace as we partake of Christ’s sacrifice in this covenant meal!

And, for Christ’s sake, we have the assurance that when we awake on the last day, it will be without sin to serve our God forever and ever in righteousness and holiness. We confess with David: “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 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 He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken. Luke 18:31-34

If Jesus had not died for our sins and rose again, you and I could not be saved. It is as the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 15:17-19): “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”

Though Jesus told His disciples this, they did not understand. In fact, even after Jesus had died on the cross and risen again, they failed to understand; so, “He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem…’” (Luke 24:44-47).

And many remain blind to this truth today, as well. They imagine that the cross was unnecessary and think that they can merit their own salvation by following the examples left for us by Jesus. For them, it really doesn’t matter if Jesus died on the cross and rose again bodily on the third day – His death was only an unfortunate end of Jesus’ life. They believe Christ lives on if we carry His love and concern for the poor and downtrodden into our age by following His example of meeting the physical needs of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the blind.

Though Christ had perfect love for His neighbor and indeed met the physical needs of those who came to Him, that’s not the most important reason for His coming. He came into this world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15); and, to save sinners, it was necessary for Him to be mocked, scourged, beaten, crucified and buried, and then to rise again from the dead on the third day. This is what the prophets had said He would do, and this is what was necessary to redeem us from our sin and the death we so deserve.

And this is what the Scriptures promised. He was the Seed of the woman who crushed the head of the serpent but was bruised in His heel (Gen. 3:15). He is the promised Son of David who would redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Ps. 130:7-8). He is the Lord God Himself in human flesh and blood that He might take our place under the law and fulfill it perfectly for us and then suffer and die upon the cross to bear our iniquities (Isa. 53; Ps. 22).

“His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14). “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). “When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:10-11).

It was necessary for the promised Messiah, the Christ, to suffer and die for the sins of the world and to rise again on the third day; and it is necessary that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations,” that we might place our faith in Him and be saved!

We thank You, O Christ, for going to the cross, bearing our sins, and redeeming us to God. 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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