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Download Bulletin for Sunday, March 14, 2021

Law or Promise?

Galatians 4:31: “So then, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”

Dear Christian Friends,

Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to address a very specific controversy. It may seem like a small thing, but Paul goes to great lengths to show how it is the biggest thing of all.

There were some false teachers, that we call the Judaizers, who were teaching something that sounds kind of reasonable on the face of it: that it was necessary for Christians to follow the Jewish customs. In particular, Christians also needed to be circumcised and follow the Jewish dietary laws. This seems like just a tiny addition to the Gospel, which tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ’s innocent suffering and death. But is it really such a small addition? What difference does it make, really?

Many, but by no means all, of the earliest Christians were Jews who had grown up in the Jewish ways. They followed the Jewish Law because to them it wasn’t the Jewish Law, it was the Law, period. Their fathers had followed it, and so had their fathers for thousands of years. It was what they knew, the fact that they had the Law was proof that they were God’s chosen people. The Law had been given by God himself, through Moses!

But even before Moses, was Abraham. Abraham was not always Abraham – he started out as Abram, and he was seen as the father of the Hebrews. This is because God made him a promise – a very important promise, the promise of a Savior. He was not the first to hear such a promise; the first ones to hear it were Adam and Eve, just after they fell into sin and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. But God re-iterated that promise to Abram – Gen 12:3 “And I will bless those that bless you and curse the one who curses you. And in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.” How else can all the families of the world be blessed in Abraham, except by the promise of a Savior from their sins?

A further promise was that Abram would have numerous children (though he had no children at the time this promise was made, and, in fact, Abram’s servant Eliezer of Damascus was due to inherit his estate): Gen 15:5-6 “And He brought him outside and said, Look now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your seed be. And he believed in the LORD. And He counted it to him for righteousness.”

It is very important – crucial, in fact – that at the time God made these promises to Abram that the covenant of circumcision had not yet been established. This would come later, after Abram and his wife Sarai tried to hurry God’s timeline along by giving Hagar, Sarai’s slave, to Abraham, who then bore a son named Ishmael. But Ishmael was not the son that God had promised – that would be Isaac, who would be Abram’s natural son with Sarai. God promised Isaac to Abram, changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah, and established his covenant of circumcision all at the same time, in Genesis chapter 17. And this covenant of circumcision, and later the addition of the Mosaic Law, would define the nation of Israel until that promised Messiah would come.

But what does this have to do with our Galatians, and what does it have to do with us?

To us, it may seem that asking people to follow the Jewish law in addition to believing in Christ is no big deal. But here, Paul is making the point that it is the biggest deal in the world. Why should that be?

The Law claims to be a path to salvation. And in a very real way, it is – the Law is very simple – follow it perfectly, and you can be saved. The rules might be simple, but following them is another thing entirely. Let’s take a look at the Law – what does it require of us?

As Jesus said, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the summary, at least – getting into all the details of the Jewish ceremonial law covers most of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Eat this, don’t eat that, males must be circumcised eight days after being born. There are many, many other laws but these were the most important ones in the Galatian Judaizer controversy. There are many other aspects of the Law, including the moral law – the thing we most closely associate with the ten commandments. Those still very much apply to us, and while we often try to minimize or deny it, we have an incredibly hard time following even those laws. They are expressed as the most serious possible offenses, in most cases – murder, theft, adultery. Surely we are not murderers! Surely we are not thieves! We haven’t committed adultery, have we?

And yet our consciences tell us that even if we haven’t committed these exact acts, we have given in to temptations to do things like this. Maybe we haven’t committed murder … but I bet we have all let our anger get the best of us, and spoken in anger to someone, maybe even someone we love. We may not have robbed a bank, but have we dawdled, or goofed off, or not made the best use of our time? I know that I certainly have. The world has so many opportunities to tempt us to have sexual desire for those we should not desire. Do we flee temptation, or do we give in sometimes? This is what the Law demands of us – perfect obedience to every single command. No exceptions, no do-overs, and it does not matter if anyone else saw us or not, or knew about it – perfection means perfection, and nothing less is good enough. Each time we break God’s Law we are guilty of sin, and sin separates us from God. Paul says this very eloquently in his letter to the Romans, 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

The prophet Ezekiel writes: 18:20 “The soul that sins, it shall die.” Not just the soul that sins a lot, or sins in really obvious ways, but the soul that sins. Period. Sin separates us from God and from eternal life – when we sin, we can no longer be counted righteous, cannot claim the right to stand before God and live with him forever.

But let’s go back to Genesis for a moment. Remember that Abram trusted God before he followed the Law, before he even had the Law to follow? And remember how God credited that to him as righteousness? God credits righteousness to us in exactly the same way, when we trust his promises in the Gospel.

What has God promised to us? Paul goes on in his letter to the Romans: 3:24-26 “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness through the passing by of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God; for the display of His righteousness at this time, for Him to be just and, forgiving the one being of the faith of Jesus.”

God has promised us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus, his Son – and when we trust in that, we can and are counted as righteous in God’s sight. It wasn’t circumcision that saved Abraham; it was the faith that laid hold of God’s promise to bless all nations through his seed, who was not yet born.

So, then, circumcision and the Law followed God’s promise to Abram, and did not set that promise aside in any way. Further, they are a weaker covenant that was given to remind Israel of their coming Savior, to be shadows or types that point to Christ, and Paul says in his letter to the Colossians: 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. For these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.”

That is the difference between Hagar and Sarah. Being the child of Hagar, the slave woman, means trusting in our own merit and works to be righteous before God. Being the child of Sarah means trusting in God’s promises to forgive our sins out of his own mercy, for Christ’s sake. Being the child of Hagar, after coming to faith, really means turning one’s back on God’s mercy, which is the biggest deal in the world, and leads to eternal condemnation. Salvation must come by one means or the other – it must either come from our own merit, or it must come from God’s mercy and Christ’s sacrifice. If it is a mixture of the two (our merit and Christ’s merit), Christ’s merit disappears because the difference then is only our own merit.

Our great Lutheran forebears understood this, and confessed boldly when their lives were on the line to this truth. These are the words of Philip Melanchthon in the Apology, or Defense of the Augsburg Confession (Article IX, Part 7), which show that there will always be those that try to blur this crucial distinction between Law and Gospel, and risk the destruction of the Gospel message:

“But our adversaries absolutely abolish the free promise when they deny that faith justifies, and teach that for the sake of love and of our works we receive remission of sins and reconciliation. If the remission of sins depends upon the condition of our works, it is altogether uncertain. [For we can never be certain whether we do enough works, or whether our works are sufficiently holy and pure. Thus, too, the forgiveness of sins is made uncertain, and the promise of God perishes, as Paul says, Rom. 4, 14: The promise is made of none effect, and everything is rendered uncertain.] Therefore the promise will be abolished. Hence we refer godly minds to the consideration of the promises, and we teach concerning the free remission of sins and concerning reconciliation, which occurs through faith in Christ. Afterward, we add also the doctrine of the Law. [Not that by the Law we merit the remission of sins, or that for the sake of the Law we are accepted with God, but because God requires good works.] And it is necessary to divide these things aright, as Paul says, 2 Tim. 2, 15. We must see what Scripture ascribes to the Law, and what to the promises. For it praises works in such a way as not to remove the free promise [as to place the promise of God and the true treasure, Christ, a thousand leagues above it].

“For good works are to be done on account of God’s command, likewise for the exercise of faith [as Paul says, Eph. 2, 10: We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works], and on account of confession and giving of thanks. For these reasons good works ought necessarily to be done, which, although they are done in the flesh not as yet entirely renewed, that retards the movements of the Holy Ghost, and imparts some of its uncleanness, yet, on account of Christ, are holy, divine works, sacrifices, and acts pertaining to the government of Christ, who thus displays His kingdom before this world.”

So far Melanchthon and our Lutheran confessors.

While it is crucial to understand how our righteousness does not depend on us following the Law, it is also important to understand that that does not mean that the Law is useless to us as believers. Indeed, it is only as believers in Christ that we can begin to follow the Law and do good works, which are pleasing to God. The Law shows us what works we should do – not out of fear of going to hell, but out of love and thankfulness to God for his great mercy.

So, then, let us hold fast to God’s promises, and let us take great joy in being the children of the free woman, Sarah. Let us rejoice that we are saved by the same faith that Abraham had – trust in the promises of a merciful God, who above all loves us, and sent his Son to pay the ransom for our sins. And let us remember that our thankfulness and love will show itself in good works – not because we are trying to earn God’s favor, or because we believe we must do good works to earn salvation, but because we know that our sin has been paid for, our entire debt has been paid by the price Christ paid on the cross, and our hearts can only break out in thankfulness and gratitude to God and service to one another. In doing all of these things, we will be children of the free woman, as Paul says we should be.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

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Order of Vespers LSB 229

Hymns
LSB 425 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
LSB 438 “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”
LSB 880 “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow”

Psalm 55 (MEV) For the Music Director. With stringed instruments. A Contemplative Maskil of David.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God, and do not hide Yourself from my supplication. 2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint, and I murmur, 3 because of the voice of the enemy, because of the pressure of the wicked, for they cause trouble to drop on me, and in wrath they have animosity against me. 4 My heart is in pain within me, and the terrors of death have fallen on me. 5 Fear and trembling come into me, and horror has overwhelmed me. 6 I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest. 7 Indeed, then I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah 8 I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” 9 Confuse, O Lord, divide their tongues, for I have seen violence and strife in the city. 10 Day and night they go around it on its walls; trouble and sorrow are in its midst. 11 Destruction is in its midst; oppression and treachery do not depart from its streets. 12 For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. 13 But it was you, my peer, my guide, and my acquaintance. 14 We took pleasant counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company. 15 May death surprise them, and may their lives go down to Sheol, for wickedness is in their dwellings and among them. 16 As for me, I will call on God, and the Lord will save me. 17 Evening and morning and at noon, I will make my complaint and murmur, and He will hear my voice. 18 He has ransomed my life in peace from the battle against me, for there were many against me. 19 God will hear and afflict them, even He who sits enthroned from of old. Selah Because they do not change, therefore they do not fear God. 20 My friend has set his hands against those at peace with him; he has violated his covenant. 21 The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but battle was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. 22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be moved. 23 But You, O God, will cast the wicked down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But I will trust in You.

Epistle: 1 Peter 5:1-11

Gospel: Luke 22:1-23

Prayers: The Litany LSB 288

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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Hymn
1 Praise to You and adoration, Blessèd Jesus, Son of God,
Who, to serve Your own creation, Came to share our flesh and blood.
Guide me that I never may From Your fold or pastures stray,
But with zeal and joy exceeding Follow where Your steps are leading.

2 Hold me ever in Your keeping; Comfort me in pain and strife.
In my laughter and my weeping Be with me throughout my life.
Give me greater love for You, And my faith and hope renew
In Your birth, Your life, and passion, In Your death and resurrection.

Thomas Hansen Kingo, 1634–1703; tr. Kristen Kvamme, 1866–1938, st. 1, alt.; tr. Christian Worship, 1993, st. 2 Public domain FREU DICH SEHR

Invocation
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Confession and Absolution (1 John 1 and 2)
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 cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We Pray: O Almighty God, we confess to You that we have sinned in our thoughts, desires, words, and deeds; and we pray that You would forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness for the sake of Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross in our stead. Amen.

God’s Word assures us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

As a called and ordained servant of Christ, I announce to you the grace of God in Christ Jesus and forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 32 A Psalm of David. A Contemplative Maskil
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord does not count iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was changed into the drought of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not conceal. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah 6 For this cause everyone who is godly will pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in the floods of great waters they will not reach him. 7 You are my hiding place; You will preserve me from trouble; You will surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye on you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule that are without understanding, that must be restrained with bit and bridle, or they will not come near you. 10 Many sorrows come to the wicked, but lovingkindness will surround the man who trusts in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, you righteous one; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart!

Scripture Lesson: Genesis 3
1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the garden; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You will not eat of it, nor will you touch it, or else you will die.’ ” 4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasing to the eyes and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard Your voice in the garden and was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above every beast of the field; you will go on your belly, and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, and in pain you will bring forth children; your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” 17 And to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground on account of you; in hard labor you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 Thorns and thistles it will bring forth for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, because out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return.” 20 The man called his wife’s name Eve because she was the mother of all the living. 21 The Lord God made garments of skins for both Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 The Lord God said, “The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. And now, he might reach out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove the man out, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned in every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Did God Really Say?

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (Read Genesis 3)

The paradise which God created (Genesis 1-2) did not last long, for Genesis 3 tells of the temptation of the devil, a fallen angel, who came to Eve in the form of the serpent.

“Did God really say that that you should not eat from any tree of the garden?” (paraphrase) he asked, creating a question in the woman’s mind.

And when Eve explained that the prohibition and warning concerning disobedience bringing about about death — alienation and separation from God — was only in regard to the tree in the middle of the garden, the devil distorted the truth by saying, “You surely will not die! For God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4,5). Thus, he caused her to think that perhaps God was somehow holding out on her, keeping from her and her husband something good and desirable.

Of course, this still happens every day. The devil comes to us through friends and coworkers, through the media and entertainment industries, and in our own thoughts and minds, and says, “Does God really expect you to keep all those commandments in the Bible?” And he works hard to convince us that God is trying to keep us from having fun and enjoying life, or that He is placing an impossible burden upon us, that He really doesn’t expect us to keep all of His commandments, or that breaking just a few of the commandments now and then won’t really alienate and separate us from God — after all, everybody does it.

And, like Eve, when we look at the thing we are being tempted to do, it looks good and desirable to us at the moment. We think it will be fun or pleasurable; it will work out for our good; it won’t hurt anything; no one will know.

And so, we rationalize and give in to the temptation and to our own sinful desires, and the result is death! We recognize our nakedness and guilt before God. We may attempt to cover it up or even learn to cope with it, but the guilt remains. We are afraid to stand in His presence. We would rather not hear God’s Word or walk into His house of prayer.

Why? Because our sin and disobedience, though they may have appeared to be good at the time, brought about spiritual death and separation from God. When confronted with the presence of God and His truth, we hide and seek to conceal our sin and guilt. When questioned about our sin, we make excuses and blame others.

As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, we are all born into this world sinners — our very thoughts and desires are turned away from God and His holy commandments. What David wrote is true for each of us as a result of that first sin: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5; Cf. Rom. 5:12). Instead of loving God, trusting Him, and desiring to honor and glorify His name, we think only of ourselves, we doubt and disbelieve God’s Word, and we seek our own honor and glory. We are born in spiritual death and are alienated from God.

That is why we so desperately need God’s pardon and forgiveness. We need Him to find us, forgive us and give us life again. And God has come to us and reached out to us in love and forgiveness. He desires to free us from our guilt and shame and give us life everlasting with Him.

He did this by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to overcome temptation and sin for us (cf. Matt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15) and then go to the cross to be condemned, forsaken of God and die in our stead that we might have God’s pardon and forgiveness and not be afraid of God or troubled by guilt and shame any longer. In Christ Jesus, atonement has been made and the sin of the world taken away (cf. 1 John 2:1-2); and through faith in Christ Jesus, your sin and mine are pardoned (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1-2).

O dearest Jesus, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon me, find me, and wash away the guilt of my sin in Your shed blood. And, dear Jesus, grant me a place in Your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

General Prayer
Almighty and Everlasting God, You are worthy to be held in reverence by all the children of men, we give You most humble and hearty thanks for the innumerable blessings, both temporal and spiritual, which, without any merit or worthiness on our part, You have bestowed upon us.
We praise You, especially, that You hast preserved unto us, in their purity, Your saving Word and Your holy Sacraments. And we beseech You, O Lord, to grant and preserve unto Your holy Church, throughout the world, purity of doctrine, and faithful pastors who shall preach Your Word with power; and help all who hear, rightly to understand, and truly to believe Your Word. To that end, we pray Your blessing on Bishop Heiser, on our pastors, and on all the pastors of our diocese.
Be the Protector and Defender of Your people in all time of tribulation and danger and may we, in communion with Your Church, and in brotherly unity with all our fellow-Christians, fight the good fight of faith, and in the end receive the salvation of our souls.
Bestow Your grace upon all the nations of the earth. Especially do we entreat You to bless our land, and all its inhabitants, and all who are in authority. Cause Your glory to dwell among us, and let mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, everywhere prevail. To this end, we commend to Your care all our schools and pray You to make them nurseries of useful knowledge and of Christian virtues, that they may bring forth the wholesome fruits of life.
Graciously defend us from all calamities by fire and water, from war and pestilence, from scarcity and famine. Protect and prosper everyone in his appropriate calling, and cause all useful arts to flourish among us. Be the God and Father of the widow and the fatherless children, the Helper of the sick and the needy and the Comforter of the forsaken and distressed.
We pray for all those ill from the coronavirus, from other diseases or afflictions, or suffering from the effects of isolation. Grant health and healing to those ill and comfort all with the Gospel promises of forgiveness of sins and the everlasting joys of heaven through faith in Christ Jesus, Your Son and our Savior.
And as we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith and godly life to prepare for the world to come; doing the work which You have given us to do while it is day, before the night comes when no man can work. And when our last hour shall come, support us by Your power, and receive us into Your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26)
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the LORD lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.

Closing Hymn
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Thomas Ken, 1637–1711 Public domain OLD HUNDREDTH

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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Due to the wintry weather conditions, in-person services at the church are canceled for tonight. An online service is below.

To listen to this message, click on the audio file below:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 51 For the Music Director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the abundance of Your compassion, blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak, and You are blameless when You judge. 5 I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. 6 You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You make me to know wisdom. 7 Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones that You have broken may rejoice. 9 Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You. 14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. 16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure; build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then You will be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they will offer young bulls on Your altar.

Devotional

“Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping and with mourning. Rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents from punishing. Who knows? He might turn aside and relent, and He might leave behind a blessing — a grain offering and a food offering for the LORD your God.” Joel 2:12-14

As God warned His people through the prophet Joel that the Day of the Lord was coming, so He warns us that the Day of Judgment is near — it is near for us as a nation and as a people; and, of course, the Day of Christ’s return when all will stand before His throne could come at any time. The arrival of that Day only waits because God is being patient with us, not desiring that any perish but that all repent and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

God’s Word tells us in regard to the timing of Christ’s return and the day of judgment, in 2 Pet. 3:9: “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

And now, with God’s judgment drawing ever closer, He warns us and calls upon us: “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping and with mourning. Rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents from punishing. Who knows? He might turn aside and relent, and He might leave behind a blessing — a grain offering and a food offering for the LORD your God.”

God does not desire that we just go through the outward motions — that we simply fast and say the right words or bow our heads and have ashes smeared upon our foreheads. He desires not that we tear our clothes as a sign of our deep sorrow over our sin but that we tear our hearts and turn to the LORD God for His mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus and for the sake of His atoning sacrifice on the cross. It’s not enough to just say the words of confession we speak each Sunday. He desires that our acknowledgment of sins and our sorrow over them be true and sincere — with the whole heart.

As David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, so we examine ourselves and pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my concerns, and see if there is any rebellious way in me, and lead me in the ancient way.”

God desires that we examine ourselves, repent of our sins and turn to Him in faith for His grace, mercy and forgiveness in the cross of Christ Jesus. And, He assures us that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness and repents of the evil He determined against us because of our sinfulness (cf. Exodus 20:5-6; 34:6-7).

The Bible instructs us in Psalm 103:8-12: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always accuse, neither will He keep his anger forever. He does not treat us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

The Bible tells us: “For You, Lord, are good, and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call on You” (Psalm 86:5). The Scriptures tell us: “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 cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you, so that you do not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:8-2:2).

In Christ Jesus, and for the sake of His cross, God reaches out to us in grace and mercy and desires that we return to Him in faith for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal!

And, when we repent and look to God in faith for His promised mercy in Christ Jesus, we can be assured that God will pardon our sins for Jesus’ sake and grant unto us life everlasting instead of death and condemnation. And, if we repent, God may also repent of the judgment determined against us, our nation, and our people and send to us His blessing instead.

O gracious and merciful God, forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake and cleanse our hearts that we might walk in Your ways until that Day when You come to judge and condemn all who have been disobedient to Your Word but to be glorified in all who have believed and trusted in Your mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Litany
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
O Christ, hear us. O God, the Father in heaven: Have mercy on us. O God the Son, Redeemer of the world: Have mercy on us. O God, the Holy Spirit: Have mercy on us.
Be gracious to us. Spare us, good Lord. Be gracious to us. Help us, good Lord.
From all sin; from all error; from all evil: Good Lord, deliver us.
From the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death; from pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and rebellion; from lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death: Good Lord, deliver us.
By the mystery of your holy incarnation; by your holy nativity; by your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by your agony and bloody sweat; by your cross and passion; by your precious death and burial; by your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment: Help us, good Lord.
We poor sinners pray; Hear us, O Lord God.
And to rule and govern your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of your church in the true knowledge and understanding of your Word, and in holiness of life; to put an end to all schisms and causes of offence; to bring into the way of truth all who have gone astray and are deceived; to beat down Satan under our feet; to send faithful laborers into your harvest; to accompany your Word with your Spirit and grace; to raise up those who fall, and to strengthen those who stand; and to comfort and help the weak-hearted and the distressed: We pray, hear us, good Lord.
To give to all nations peace and concord; to preserve our country from discord and contention; to give to our nation victory over all its enemies; to direct and defend our president, and all in authority; and to bless and keep our judges, leaders, and all our people: We pray, hear us, good Lord.
To see and help all who are in danger, necessity, and trouble; to protect all who travel by land or water; to preserve all women in the perils of childbirth; to strengthen and keep all sick persons and young children; to set free all who are innocently imprisoned; to defend and provide for all fatherless children and widows; and to have mercy on all people: We pray, hear us, good Lord.
To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts; to give and preserve to our use the fruits of the earth; and graciously to hear our prayers: We pray, hear us, good Lord.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; We pray, hear us.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; Have mercy on us.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; Have mercy on us.
O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; Grant us your peace.
O Christ, hear us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6 MEV)
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Collects
O Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you do not desire the death of sinners, but that they turn from their evil ways and live. Graciously keep those punishments from us which we deserve for our sins, and grant us grace to serve you with pure and holy lives; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11)
O God, all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works come from you. Give your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments. Defend us from the fear of our enemies, that we may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Blessing
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

Enslaved by sin and bound in chains

1 Enslaved by sin and bound in chains,
Beneath its dreadful tyrant sway,
And doomed to everlasting pains,
We wretched, guilty captives lay.

2 Nor gold nor gems could buy our peace,
Nor all the world’s collected store
Suffice to purchase our release;
A thousand worlds were all too poor.

3 Jesus, the Lord, the mighty God,
An all-sufficient ransom paid.
O matchless price! His precious blood
For vile, rebellious traitors shed.

4 Jesus the Sacrifice became
To rescue guilty souls from hell;
The spotless, bleeding, dying Lamb
Beneath avenging Justice fell.

5 Amazing goodness! Love divine!
Oh, may our grateful hearts adore
The matchless grace nor yield to sin
Nor wear its cruel fetters more!

Author: Anne Steele (1760)
Tune: WENN WIR IN HÖCHSTEN NÖTEN
“Genevan Psalter,” 1547

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