January 20, 2008

Notice: Biblog Postings Discontinued Indefinitely

Due to staffing changes at Grace Lutheran Church daily postings to the Biblog about the assigned scripture readings will be discontinued indefinitely.

While new postings will be discontinued all other supplemental lectionary study material will remain available. You can continue to use the index pages for background information on each book and to find all past Biblog posts about a particular reading, the Q&A to find answers to common questions we have been asked about particular scripture readings, as well as the prayers, reading schedule and other information offered in the Daily Lectionary section of the web site.

We apologize for the suspension of new posts to the Biblog and pray that the remaining material helps you continue to Be in the Word.

Posted by graceelg at 12:00 AM

January 19, 2008

Ps 47 / Ge 13-15

A psalm connected with our Lord’s ascension to heaven is today providentially paired with an account that ultimately points to our Lord’s eternal priesthood.

Psalm 47

Psalm 47 may have been written for and used in the Feast of Tabernacles, at an observation of which Solomon may have dedicated the Temple. Later, Jews used the psalm as part of the synagogue liturgy for their New Year festival (Rosh Hashanah), and today Christians often use the psalm in connection with our Lord’s Ascension (see, for example, The Lutheran Hymnal, p.160).

Overview

Verses 1-4 call the people to praise God, Who has ascended His throne as the most-high God and King, benefiting His people. Verses 5-6, possibly spoken in the liturgy by a different voice, tell of the Lord’s ascension, which may have been acted out by the carrying of the ark, the Lord’s throne, into the Temple, His palace. Verses 7-9 include another call to praise the Lord (note the liturgical aspects expected of this praise), and see how the psalmist anticipates the final and full fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

Comments

I grew up in Lutheran congregations where people did not applaud in or around the Divine Service, and I think that’s a good practice, one that Psalm 47:1 does not go against. As can be seen with verses pertaining to dancing in joy over the Lord’s deeds, the context of the call for a particular expression is important. In this case, the clapping may have been used to get the attention of people as the procession moved along. We use applause so much in praise of people that in our context understanding it as praise of God is hard, especially since Scripture gives us other ways to praise God, such as with the psalms.

There is an extended discussion of the second half of verse 7 in this folo.

Popular culture these days is all about equality between different races, genders, and sexual orientations. We’re supposed to be working towards a classless society, too, where everyone has the same opportunities (not where no one shows any elegance, although we seem to be headed there, too). So, we might wonder about verse 9. Verse 9 strikes me as if the point was that leaders became just ordinary people, but the real point seems to be that the leaders, and implicitly the people, of the non-Jewish nations became part of the people of God. Such is God’s great desire that all the people of the earth unite in belief in His Son and thereby receive the forgiveness of their sins. As we repent, human nobility and classes no longer matter (see 1 Samuel 2:8), but what matters is that we submit ourselves unto the King of Kings.

Q&A

So far no readers have asked any questions about Psalm 47; you are welcome to do so.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 47 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for three days of the Church Year.
  • The Epiphany of Our Lord
  • Ascension
  • Exaudi (the Sunday after Ascension)

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refers or alludes to verses from Psalm 47 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 47:5-7 -- #214 an ascension hymn by Gottfried W. Sacer and one with which I am not familiar and that is not carried over into Lutheran Service Book.

You can find the tune for the hymn in alphabetical order by following this link.

Genesis 13-15

Events of Abraham’s land and people are narrated in Genesis 13-15, the continuing account of Terah (11:27).

Overview

Not quite following the outline to which I just alluded, my study Bible heads chapter 13 “Abram and Lot separate”, chapter 14 “Abram rescues Lot”, and chapter 15 “God’s covenant with Abram”.

Comments

In chapter 13 we read how Abram and Lot separated: note Abram’s worship of the Lord in 13:4 and in 13:12-13 the anticipation of future events involving Sodom (chapters 14 and 19). Lot seems to be, we might say, flirting with disaster, by living near people known to be evil; how often we do likewise!

A photograph of statues of Melchizedek and Abraham in the façade of cathedral in Reims, FranceIn chapter 14 we read of Abram rescuing his nephew Lot from hostile kings and of the appearance of and table fellowship with Melchizedek, a type of Christ (see Hebrews 7). The image with this post is a photograph by K. Cohen of San Jose State University in San Jose California of statues of Melchizedek and Abraham from the façade of the cathedral in Reims, France, with clear indications of that table fellowship and its fulfillment in the Sacrament of the Altar (to see a larger version of the image click it, but for the largest and highest quality image see from where we got it).

In chapter 15 we read of God’s covenant with Abram, including 15:6, an all-important verse that connects faith with righteousness. We are among the innumerable children of Abraham when we likewise believe and are saved.

We can learn so much about our own spiritual lives in our reading of Genesis 13-15. On the side of sin and temptation, there is Lot’s living near (13:12) and then in Sodom (14:12), which you might note the hearer of Genesis already knows is later destroyed (13:10, anticipating the account of chapter 19). Taking such knowledge in a sense for granted is something we often find in the Gospel accounts, too. On the side of forgiveness and redemption, there is Abraham’s believing God and such faith bringing him righteousness (15:6, an extremely important verse), the covenant with Abraham sealed with sacrifice (15:9-10), the type of Israel’s slavery and deliverance that points to our slavery to sin and redemption by faith in Jesus Christ (15:13-14), and a meal of bread and wine served by a priest of God that brings blessing to Abraham and prompts an offering in return (14:18-20). Do you see all the parallels?

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not appoint any excerpts from Genesis 13-15 as Old Testament readings.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from Genesis 13-15.

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by your rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by graceelg at 12:00 AM

January 18, 2008

Ps 46 / Ge 10-12

Today we have a providential juxtaposition between the Lord as believers’ fortress and the kind of fortress unbelievers might try to build for themselves.

Psalm 46

Psalm 46 may be known to more people as the basis for Martin Luther’s hymn translated as “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.

Overview

Psalm 46 begins with a bold confession of faith in God despite the seeming undoing of creation itself (vv.1-3). Verses 7 and 11 are a refrain in the psalm, perhaps the people’s liturgical response to the proclamation spoken by a priest or Levite, first to the blessings on Zion (vv.4-6) and then to God’s triumph over the nations (vv.8-10).

Comments

Reflect on the relationship between the blessings on Zion (vv.4-6) and God’s triumph over the nations (vv.8-10). In God’s protecting His chosen city, He also defeats Zion’s enemies. The two are not separate deeds of God, and so there’s little surprise our response is the same (vv.7, 11; there’s more on those verses below). Why do people who want to be saved get so upset over God’s judgment and punishment of His enemies?

Regarding verse 4, Jerusalem had no river of its own, but the river to which the psalm refers may be a figure of speech for God’s blessings (see also Revelation 22:1; note also that, early on, Baptisms were usually done in moving bodies of water such as rivers and streams).

Notice in verse 5 that God’s help comes “right early” (KJV, ASV; “at break of day” NIV; “when morning dawns” NASB). See Exodus 14:27 for how God’s deliverance of the Israelites by destroying the Egyptians came at this same time. Though some commentators say regarding Psalm 46:5 that morning was when cities were more likely to be attacked, the night was also a time of danger, as in Isaiah 37:36. (Even in our time think of the frequent night attacks during the first Gulf War). We should not think that God waited until the danger had passed before delivering us, but rather God’s help brings the dawn of deliverance, and there is only a night of trouble—the danger does not continue indefinitely. (No wonder Scripture so often says praise is done “in the morning”.) God comes at precisely the right time to save. How blessed we are that God knows our limits and with His help enables us to endure whatever comes until He finally and fully delivers us.

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” That quote is the refrain of Psalm 46 that we read today (vv.7, 11). “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” Martin Luther’s English translation declares, “a trusty shield and weapon” (see the hymn linked below). I wonder how many people in the LCMS still believe that? Programs so have taken over the church body that the Lord’s Word seems to be regarded as impotent and assigned a place in a new museum as if it were that irrelevant. Imagine Abraham’s nephew Lot living in Sodom and Gomorrah thinking that God was with them and would protect them even as God planned to destroy the city with them in it. There’s a time that comes for getting out alive, as Lot and his family found out. The Lord Almighty is with those who are with Him, and sometimes that means leaving the place the Lord used to be but is no longer because the people have gone so far away from Him. If you are in the Holy City and God is watching out for her, then great; stay there, and I am sure you will be safe. But, the faithful Old Testament prophets knew when Jerusalem’s time was up and told people to go quietly before they were killed in her streets. God had left the city as kindling for its enemies because its people had so long turned away from him. God is still exalted among the nations and in the earth (v.10), just maybe not where he always has been and where we would like Him to be. Lord, have mercy on your people as they struggle with Your will for their lives and what being faithful to you means. Forgive us all for all our shortcomings, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

How often when we are excited about something we have seen or experienced do we tell someone else about it and invite them to come and see for themselves? Someone might say it to a spouse before making a major purchase like a car or house. A youth might say it to a friend after receiving an electronic gadget as a gift. In such cases, coming and seeing go hand in hand, as one would hardly invite one to come and not to look or expect one to look from afar. In Psalm 46:8 the psalmist invites all to “Come and see the works of the Lord” (NIV). In reading that verse I was reminded of two similar statements in St. John’s Gospel account when Jesus called Andrew and possibly John (John 1:39) and when Philip invited Nathanael to check Jesus out (John 1:46). Do we have friends or loved ones who do not believe that Jesus died for their sins and freely offers forgiveness through Word and Sacrament? Do we believe that what happens on Sunday mornings in the Divine Service is something unique and exciting to experience that is more important than a car, house, or electronic gadget? Have we therefore invited those friends or loved ones to come and see for themselves? In working on my dissertation I read someone who said that God’s “words are deeds”, which statement is very true: God’s speaking effects what it says. With His blessing, those we invite to come will see, and we pray that they will respond as in Psalm 48:8, “As we have heard, so we have seen”.

The first part of verse 10 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, echoing, as it does, at least in English, Exodus 14:14: we do not need to work ourselves into a frenzy but simply believe. (There’s more on the “being still” here, in connection with Psalm 37.)

Q&A

So far no readers have asked questions about Psalm 46, but please feel free to do so.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 46 among those appointed for four days of the Church Year.
  • The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Day of St. Peter and St. Paul
  • The Festival of the Reformation
  • A Dedication of a church

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains three hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 46.
  • 46 -- #262, #534 (another TLH hymn that I don’t think I know)
  • 46:10 -- #651 The reference to this psalm verse seems likely but is a conjecture; I’ve memories of singing this bittersweet hymn at loved ones’ funerals and hospital bedsides. At one time I thought the hymn had another tune, but now I think I was mistaken (see more on the tune in the folo here). The hymn was “new” to the LCMS with TLH, but its popularity kept it included in Lutheran Worship, despite some concerns about both tune and text, poetical not theological, that probably were behind its omission from Lutheran Book of Worship. Given those concerns, I expected the hymn to be omitted from Lutheran Service Book, but the hymn made it in there. The hymn had been included in Christian Worship (WELS) but was omitted from Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELS).

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Genesis 10-12

Today’s reading from Genesis more or less transitions from Noah to Abraham, although it also includes another familiar story that may be familiar from Sunday School.

Overview

Genesis 10-12 includes the complete accounts of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10:1-11:9, see 10:1) and of Shem (11:10-26, see 11:10), and today’s reading begins the account of Terah (11:27-25:11 see 11:27, though today we only read through the end of chapter 12).

Comments

In the first account (10:1-11:9), note that Shem’s line is the chosen line and gives us the English words “Semites” and “anti-Semitic”, and note that Canaan’s land is later called Palestine after the Philistines. The Bible’s Babel (or “Babylon”, as “Babel” in Hebrew is “Babylon” in Greek) is first mentioned in Genesis 10:10, likely anticipating the fuller account given later in chapter 11. The events of 11:1-9 are said to have taken place earlier than the full extension of the genealogies, as 10:4, 25, and 31 seem to reflect. The people had egotistically turned away from God and, able to communicate in the same language, were planning, arrogantly without regard for God’s will or intent, as a monument to their own unity and self-derived peace, a stairway of sorts to the heavens (you might think of Genesis 28:12’s stairway to heaven, but that’s getting ahead of the story). The three Persons of the Trinity answer the fallen people’s reasoning together with some inter-trinitarian dialog and reasoning together of their own (11:7) and showed their judgment by confusing the people’s languages (a deed that was in a sense undone at the first New Testament Pentecost as told in Acts 2).

Pieter Bruegel’s 1563 depiction of the Tower of Babel“Babel” permeated popular culture with the Golden Globe winning movie by that name. The movie, of course, doesn’t tell the Bible’s story, but it does seem to at least to be alluding to the Bible’s story by telling a story of different-but-related people in different countries speaking different languages. The image with this post is of a 1563 painting by Flemish/Dutch Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel (c.1525-1569) titled “The Tower of Babel” (to see a larger version of the image click it, but for the largest and highest quality image see from where we got it), although the tower may not look like modern scholars think it probably looked and may not be coming to its end for the reason the Bible gives. Does the arrogance of people today compare to that of the people of Babel? I’m not suggesting that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed because they attempted to reach the heavens, and you could certainly say that the space program has already reached the heavens. A friend of mine one-time suggested that humankind’s wanting to build a city below sea level and against the laws of nature keep the water out is an example of modern-day Babel-like arrogance. Perhaps he’s got a point. I think we all are arrogant in our own ways and rebel against God on a less-grand scale. Thank God that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again for us, we can receive forgiveness for all our sins.

The second account (11:10-26) gives an extended genealogy of Shem, more or less in preparation for the third account and Shem’s important descendant, Abram.

The third account (11:27-12:20) begins with God’s call to Abram and the covenantal promises that would often be repeated to Abram and his descendants. Commentators differ on what to make of Abram’s telling Sarai to describe herself as his sister: some who want to keep Abram as innocent as possible say that Sarai was closely related to Abram by virtue of their marriage and that is all she (v.13) or he (v.19) was saying, others who are more willing to allow that Abram could sin see it as an example of his sometimes wavering faith. We certainly never need to fear that God will fail to keep His promises to us and take such steps to prevent things from hindering them—we need only be still!

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints one Old Testament reading from Genesis 10-12 for use in church on Sundays or festivals.
  • 12:1-3 -- Judica (the Fifth Sunday in Lent)

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from Genesis 10-12.

God bless you!

Posted by graceelg at 12:00 AM

January 17, 2008

Ps 45 / Ge 7-9

Today's reading takes us to a "wedding" psalm and finishes the account of the flood.

Psalm 45

The superscription of Psalm 45 calls it a song of love or a wedding song. The psalm probably was composed for a king in David’s line and used at a number of royal weddings, but most properly now the psalm is applied to the Messiah and His Bride, the Church.

Overview

One commentator points out a two-fold structure to the psalm and two parts to each of those parts as follows: words spoken to the king (exhortation, vv.3-5, and glory of the king, vv.6-9) and words spoken to the bride (exhortation, vv.10-11, and glory of the bride, vv.12-15). Verses 1 and 17 are a frame for the song, with verses 2 and 16 serving as a secondary frame within the frame; those four verses are said to be addressed to the king.

Comments

I mentioned above that Psalm 45 most properly now applied to the Messiah and His Bride, the Church, but I don’t want you to think that such an understanding is new “now”, as in just our lifetimes. The psalm certainly was written for a special event in the life of a king of Israel and his people and nation, but the psalm’s Divine inspiration ensured that it spoke prophetically of the Messiah, and the Church recognized its inspiration and application and admitted it into the collection of sacred writings. Other writings such as Song of Songs (or “Song of Solomon”) similarly apply the figure of marriage to the relationship between Christ and His Bride without ever explicitly doing so and are nevertheless so understood. To illustrate this point, notice how Hebrews 1:8 understands Psalm 45:6 with the Messianic sense. Commentators speculate over whether or not the marriage originally in view was that of Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter or that of Joram the Son of Jehoshaphat, sometimes regarded as the second (though at least slightly inferior) Solomon of Israel’s history. I think on a first reading Solomon seems the obvious choice, but some of the commentators’ arguments against him and for Joram are convincing (both are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy; see Matthew 1:7, 8). Either way, our Lord Jesus Christ is one greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31) and his later lesser successor, and He alone perfectly fulfills all the Old Testament prophecy and gives us the sure and certain hope of righteousness of the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in His death and resurrection for us.

The latter part of verse 1 is often applied to all the Divinely-inspired writers of Holy Scripture. The reference to grace and lips in verse 2 may be behind the reference to the gracious words from Christ’s lips in Luke 4:22. In the academic world, there always seems to be a need for new ideas and approaches. What’s new is what gets attention and thus publication and eventually tenure. In the churchly “world”, however, what’s new is generally bad and potentially heretical. The Lutheran reformers, for example, were at great pains to demonstrate how what they were teaching was the original and therefore right understanding before things got twisted by the Roman Catholic church. So, we should be comforted if we reread psalms like Psalm 45 and find the Holy Spirit leading us to some of the same thoughts and reflections that we have had when we have read the psalm before. I’m sorry if too much for your taste I mention the New Testament I sometimes teach at Concordia, but the class comes to mind with Psalm 45:1’s statement that is used in reference to the inspiration of Holy Scripture and verse 2’s statement that brings to mind Jesus’s gracious lips mentioned in Luke--lips that by faith in Him bring the forgiveness of sins He won on the cross. In the class we don’t make use of the psalm verse in connection with inspiration, but one student one time nevertheless complained about references to the Old Testament in a New Testament class. I don’t know how to talk about one without the other! The saying is true: The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.

Finally, note how in verse 10 the bride is to be more loyal to her husband (her lord, v.11) than her own family.

Q&A

No readers have so far asked any questions about Psalm 43, but you can ask one here.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 45 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for six days out of the Church Year.
  • Christmas (the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord)
  • The First Sunday after Christmas
  • The Epiphany of Our Lord
  • The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
  • The Day of St. Mary Magdalene
  • The Day of St. Luke

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 45 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 45:2 -- #657 Psalm 45:2’s description “fairer” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “most excellent” NIV) can also be translated as “beautiful” or “handsome” and refers to “One who excels in manly traits and beauty” and, certainly in the case of the Messiah, “is so beyond ordinary men as to be almost Godlike”. You may also be interested to know that the English translation as we have it apparently omitted three stanzas of the hymn’s German original (what would be 4-6, with our stanza 4 being stanza 7). Those “missing” stanzas were translated by a brother pastor and friend of mine as follows.

    Fair are the flowers, fairer are children,
    In the Springtime of their lives,
    Yet time will fade them, and death will claim them,
    But Jesus lives no more to die.

    All of the beauty of earth and heaven
    Is embraced in Thee alone.
    Nothing may ever be to me fairer,
    Than Thou my Lord, dear Jesus mine.

    Thou are most truly with us forever
    Through Thy Word and Sacrament.
    Jesus, I beg Thee, Lord to have mercy
    Upon us now and at our end.

    Sadly, not even the wonderful stanza about our Beautiful Savior’s real, physical presence in the Sacrament of the Altar was restored in Lutheran Service Book (where, curiously enough, no reference is made to Psalm 45:2).


You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Genesis 7-9

Popular movies like “Evan Almighty” probably appeal to the account of Noah being one of the best-known Old Testament stories.

Overview

Genesis 7-9 completes the account of Noah (see 6:9) and the flood (not a regional one, as some claim, but a worldwide flood, as the account makes clear, for example 7:19). Chapters 7-8 tell of Noah’s time in the ark, and chapter 9 tells of God’s covenant with Noah and of the sons of Noah.

Comments

British artist John Martin’s ‘Assuaging of the Waters’The Lord’s shutting the door in 7:16 to protect Noah and his family is noteworthy, and protected they were for more than one year after the flood began. After that, the rest of chapter 7 speaks of judgment, but note well the switch to redemption at the beginning of chapter 8. One of the things I came to appreciate more in our reading of Isaiah last month was how much condemnation and salvation are the two sides of the coin of judgment—you really can’t have salvation without there also being condemnation. We see that inseparability clearly again today in our reading of Genesis 7-9, especially as the focus in chapter 7 on the water bringing judgment turns to chapter 8 and the water bringing redemption. God’s gracious “remembering” (8:1) of Noah, his family, and the animals, leads to the receding of the waters. The image with this post, apparently including the dove and raven, is of an 1840 painting done by British artist John Martin (1789-1854) titled “Assuaging of the Waters” (to see a larger version of the image click it, but for the largest and highest quality image see from where we got it). Note in 8:20-22 the worship of the Lord and its relation to the ongoing sinful nature of humanity and God’s Gospel promise of preservation. Be sure to notice that the “youth” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “childhood” NIV) in 8:21 includes conception and birth (there’s no “age of accountability”, “age of assent”, or “age of discretion” implicit there).

In 9:2-4, meat is given for people to eat, with some limitations, and note in verses 5-6 the consequences for murder of human beings, for they still bear the image of God. Also notice that 9:6 gives Biblical support to the death penalty and that the prohibition against consuming animal blood in 9:4, of course, does not rule out but rather points to our consuming our Lord’s Blood in, with, and under wine in the Sacrament of the Altar, where that blood is shed for the forgiveness of our sins. The end of chapter 9 tells us that even Noah was not perfect and it also sets up the account that will follow in chapter 10. Despite the devastation of the flood, St. Peter can say that the water saved Noah and his family and points to Baptism that saves us (1 Peter 3:20-22; there is also the connection between their ark and ours, that is, the Church).

Two very brief reader comments on the chapters are here.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Genesis 7-9 for any Old Testament readings.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer to verses from Genesis 7-9.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 16, 2008

Ps 44 / Ge 4-6

Today we hear a cry for help from the people of Israel and what could be said to be the beginning of the people of Israel.

Psalm 44

In Psalm 44 we hear Israel cry for help after an enemy dealt the nation a devastating defeat, and Israel’s cry is one in which we can join.

Overview

Psalm 44 begins with great praise of God for the things He has done in the past (vv.1-8), moves to the people’s present situation (vv.9-16), seems to plead innocence at least of the immediate consequences perceived as being suffered (vv.17-24, though no innocence is expressed in this psalm), but nevertheless in the end trusts in God’s mercy (vv.25-26).

Comments

I was struck by the way the psalmist describes God working through the people, even though deeds appear to be done by them (for example, v.5). Notice the sheep imagery relating to God as the Good Shepherd/King (v.11, confer v.22), and see how the Divinely inspired St. Paul makes use of verse 11 in Romans 8:36. We know that God had a plan for what the people were experiencing that had to be for their good, even as we often experience things for reasons we cannot immediately understand, other than to know that God is in control and rules all for the benefit of His Church, and thus ultimately for our good.

Reading verses 17-22 leaves us wondering which historical circumstances should be associated with the psalm. At least one commentator says the defeat is not one of those the nation suffered because the whole nation was very unfaithful. Rather, the commentator thinks that psalm arose perhaps during the reign of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah over the southern kingdom of Judah, which not until later was so unfaithful as to deserve exile.

It is hard for me not to think of the troubles afflicting the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod when reading psalms such as Psalm 44 that speak of God allowing Israel to be afflicted by its external enemies. Perhaps we can identify the Synod as a whole with the nation of Israel as a whole, but I think right now the Synod’s greatest enemies are working within her. So, the better identification is to think of the faithful within the Synod as the true or faithful Israel. And, as the situation continues to deteriorate, the true Israel’s faithful prophets might need to be more like the faithful prophets of old who warned of the exile of the faithful remnant if the nation as a whole did not repent.

Q&A

There are no readers’ questions pertaining to Psalm 44, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 44 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for four days of the Church Year.
  • The Feast of St. John the Baptist
  • The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Peter and St. Paul
  • The Day of St. Andrew

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to Psalm 44.

Genesis 4-6

We cover quite a few years of salvation history today in Genesis 4-6, moving from Adam to Noah.

Overview

In reading Genesis 4-6, we finish the account of the heavens and the earth (4:1-4:26, see 2:4), read the entire account of Adam’s line (5:1-6:8, see 5:1), and begin the account of Noah (6:9-9:29, see 6:9).

Comments

A photograph of Salvatore Rosa’s depiction of Cain killing AbelIn the account of the heavens and the earth, Eve thinks her firstborn son is the fulfillment of God’s promise, but Cain is quite the opposite. One time when riding a city bus in Austin, I heard two men trying to figure out how sin related to Cain and Abel; one of them thought Abel somehow did not have original sin, but I helped them see that both sons were sinful and that Abel’s offering was acceptable to God because of what was in his heart—the right attitude towards God, recognizing all was from Him and generously giving back to Him. Note that Cain’s reply to God’s question in 4:9 is not something we ought to be saying—we are our sibling’s keepers in a sense. (The image with this post is “The Death of Abel”, a painting that at least at one time hung in Rome’s Doria Gallery and was done by Salvatore Rosa (1615-1673), who is said to have been in the Neapolitan School; to see a larger version of the image click it, but for the largest and highest quality image see from where we got it.)

Why are some saved and others lost? That question is very much like the question why, in Genesis 4:3-5, God looked with favor on Abel who offered fat portions and firstborn from his flocks and did not look with favor on Cain who offered fruits of the soil. At first glance, one could think that the difference was between an offering of animal life and an offering of plant life, but that is not it. A second or third glance reveals that Abel offered the best of what he had, acknowledging that all belonged to the Lord and that he was His servant, while Cain with his indiscriminate offering indicated that he did not have the right attitude towards God in his heart. Their works, in this case their offerings and Cain’s subsequent action, reflected what was in their hearts. So, why are some saved and others lost? The difference is the heart’s faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins or the lack of such saving faith. Our works show forth what we believe, and, even though we are not saved on account of the good things that we do, faith will never be without good works.

In the account of Adam’s line, we hear how Adam and Eve had other children, especially daughters, who helped populate the land (for example, 5:4), and the record of Adam’s death in 5:5 introduces a refrain that will frequently recur (5:24 is a notable exception) and that reminds us of God’s judgment of sin. Note that God’s institution of holy matrimony is already perverted by Lamech’s polygamy (4:19). The contrast between Adam’s line through Cain and Adam’s line through Seth is explicit already in 4:26 but finds other forms of expression throughout the book. (For more on that contrast, see here.)

In the beginning of the account of Noah, Genesis 6:5 is another strong statement of the corruption original sin brings to all human beings, even us descendants of Adam and Eve. Yet, like Noah, by walking with God in faith we, too, can be described as righteous.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Genesis 4-6 for any Old Testament readings.

Hymn References

While no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said, in the Scriptural index of its Handbook, to refer to verses from Genesis 4-6, I recalled a hymn that refers to Genesis 4:10 with the lines “Abel’s blood for vengeance / Pleaded to the skies”. The hymn is “Glory be to Jesus”, TLH #158. (Both Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book retain this fine hymn.)

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 15, 2008

Ps 43 / Ge 1-3

Today we again hear the psalmist long to be in God’s Presence, and we also hear how and why humanity was first cast out from God’s Presence.

Psalm 43

Psalm 43, likely once a part of the same psalm as Psalm 42, likewise prays for God to deliver the psalmist from his enemy and to restore the psalmist to God’s presence.

Overview

Psalm 43:1-4 appears to be the third and final of three stanzas followed by the same refrain (v.5) as that psalm begun with Psalm 42 (note the refrain in 42:5, 11).

Comments

“Why have you rejected me?” the psalmist asks God today in Psalm 43:2. What possible answers are there? When people feel rejected by God an usual first thought is that they have done something wrong, and we know that any sin does separate us from our Holy God. But, God has done something about our sin in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again to restore our right relationship with God. As long as we believe in Him, we are forgiven and not rejected by God. Unbelief, I used to drive home to my catechumens, is the only thing that damns. Clearly the psalmist is not an unbeliever, so we ask ourselves whether the psalmist really has been rejected by God. At first he wrongly reads his sufferings and afflictions as signs of God’s rejection, as we do sometimes, but, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he and we know better. God disciplines those He loves, and His discipline is for our good.

Apart from God’s Presence we can only feel rejected and mourn (v.2). God’s personified light (mercy) and truth (His faithfulness to His promises) are needed for us to come to where He dwells and reveals Himself (v.3); we cannot decide to come to or follow Jesus. Note how that mercy and faithfulness work out, respectively, God’s salvation and care for His faithful. Once on God’s holy mountain and place of His dwelling, we commune from His altar and, having received the forgiveness of sins, make a sacrifice of praise, lips that confess His Name. This certain, expected deliverance provides the soul the encouragement (v.5) that prompted the opening petition (v.1). Let us pray that God’s mercy and faithfulness show forth from our lives to those around us that through us God might work to bring others to His holy house where God can reveal Himself to them and give them His gift of the forgiveness of sins.

As in so many psalms, we hear in verse 4 how praise for God flows in confident expectation of His deliverance and restoration to God’s Presence. (There’s a passing reference to Psalm 43 regarding the psalmist’s circumstances away from Jerusalem and its Temple here.)

Ever hear anyone say something to the effect of “Cheer yourself up!”? That can be hard to do, as usually when a person is down about something he or she cannot see the reasons not to be down. In Psalm 43:5 there does seem to be something akin to the psalmist telling himself to cheer up, what I described in connection with the related Psalm 42 as the redeemed nature talking to the sinful nature. Especially when the sinful nature’s “voice” drowns out that of the redeemed nature, we are blessed to have God’s Word and Sacraments coming from outside of us reminding us that God has not rejected us and that His light and truth do guide us to His Presence where we find hope, joy, and peace.

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions about Psalm 43; please feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 43 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for five days of the Church Year.
  • Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday that falls in the sixth period of ten days before Easter)
  • Judica (the Fifth Sunday in Lent)
  • Good Friday
  • The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Philip and St. James

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refers or alludes to a verse from Psalm 43 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 43:3 -- #132 a wonderful meditation on God’s guiding Light and quite appropriate in our Epiphany season. Along with other more-slight alteration, the fourth stanza as we have it, what might be called an overseas mission stanza, was apparently dropped for Lutheran Book of Worship and therefore for Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book. (In stanza two, a “type” is a person or thing, such as Moses or the Temple, that points forward to Christ.)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Genesis 1-3

Today we return to the Old Testament and “the beginning”, Genesis 1-3.

Introduction to Genesis

Genesis, commonly held to have been written down by Moses but previously passed from generation to generation by the faithful believers, tells of salvation history from the beginning to the last days of Joseph (from where Exodus, which we read in February, picks up the story). Especially important is the account of humankind’s fall into sin in Genesis 3, which also contains the proto, or first, Gospel in Genesis 3:15: that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, though the serpent would bruise His heel. One writer says that “Genesis is foundational to the understanding of the rest of the Bible,” and no doubt it is true. Note well that in Genesis there is only one true God and that He opposes notions that there are other gods, no gods, or that everything is divine. Note, too, that subjects and themes of the first three chapters of Genesis are reflected in the final three chapters of Revelation. We must marvel at the literary genius of our God who is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and Who inspired holy men of God to record His revelation, thereby giving to that record the property of inerrancy (being without error). Something to consider when the topic of evolution arises. You can find a summary of the basics on Genesis here.

Overview of Genesis 1-3

Genesis 1:1-2:3 can be seen as serving as an introduction of sorts to the book. By that same view, Genesis 2:4-4:26 is the account of the heavens and the earth (see 2:4, though we only read through chapter 3 today).

Comments

A photo of Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam' painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel before its 1980 restorationContrary to what you might read or hear elsewhere in our time, life did not begin by a chance occurrence in some primordial organic soup or goo, at least not according to the introduction to Genesis, 1:1-2:4. The image with this post, “The Creation of Adam” painted on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) and said to be “one of the most famous and most appreciated images in the world”, certainly doesn’t depict amino acids evolving into proteins (to see a larger version of the image click it, but for the largest and highest quality image see from where we got it). As told in Genesis, creation also is from nothing; God alone can create from nothing, others can only pervert His creation. Though some people see a difference between creationism and intelligent design, we can certainly say that the Creator designed everything intelligently! As important as Genesis 1-2 is for the discussion of creation vs. evolution, Hebrews 11:3 reminds us that we can’t argue or persuade someone to accept the Bible’s version of events on the basis of reason or proof. Be sure to notice the Trinity in Genesis 1:1-3 (God= Father, spoken Word=Son, and Spirit of God hovering over the deep) and such places as Genesis 1:26 (inter-Trinitarian dialog).

Genesis 2:7 details the unique creation of human beings, with body and soul, that was summarily treated in Genesis 1:26-31. Creation finished on the sixth literal day was complete and good; the fall of the angels takes place some time after and before the events of chapter 3. More important than the creation account per se is the account of humankind’s fall into sin and God’s first Gospel promise. After they gave in to temptation and sinned, the man and the woman try to cover their shame and, in the end, blame God for their fall. God nevertheless has a plan of salvation for them, and He makes the first sacrifice to provide more meaningful clothes for them. Note well the first promise of the Gospel in 3:15, where the Seed of the Woman is Christ, whose heel is struck on the cross, but Who by that same event crushes the head of the devil. That promise of a Savior was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again to save us from our sin and Who through Word and Sacrament freely gives us by grace through faith the forgiveness He won. The last part of 3:19 is used in the committal service and the rite of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday—a good reminder of our frailty on account of our sin, but never to be so gloomily held that we forget God’s sure and certain promise of the bodily resurrection and life eternal with Him where we will access the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2), often pictured in Christian art as the cross. If you have access to a copy (such as in Grace’s library), you might check out how Lutheran Service Book #561 connects the trees in the Garden and Revelation to the tree of the cross.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary that we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace taps Genesis 1-3 for one Old Testament reading.
  • 3:1-24 -- Invocavit (the First Sunday in Lent)

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains four hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Genesis 1-3.
  • 1:3 -- #8 (a wonderful Trinitarian “Lord’s Day” hymn extracted from Julia Anne Marshall Elliott’s original seven-stanza work that originally confused the last and first days of creation’s week), #508 (note the hymn’s likening of the creation of light by the Word to the spread of the Gospel by the Word)
  • 1:5 -- #12 (another fine “Lord’s Day” hymn that apparently also needed correction originally, but for a different reason than Elliott’s hymn above)
  • 2:10 -- #282 (I’d probably make “Gospels” in the first stanza singular; if I’m not mistaken, the four figurative rivers in the second stanza are the four Gospel accounts; in the third stanza “sated” essentially means “satisfied”, and “pinion” seems to relate to “wings” as of a bird; the hymn was already dropped from Lutheran Worship and is also dropped in Lutheran Service Book)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 14, 2008

Ps 42 / Mk 15-16

Our providential pairing of readings today has us consider, among other things, separation from God in various forms.

Psalm 42

Psalm 42 begins what is called “Book II” of Psalms, in which the predominant word used for “God” is the Hebrew word Elohim.

Overview

Psalm 42 is closely connected with Psalm 43, from which some speculate it was separated for liturgical reasons. (The superscription attributes authorship of Psalm 42--and thus likely Psalm 43--to the Levitical choir of the Korahites.) Taken together, there are three generally symmetrical stanzas to the psalm (42:1-4, 6-10; 43:1-4), each followed by the same refrain (42:5, 11; 43:5). That refrain and the extra verse in the middle stanza (42:8) express confidence in the Lord, which confidence is evident as the psalm moves from its opening longing for God’s Presence (42:1) to its concluding vow to praise God at His altar (43:4).

Comments

All of you who are hunters should relate well to Psalm 42, as a deer longing for water on which its life depends is just one of the expressions of longing for the Temple of God that the psalmist uses in verses 1-4. The idea of the soul thirsting for God as the deer pants for water (vv.1-2) is also found elsewhere in the Psalms, as in 63:1 and 143:6, but there are New Testament passages that quickly come to my mind, such as Matthew 5:6 (the “parallel” statement in Luke 6:21 just focuses on hunger, however), John 7:37-38 (for which I indicated a better translation here), and Revelation 22:17—no surprise the last two specifically mention the “living water” or “water of life”. (See also the invitation in Isaiah 55:1.) Especially in hot summer months we might begin to have a sense of the kind of literal thirst living in the desert might generate, but the thirst in view in the passages I’ve mentioned is more of a figurative one like that mentioned by Amos in 8:11-14. God not only provided literal water to His thirsty people in the desert, but He also provides the figurative “thirst-quencher”, to borrow Gatorade’s catchword. Remember how God provided from the rock and how St. Paul said that spiritual rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). The figurative thirst is “to desire passionately a spiritual good without which one cannot live”. Those who do not drink now will thirst eternally in the torments of hell (Luke 16:24), but when we now keep drinking of the Water of Life in the Person of Jesus Christ, His Word, and His Sacraments (in this case, especially Baptism and its water), then truly we will never thirst again (see John 4:5-14).

When we are sick or otherwise physically afflicted and can’t leave home, what are the places where we miss going? Work or school? Out with friends? How about church? You might notice the second part of verse 2, “When shall I come and appear before God?” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “When can I go and meet with God?” NIV). The psalmist is unable to go to the Temple for some reason (see at least one possibility here in connection with Psalm 84). Clearly the psalm is evidence that the psalmist did not think he could only pray to God in the Temple, but the psalmist also clearly knows there is more to his relationship with God than prayer. So many in our time think that all they need to do is be at home and pray and read their Bible. To be sure, I, of all people, am not criticizing people who pray and read their Bible at home (that’s what this Daily Lectionary is all about!), but too often the people who say those kinds of things don’t actually do it. If one does pray and read his or her Bible at home, one will soon realize that God speaks through His Word about the community of believers, the church, into which all who believe should be gathered in order to hear the Word preached and to receive the forgiveness of sins in its sacramental forms. In the church we enter God’s presence in a way we do not at home on our own, and especially in the Sacrament of the Altar we commune with Him by receiving bread that is Christ’s body and wine that is Christ’s blood.

Verses 5 and 11 are a refrain of “faith encouraging faith”, as in Psalm 27; notice the dialog, as it were, between the redeemed and sinful natures.

Verses 6-10 review the troubling of the psalmist’s soul. Note how the psalmist describes his location in verse 6. In this case, commentators are quite divided as to precisely where the psalmist might be, but, in this case, the meaning of the psalm does not depend on the psalmist’s precise location. Having to teach a bit about the Holy Land’s geography when I teach New Testament at Concordia University-Texas, I’m grateful to know and understand more the geography of the Holy Land, because at times the understanding of the Bible’s text is enhanced by knowing the geography. I’m more grateful, however, to know that God knows where you and I are and that He provides nearby places for us to go to receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.

Water is again prominent in verse 7, but in part water is prominent as a figurative expression of what is troubling the psalmist. Verse 8, the center of the psalm, confesses the Lord’s 24-hours-a-day presence despite the psalmist’s trouble. When we are afflicted and need encouragement as the psalmist did, we can remember God has made us His children in the water of Holy Baptism, drowning our sinful nature and bringing to life the redeemed person in us.

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions about Psalm 42, but you should feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Perhaps reflecting Psalm 42’s “distance” from God, The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes it among those appointed for the Sundays that begin the pre-Lenten and Lenten seasons.
  • Septuagesima Sunday (the Sunday that falls in the seventh period of ten days before Easter)
  • Invocavit (the First Sunday in Lent)

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains two hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 42.
  • 42 -- #525 (the “hart” of the hymn, the KJV, and the ASV, is, of course, the “deer” of the NIV and NASB)
  • 42:2 -- #618 (which certainly looks beyond the Divine Service to our heavenly home)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Mark 15-16

Mark 15-16 wraps up St. Mark’s account of the Gospel.

Overview

We might break the narrative down into the following sections: Jesus before Pilate (15:1-15), the soldiers mocking Jesus (15:16-20), the crucifixion (15:21-32), the death of Jesus (15:33-41), the burial of Jesus (15:42-47), and the resurrection and events following (16:1-20).

Comments

Special items to notice in the Passion narrative include: Jesus’ cry at the separation from His Father, preserved in Aramaic in 15:34; the centurion’s confession of Jesus’ human and Divine natures in 15:39; and the three women identified in 15:40 and 16:1, two of whom are also mentioned in 15:7 (Salome is thought to have been Zebedee’s wife and thus the mother of James and John).

Carl Gottfried Pfannschmidt’s depiction of the women at the tomb learning of Christ’s resurrectionCertainly, as one of the hymns linked below indicates, we should not pass too quickly by our Lord’s crucifixion, and there are probably almost countless images of His death on the cross for us. However, I chose to include with this post an image related to our Lord’s resurrection, which was also for us (the image is of a work by German professor and artist Carl Gottfried Pfannschmidt [1819-1887]; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). I chose such an image because if His death on the cross or burial in the tomb were the end of it all, then our faith would be for nothing, and we would still be in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). Christ did rise from the dead, though, thanks be to God, and we, too, shall so rise!

As you read chapter 16, be ready for an abrupt ending. Most ancient copies of this Gospel account end at Mark 16:8. (There are various theories as to why it might have ended there and as to from where vv.9-20 came.) Martin Luther had no qualms about these verses, as he used v.16 in his Small Catechism. Many newer editions of the Bible put some sort of separation between verses 8 and 9, but these text critical issues should not disturb our faith, as there is nothing foundational to our faith in vv.9-20 that we do not find elsewhere in the Bible. (For more on this matter, see the related Q&A linked below.)

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, seems to have no qualms about the origin or authenticity of Mark 16, as it appoints readings from that chapter for two festivals of the Church Year.
  • 16:1-8 -- Easter Sunday
  • 16:14-20 -- Ascension Day

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains five hymns said to refer or allude to verses from today’s reading of Mark 15-16.
  • 15:29, 30 -- #145 (author Girolamo Savonarola [1454-1498] was an Italian Dominican Friar who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church before Martin Luther and was hung and burnt for trying; the hymn was first published in 1563)
  • 15:34 -- #174 (said to be one of British pastor and hymnwriter John Ellerton’s finest hymns; he lived from 1821-1893)
  • 16:6 -- #190, #191 (both hymns have roots that run very deep in church history)
  • 16:16 -- #301 (one of TLH’s better Baptismal hymns, the first stanza was changed to plural forms [thus given a new name, "All who believe ..."] and was slightly altered in other ways for Lutheran Worship #225 and then was apparently altered further for Lutheran Service Book #601)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 13, 2008

Ps 41 / Mk 14

As you read Psalm 41 today, you might think of the words on the lips of our Lord during the events described in Mark 14, which we also read today.

Psalm 41

Psalm 41 was David’s prayer when he was sick, and it also can be our prayer when we are ill, but we need not limit praying it to such times. Sickness is in the world because human beings sin, but when we get a specific illness we should not see the specific illness as punishment for a specific sin (though it may be a consequence of a specific sin).

Overview

Composed of four three-verse stanzas, Psalm 41 symmetrically consists of a two stanza prayer (vv.4-6 and 7-9) preceded and followed by two stanzas expressing the psalmist’s confidence (vv.1-3 and 10-12). Verse 13 is more likely a close to the so-called “Book I” of the Psalms, than it is a close to this particular psalm. Note also that Psalm 41 is a “Blessed” psalm, as is Psalm 1, which began “Book I” of the Psalms.

Comments

Psalm 41 certainly can be read as applying to David. Note how the Lord’s blessing and deliverance, His protection and retention, and His sustenance and restoration (verses 1-3) all could be taken to be the product of one’s regarding the weak (verse 1). The king especially was obligated to defend the powerless, but all of us share that obligation to some extent, and we all fail to do what we should. The real reason for the Lord’s blessing, deliverance, protection, retention, sustenance, and restoration is the Lord’s mercy (verses 4, 10). When the Lord in His mercy forgives us, then the Spirit at work in us brings about from us the good things Christians do. These fruits of the Spirit are according to our individual callings (vocations), which in the case of the king meant holding the enemies to account (verse 10). As for those of us without that particular vocation, we want to repay evil with good, and thereby, as St. Paul says, heap burning coals on their heads (Romans 12:17-21).

We can also read Psalm 41 as applying specifically to us. As I prayed Psalm 41, I began to hear its words as law showing me my sin—I don’t have the regard for the weak that I should and so don’t deserve the promised deliverance, protection, blessings, sustenance, and restoration (vv.1-3). Then, however, I got to verse 4’s confession of sin and appeal for mercy (see also v.10). There is Gospel implicit there, and there is also Gospel hearing even those opening verses on the lips of Jesus—He had regard for me—and you!—and so the Father delivered, protected, blessed, sustained, and restored Him as He accomplished His work of redeeming me—and you! Therefore He is in a position to give us those same blessings, not because we have earned them, but because He loves us and chooses to give them, along with forgiveness of sins, to us freely.

Specifically in connection with verse 9, note that the close friend who betrayed David had likely shared a covenant meal with him, which friend at least one commentator suggests is Ahithophel (see also Psalm 55). See also how Jesus uses verse 9 in John 13:18 (which I had not previously noticed was a reference to a psalm verse).

When our enemies fail to triumph completely over us in the big picture, why is that? We might take Psalm 41:11 to say that there’s something in us that keeps that from happening. But, I think we know from elsewhere in Holy Scripture that that perception must be mistaken, at least in so far as it refers to us apart from Christ. With faith in Him, we have His righteousness and so God can be pleased with us. His pleasure is not so much despite our sin, for He forgives our sin and remembers it no more. Such are the blessings of faith in Christ!

Q&A

So far no readers have asked any questions about Psalm 41, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Four times during the Church Year the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 41 among those appointed to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.
  • Palmarum (Palm Sunday)
  • Maundy Thursday
  • The First Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 41.

Mark 14

Mark 14 tells of Jesus’s anointing at Bethany and then the beginning of the events of Jesus’s Passion.

Overview

We might break the narrative of chapter 14 into the following sections: Jesus’s anointing (vv.1-11), the Lord’s Supper’s institution (vv.12-26), Jesus’s predicting Peter’s denial (vv.27-31), Jesus’s praying in Gethsemane (vv.32-43), Jesus’s betrayal and arrest (vv.43-51), Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin (vv.53-65), and Peter’s denial of Jesus (vv.66-72). This long chapter is very rich; a few select comments follow below according to the preceding sections.

Comments

The anointing of Jesus by Mary, Martha’s and Lazarus’s sister (John 12:3), indicated her “deep devotion to Jesus”, but Judas (Matthew 12:4-5; see also Mark 14:10) objects that the act was a waste; Jesus’ comments in reply should by no means be taken as indifference to the poor.

Note well that Jesus’ betrayal and death are closely connected to the Passover celebration, as Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice to which the Passover pointed. The ordinary unleavened bread and wine of the old Passover meal are given new meaning and additional substance--Jesus' real, physical body and blood--as Jesus explains to His disciples. (Again the “many” in v.24 is either a figure of speech for “all” or a reference to the “many” who will believe and thereby benefit from Jesus’ blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.) Note well the singing of a hymn in verse 26!

Jesus tells the disciples that they will fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 (rich in imagery we have seen in places such as Isaiah 40:11 and Psalm 23), which they later do.

In verse 33 note again the inner circle of disciples (treated differently back in Mark 3:13-19). Verse 36 is another example of how the personal union of the Divine and human natures in Christ and the relationships between the three Persons of the Trinity are ultimately beyond our understanding. Verse 38 is a good example of how saint and sinner are at war within us (see also Romans 7:23).

An unidentified artist's depiction of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, with a young man, who might have been the evangelist St. Mark, fleeing nakedThe young man fleeing naked from the Garden of Gethsemane as described in verses 51-52 is thought to be St. Mark, the author of this Gospel account. The young man is of course not central to the story, but the detail does let us see a little more of his personal side, as it were. The image that accompanies this post is a woodcut first published in a 1702 Nuremberg edition of Dr. Luther’s German translation of the Bible (to see a slightly larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it), and the unknown artist responsible for the woodcut chose to include what is thought to be Mark’s appearance in the Garden scene. Mark’s family may also have provided the guest room for the Lord’s Supper, and such a juxtaposition of involvement reminds us that we, too, can be loving towards our Lord and then hours later—if not minutes or seconds later—abandon Him, no better than any of His other followers at that moment. Betraying, fleeing, and denying are equally evil.) With God’s help, though, we come back to Him in sorrow over our sin and trusting in His merits for forgiveness, which is given by that same Lord’s Supper. (In one of the Q&As linked below there’s more on the possible connections to St. Mark and his family.)

Jesus's statement in verse 62 is regarded as blasphemous by the Jewish leaders because Jesus claimed to be God, Who, of course, He was.

Finally, note how Peter reacts after his sin with sorrow and eventually trust that Jesus will forgive Him, in contrast to Judas elsewhere, who despairs of God’s mercy and sins further. After our manifold denials of Jesus in our lives we want to be sure to have Peter’s posture of sorrow and combine it with faith that trusts God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, does not tap Mark 14 for any appointed Gospel readings.

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains two hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Mark 14.
  • 14:22-25 -- #310 (a wonderful “Lord’s Supper” hymn that confesses the real, physical presence of Christ in the Sacrament)
  • 14:36 -- #420 (I expect a somewhat familiar and perhaps popular hymn that helps us follow Christ on the way of the cross, submitting our wills to God’s)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you, and may you let Him make today holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacrament!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 12, 2008

Ps 40 / Mk 13

Both of our readings today give us opportunities to consider the fulfillment of prophecy.

Psalm 40

Psalm 40 is one of my favorite psalms, in part because of its use in connection with the Office of the Holy Ministry and partly because of a beautiful song by the group U2 based on this psalm. (See also here for another reference to that song in a folo on the reading of Jeremiah 28:15-17 that also makes a connection to Revelation 6:10.)

Overview

David, the divinely-inspired psalmist, in Psalm 40 recalls the Lord’s past deliverance (vv.1-5) and how it prompted him to praise the Lord and faithfully confess and proclaim the Lord (vv.6-10). Then, David turns to the Lord with his present needs (vv.11-17).

Comments

Verse 6 used to make me want to get an ear pierced and wear a cross in it to reflect the custom in which the servant’s ears would have a nail driven through them into the doorpost of the home where he worked. (See the Q&A linked below for more on v.6.)

You may know, from Deuteronomy 17:18-20, that Israel’s kings were supposed to always keep a copy of God’s Word with them. An alternate reading of the Hebrew for verse 7 would have the king say he has “come with the scroll written for me”, as in the NIV margin, which reading is a probable reference to the scroll the king was supposed to have. Even with the reading the NIV gives in the text, “it is written about me in the scroll” could still be a reference to that same copy of the torah, God’s teaching of law and Gospel. I think I had always thought the phrase was referring to prophecy about the king, and, reflecting again on the copy of the law, even that is not a completely separate understanding. In a very real way God’s written word talks about us, too, as that same written word is the means whereby we learn that we are sinners and that in Christ God has done something about our sin, offering free forgiveness through faith in Him.

As someone with not so much hair, I am especially sensitive to the verses from the New Testament where Jesus says “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7). Not downplaying the verse's teaching of God’s incredible care for us, in lighter moments I think that God’s knowing how many hairs I have can’t be much of a challenge for Him, since there are so few! You are probably familiar with those verses, too, but you may be less familiar with the reference to “hairs of my head” that we read today in Psalm 40. Verse 12 says either the “troubles without number” or their roughly parallel and perhaps causative “sins” are “more than the hairs of my head” (confer Psalm 69:4). (Although the grammatical gender of the first is feminine plural and the grammatical gender of the second is masculine plural, the verb form, which implies the subject we have expressed as a pronoun, is “common”.) Again, in my case it wouldn’t take too many troubles or sins to exceed the number of hairs, but that’s not really the point. To be sure, one sin is enough to damn us and therefore drive us to God, and one trouble should do the same, for without God we are utterly helpless. (Before the days of products such as those made by Clairol and Grecian formula, Jesus in Matthew 5:36 said we have no power over our hair color). See how verse 12 leads to the psalm’s petition in verse 13. Thanks be to God that by grace through faith in Christ He not only forgives all our sins, no matter their number, but also gives us all we need, including ultimate deliverance from all of our troubles. In the end, not one hair of our heads will perish (Luke 21:18, and see 1 Samuel 14:45; Daniel 3:27; and Acts 27:34), figuratively speaking, anyway.

Verses 13-17 may sound extra familiar, as Psalm 70 is said to be “a somewhat revised duplicate” of those verses of Psalm 40.

Q&A

The following verse and topic are addressed in answer to a reader’s question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 40 among those appointed for four days of the Church Year.
  • The Circumcision
  • The First Sunday after Epiphany
  • Jubilate (the Third Sunday after Easter)
  • The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refers or alludes to a verse from Psalm 40 and so may help you meditate on the reading.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Mark 13

Mark 13 gives us Jesus’s teaching on the Mount of Olives regarding the end times, which teaching about the end times you should find at least a little clearer than most of Revelation.

Overview

Shorter-term and longer-term prophecy often merge together so that it is hard to tell how much time will elapse between their fulfillments, and sometimes prophecy even can begin to be fulfilled in part at one time, with a greater and final fulfillment coming later. Those considerations make it particularly difficult to try to distinguish sections in Jesus’s teaching, such as between those things that He intends to be connected with the days and years after His own death, resurrection, and ascension and those things He intends to be connected with the great Last Day.

Comments

Dutch copper-engraver Caspar Luiken's depiction of Jesus' teaching on the Mount of OlivesGetting caught up in the external beauty or impressiveness of something is easy, and the disciples’ getting caught up in the external beauty and impressiveness of the Temple and its complex is essentially what launched Jesus into some teaching about the end times. Note the Temple off on the left, to which Jesus is pointing in the image with this post, which is by Caspar Luiken (1672-1708, also spelled "Casper Luyken" or in some combination or with other alternatives) and depicts Jesus giving the so-called “Olivet Discourse” (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). Caspar and his father Jan Luiken were Dutch copper engravers, said to be “the most productive and renowned illustrators in Amsterdam”, which was then “the publishing centre of the world”. Among the books they illustrated were Bibles and other religious and historical works, including an edition of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish Roman historian noted for a reference to Jesus Christ.

The “parable” or illustrating example in verses 32-37 (it’s not actually called a “parable”) may not seem too relevant to us. Who goes away and leaves servants in charge but doesn’t tell them when he or she will be back? These days it seems our trips are much more scheduled; we usually book a round trip airplane ticket and, before we go, have complete itineraries with return days and times. When massive winter storms inevitably disrupt air travel, however, people asked how reliable their itineraries were would probably say “Not very”. But, buried in the fine print of their tickets was probably some sort of language about unexpected weather delays and the airlines not being responsible for accommodating them in any way while waiting for the weather to clear. No traveler really pays any attention to such fine print until they have to, such as when the snow starts to fall. Travelers tend to look at the big picture, and so should we. Instead of getting bogged down in every last detail of what Jesus says in this chapter, perhaps a few things can be pulled out for our benefit. The disciples asked for a date and signs, and Jesus essentially answers both questions, although in an opposite order. He addresses the date question second (vv.32-27) and begins by giving them some of the signs (vv.5-31). No matter how frightening the thought of the end might be, we can be comforted, for by Holy Baptism we who persevere in the faith know we are part of the elect that are not deceived (v.22) but are safely gathered in the end (v.27). In the meantime, we should be on our guard (v.23) and watch (v.37). In verse 23, we might question whether Jesus has told the disciples “everything” (we might even question, as some commentators do, what exactly “everything” refers to or whether Jesus even said it), but we who focus on the big picture know that we know what we need to know, and we faithfully take heed and watch.

With those generally general comments made, let me make a few more more-specific points. With verse 10, remember that we with the church since New Testament times can expect Jesus to return at any time, so we see the “sign” of the Gospel being preached to all nations as already having been fulfilled (there’s more on that in a Q&A linked below). One way of understanding verse 14 is to see Jesus' body hanging on the cross as the abomination that causes desolation, though a more usual understanding is to locate the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in the Romans setting up a statue of the emperor in the Most Holy Place of the Temple after taking Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (though by then the Temple was meaningless as far as God was concerned). In verse 30, the “generation” is often taken as “race”, which allows for some of the signs still needing to be fulfilled (there is also more on both of those matters in the Q&A linked below). Verse 31 is a great comfort for us as we read through the Bible. Finally, for more on verses 23-37, including an explanation of what it means that the Son doesn’t know about the day or hour (v.32), see this Memorial Moment.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Mark 13 is not tapped for any Gospel readings by the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from Mark 13.

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 11, 2008

Ps 39 / Mk 12

In our reading today we have an interesting contrast between the example of the psalmist who in some ways is “frustrated” with God and the example of the widow who gives a God-pleasing offering.

Psalm 39

Psalm 39 is summarized differently by different commentators: one calls it “prayers of one sorely tried at the sight of the prosperity of the ungodly” and another “the poignant prayer of a soul deeply troubled by the fragility of human life”.

Overview

Four stanzas make up Psalm 39, with the first three about the same measure and the final, shorter stanza serving as an epilogue. The comments below follow the four-stanza structure, after a paragraph about the psalm’s relationship to other psalms.

Comments

Psalm 39 appears to be related to a number of other psalms. Psalm 39 is closely related to Psalm 62 in the following ways: by the superscription’s mention of Jeduthun (one of David’s three choirmasters, this one representing the family of Merari), by a similar theme (the nothingness of humanity), by similar Hebrew vocabulary, and by the same theoretical background (possibly the rebellion by David's son Absalom). More to the immediate context in the Psalter, where Psalm 38 spoke of silence before the enemy, Psalm 39 speaks of silence before God. In both the psalmist confesses both his sin and his faith in God for forgiveness. Psalms 40 and 41 in some ways continue from 38 and 39 the theme of troubles aggravated by gloating of enemies.

Witnessing the prosperity of the wicked, the psalmist wanted to not complain, especially not in such a way that his enemies might know of it, but keeping quiet ended up only making the matter worse (vv.1-3). On the topic of sins of the tongue, you might want to check out the Memorial Moment for January 10, 2006, (which deals a bit with the 8th Commandment), what one reader called “a good sermon on protecting the sheep from wolves”.

Since keeping quiet made matters worse, the psalmist turned to God in prayer, asking God to help him calmly submit to the suffering by showing him that the suffering could only be brief since life itself was short (vv.4-6). (If you are wondering, one handbreadth is about four inches.) Do you think knowing when our lives would end would be a good thing? I can imagine arguments on either side of that question. Perhaps more than wanting to know when his life will end, the psalmist may want to know when his suffering will end. One commentator suggests the real purpose is for the psalmist to “become fully conscious of his own frailty!” Note the Selah, perhaps a musical crescendo, at the end of verse 5 as the psalmist’s lament reaches great intensity. As for the end of verse 6, I one time saw someone who thought they were dying be quite anxious over details of the estate to be left. I think there can be positive aspects to such concern, although in the context of the psalm I also thought that such effort can be for naught if the courts or tax collectors step in and overrule the wishes of the deceased.

The only hope both for this brief life and for that life which is to follow is the Lord—the same Lord who justly lets the psalmist suffer the consequences of his sin (vv.7-11). Note well in verse 8 the plea for forgiveness of sins—the same plea we make to God in our daily confession of sins, which plea He answers with His Means of Grace, especially Holy Baptism, individual Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. In verse 9 the psalmist’s admission that the Lord is behind His affliction is also striking.

Finally, the psalmist repeats his prayer for an end to his present suffering (vv.12-13). Though usually the Lord’s “look” is a look of love and blessing, in this case the psalmist refers to the Lord’s “look” of wrath, wanting that “look” to be turned away.

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions on Psalm 39, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy appoints Psalm 39 among those for four days of the Church Year.
  • Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent)
  • Tuesday of Holy Week
  • The First Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refers or alludes to a verse from Psalm 39 and therefore may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 39:12 -- #586 Another good Paul Gerhardt hymn, this hymn is said to be based more on Psalm 119:19 and Hebrews 11:13-16. (A reader’s comment on the hymn is here.)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Mark 12

Mark 12 continues the narrative, begun yesterday in chapter 11, of Jesus’s final confrontation with the Jewish leaders.

Overview

Set during Holy Week, today we read the Parable of the Tenants (12:1-12), Jesus’s comment on paying taxes (12:13-17), what Jesus had to say about marriage after the resurrection of the body (12:18-27), what are the greatest commandments (12:28-34), the real relationship between David and “David’s Son” (12:35-40), and the so-called Widow’s Mite (12:41-44).

Comments

The Parable of the Tenants, as the Jewish leaders themselves realized, targeted them for their past mistreatment of the prophets and for their future mistreatment of Jesus. Jesus draws on such passages as Isaiah 5:1-2 and quotes from Psalm 118.

Then, some of the Pharisees and influential Jews who supported Herod and his position given by Rome tried to get grounds for Roman charges against Jesus. Jesus, however, saw through their trap and tried to teach the people both to give that which bore the image of Caesar (the coin) to Caesar and to give those things which bear the image of God (themselves) to God.

Next, another of the Jewish parties, the Sadducees, tried to trap Jesus. The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body but set that denial aside long enough to use the resurrection as part of a challenge to Jesus. Again, Jesus saw through their challenge and flat-out rebuked their error, even limiting Himself to the little part of the Old Testament that group accepted. In the process, Jesus also made a comment that is often misused to claim that people will not know other people, such as their spouse, in heaven. What Jesus says is that men will not take wives, nor will women be given in marriage. One of my married seminary friends one time said well that it was hard to imagine that one would not know in heaven someone who had been such an important part of one’s life on earth.

Next in Mark’s account, Jesus lists two commandments, love of God and love of neighbor, as an answer to the Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment. Notice well that Jesus’ later comment to him that he is “not far” from the Kingdom of God does not put him in it, since he was still trying to justify himself by his works.

Then, Jesus, quoting Psalm 110:1, stumps the Jewish leaders by asking them a question they could not answer, a question about David’s relationship to the Messiah. Jesus indicts the Pharisees of various wrongs, including devouring widow’s houses, which charge seems to lead to the next and final section of the chapter.

An unidentified artist’s depiction of the widow’s “mites”In a large, busy place, the most interesting thing of all may be happening quietly off to the side where no one else seems to be looking. We might get that sense in our reading of Mark 12:41-44, as it tells of a widow who put two mites into the temple treasury as an offering. The Jewish leaders’ challenging Jesus only to go down in defeat may have been the main attraction of the chapter’s preceding verses, but the more important event from Jesus’s perspective seems to have been the widow’s putting two mites into the temple treasury. (A “mite” apparently was a small brass coin, the smallest in circulation in Palestine then, equivalent to one-seventh or one-eighth of a farthing, and thus said to be roughly equal to one-fifth of a cent. For more on “mites”, including a mention of the LWML’s collection of them, see here.) The widow gave generously from the little she had, in sharp contrast to others who gave a much smaller percentage of their abundance. We want to cheerfully give back to God from what He has entrusted to our care in keeping with His blessings to us.

I was intrigued by the differences between images as I searched for one to accompany this post (to see a larger version of the selected image, again apparently from some turn-of-the-20th-century Sunday School material, either click it or see from where we got it); some available images showed an older widow and some a younger, some showed her with children, and some without. We don’t have to be a widow or have children to make sacrificial offerings to the Lord, of course; earlier in the chapter (v.17) Jesus Himself makes clear what we ought to give to God: our very selves (see the hymn linked below).

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Mark 12 does not come up in the historic 1-year lectionary from The Lutheran Liturgy that we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace.

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Mark 12 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 12:17 -- #404 With a familiar tune, this hymn emphasizes our giving to God our heart, soul, and body—which bear His image. (Another good hymn lost from Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book.)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 10, 2008

Ps 38 / Mk 11

Today’s reading consists of a penitential psalm and the beginning of St. Mark’s account of our Lord’s Passion.

Psalm 38

Psalm 38 is another one of the seven penitential psalms and overall a good model of our own confession to God in confident faith He will forgive us for Jesus’s sake.

Overview

Psalm 38 is another 22-verse psalm with its length indicated by the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. There are five four-verse stanzas, followed by a two verse conclusion.

Comments

Reading Psalm 38 I was struck both by the psalmist’s extended description of his plight mixed in with his plea and by the lack of any sort of expressed confidence that God will hear the plea or promise to praise Him when He does! Having made that observation, however, I think we can identify with the psalmist. Sometimes, when our plights are as dire as the psalmist’s, it is all we can do to pray for help, let alone express our confidence that God will hear our prayer or promise to praise Him when He does. The prayer itself is arguably an act of faith that expects God to answer it, however. Truly the Spirit moves us to pray, gives us the words, and, when we do not pray ourselves, intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). And, on account of the Son’s sacrifice for us, the Father hears those prayers and ultimately delivers us by grace through faith.

We can rest assured that God does not rebuke us in His anger or discipline us in His wrath (v.1). Rather, God rebukes and disciplines in mercy and grace that is intended to lead us to repentance, sorrow over our sin and faith in God for the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus’s suffering and death.

Reading verse 3 we realize that David by Divine inspiration recognizes how he deserves the Lord’s punishment on account of his sin but nevertheless pleads for deliverance. Sickness is a consequence of sin in the world, but we ought not interpret David’s words to mean God sends specific illnesses as punishment for specific sins. David confesses his sin and pleads for the Lord’s forgiveness, confident he will receive it on faith, not on the basis of anything he has done.

When someone says something against us to our face, it seems almost impossible for us not to reply, usually defending or justifying ourselves in some way. Yet in Psalm 38:13-14 we hear the psalmist say how, in response to his enemies and former friends, he acts as if he is a deaf man who hasn’t heard what has been said and as if he were a mute man who cannot reply to them. The silence to their false charges is in part due to his awareness of his own sin that warrants the rebuke he is getting, directly or indirectly, from God. Yet, the psalmist is not silent to God, to Whom he confesses his sin and appeals for help, patiently waiting for the Lord’s answer of deliverance (vv.15-16). Before God, of course, the only way we are justified is by grace through faith in the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us endeavor to follow the psalmist’s model of silence to our foes and confession and petition to God based on faith in Christ.

Verses 21-22 may be familiar from liturgical usage.

Q&A

No readers have asked questions about Psalm 38, but please feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Given the penitential nature of Psalm 38, there is little surprise that The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 38 among those appointed for special occasions of repentance.
  • The Second Sunday of Advent
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Reminiscere (the First Sunday in Lent)
  • Tuesday of Holy Week
  • The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity
  • A Day of Humiliation

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains two hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 38.
  • 38:4 -- #317 (Note well the “I gladly suffer” at the end of the fourth stanza. Although there are other versions of the hymn with more stanzas, the six stanzas in the version we have are the ones thought certainly to be by Johann Major. While this hymn made it into Lutheran Worship, it did not make it into Lutheran Service Book.)
  • 38:22 -- #402 (This is a nice hymn that I don’t think I have sung in a long time; of course, we know that God will never forsake us, but there’s nothing wrong with making such a plea to Him. Unlike Lutheran Worship, which used a different tune for this hymn, Lutheran Service Book uses the TLH tune and setting of this hymn but, like LW uses updated language; LSB also drops the fourth stanza that was in TLH and LW.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Mark 11

Mark 11 begins this Gospel account’s telling of our Lord’s Passion.

Overview

In Mark 11, we read of Jesus entering Jerusalem (11:1-11), withering a fig tree (11:12-14, 20-25), clearing the Temple (11:15-19), and facing a final confrontation with the leaders of the Jews (11:27-33).

Comments

An unidentified artist’s depiction of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as described in Mark 11:1-11Lots of people get heroes’ welcomes these days, such as university football teams that win college football national championships receiving ticker-tape parades. (In connection with New Year’s Eve in New York City I once read something referring to “ticket-tape”; I guess the writers didn’t know better, since stock tickers that used ticker-tape have long since been replaced with electronic displays.) Mark 11 in part tells of Jesus’s “hero’s welcome”. On the day we commemorate as Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted as the Lord’s Messiah with psalm verses used in Passover processions that anticipated the Messiah’s arrival. Note that “Hosanna” is Hebrew for “Save” and that in the Sanctus of the historic Christian liturgy the cries of the people as Jesus entered Jerusalem have been combined appropriately with the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of heavenly worship (Isaiah 6:3). As shown in the turn-of-the-20th-century Sunday School image accompanying this post (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it), palm branches, which were a sign of victory, welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:13; confer Matthew 21:8, but compare Luke 19:36 and Mark 11:8, which would allow straw, rushes, or other leaves). Commentators are divided on just how much the people really thought was going on, but one thing apparently is for sure: such a welcome had taken place before, as for Simon Maccabaeus (1 Maccabees 13:51), with the people celebrating the driving out of an enemy of Israel. (You can read more about that event in the folo here.) Simon Maccabaeus and his clan may have raised the people’s hopes, but they were ultimately dashed. Jesus, however, is the true Messiah, and, though we may have grown more used to ticker-tape than palm branches, Revelation 7:9 suggests we will use them again.

The fig tree Jesus cursed on the Monday of Holy Week is found withered the next day, and, after His disciples express surprise at that fact, Jesus speaks about how prayer should be made with confidence and after one has forgiven the sins neighbors have committed against him or her.

Jesus clears the Temple because those selling items there were doing it not to provide a service to worshipers traveling long distances but to take advantage of them and because in the process they were denying the Gentiles the sanctity of their only place of worship.

The incensed leaders of the Jews confront Jesus over His authority to act as He did, but, because they would not answer His question, neither did He answer theirs.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 11 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer to verses from Mark 11.

Someone sent me this link to a CNN story about an amazing 12-year-old girl (the link should open your Windows Media Player). God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 09, 2008

Ps 37 / Mk 10

Believers’ real inheritance is a theme common to both of our readings today.

Psalm 37

Anyone who has ever wondered why the evil seem to prosper while the Christians seem to decline needs to read Psalm 37!

Overview

Psalm 37 is an irregular alphabetic acrostic, in which, generally speaking, two verses are devoted to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The main theme of the psalm is developed in verses 1-11 and elaborated on in the verses that follow. In addition, the psalm is framed or bookended with statements contrasting the briefness of the wicked (vv.1-2) and the Lord’s sustenance of the righteous (vv.39-40.

Comments

Where good and evil struggled in the psalmist’s day for control over Israel’s territory, for us the struggle is not over the literal land of Israel but for the new earth of eternity after Christ’s return in glory. The theme of the psalm is the question over who gets this “land”; see verses 9, 11, 22, 29, 34. Verse 11 seems to be echoed by Jesus in Matthew 5:5; in fact, the statements are essentially the same: the meek (or “gentle”; to be more precise we could say “humbly repentant”) inherit the land (or “earth”; to be more precise we could say “new heaven and new earth”). The wicked try as they might with all their various tactics, while the righteous humbly trust in the Lord and by His Spirit produce the works that identify them as righteous through faith. The wicked may flourish for a time, but in the end the righteous have the eternal inheritance and the secure dwelling in the “land”.

Note the patience the psalmist encourages us to have as we trust in the Lord to deliver us. Especially verse 2, using an illustration we all can relate to, helps us remember that our enemies will not always endure. The psalmist continues the theme in verses 9-17, 20-22, 28, and 34-38, returning to a plant illustration in verses 35-36. The psalmist makes it clear that the Lord will in time deliver the faithful.

Also note what the faithful do while waiting for the Lord to deliver them. In verse 7, the Divinely-inspired psalmist tells us to “Rest” in the Lord (KJV, ASV, NASB) or “Be still” before the Lord (NIV). One commentator describes a resigned, quiet mind that renounces self-help and rests on God, submitting to His will. This particular Hebrew verb, damam, is used of resting in quiet meditation (see also Psalm 4:4, 131:2). We should not think of the transcendental type of meditation, sitting in a yoga posture and repeating some nonsensical mantra, but of meditation that is reading God’s Word, reflecting on its message to us, and praying. The other “be still” passages I often think of, Exodus 14:14 and Psalm 46:10, use different Hebrew verbs, haresh and rapa, respectively. Their meanings can be parallel, but in Exodus 14:14 the Lord seems to be telling the people to stop calling to Him, that He is answering their call. In Psalm 46:10, if understood to be spoken to the faithful, the Lord seems to be saying “relax”, and we note well that faith is the basis for that relaxing and the patience we need. (Such is a good example of how English translations can lead us astray and how people who base their comments on the English alone can easily overstate their case.)

One time in a social setting I had someone wrongly suggest to me that the Old Testament and New Testament are not consistent in that they have different views of such things as God and salvation. A similar idea is that Jesus is a new lawgiver, surpassing Moses, and that His so-called “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 is an example of the “new” teaching that distinguishes the Old Testament from the New. Jesus no more in this case gives a new law or presents a different view of God and salvation than the psalmist contradicts himself by saying in verse 9 that “those who hope in the Lord” inherit the land or in verse 29 that “the righteous” inherit the land. God makes righteous those who humble themselves before Him in repentance and trust in Him for forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, ultimately blessing them for eternity in the new heavens and new earth. The God of the Old Testament and New Testament wills such salvation for all people, but, as is the case in the Old and New Testaments and now, sadly not all people avail themselves of this salvation in Christ that God so freely gives. (A helpful little saying about the Old and New Testaments is that “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.”)

Q&A

The following verse and topic are addressed in answer to a reader’s question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers comes up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 37 among those appointed for use in church services on the following two festivals of the Church Year.
  • The Feast of the Holy Innocents
  • St. Mark’s day

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal refers or alludes to a verse from Psalm 37 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 37:5 -- #520 This "cross and comfort" hymn is said to be “the most comforting” of Paul Gerhardt’s hymns. While there’s a popular tradition about its composition related to his expulsion from Berlin for faithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions, the more likely story is that he wrote it during his service in Mittenwalde before going to Berlin. The hymn’s inclusion in a large number of hymnals of various languages is said to be evidence of its popularity, and I was pleased to see that it is included as #754 in Lutheran Service Book, even if they so altered the text as to give the hymn a different name and reduced by half the number of stanzas.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Mark 10

Today we hear six more sections of words and deeds as Mark tells about Jesus, the man of action.

Overview

Mark 10 narrates Jesus’s ministry in Judea (essentially the old southern kingdom of Judah) and Perea (east across the Jordan): teaching about divorce (10:1-12), blessing little children (10:13-16), answering the rich young man (10:17-31), making another passion prediction (10:32-34), addressing the request of the “sons of thunder” (10:35-45), and healing blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52).

Comments

In the teaching about divorce, we want to remember that the hard-hearted are generally outside of the faith, that verse 9 can have the sense that human beings cannot separate what God has joined together, and that St. Mark’s divinely inspired account gives an absolute “no” to remarriage after divorce. (Luther and most Lutheran theologians grant the possibility of divorce and remarriage for the so-called "innocent party" in a marital breakup and in some cases for the "repentant-guilty party", although they have to practice some questionable exegesis to get around the clear teaching of Mark 10 and Luke 16:18.) Strikingly, Jesus puts Himself on the same side of the issue of Herod’s and Herodias’s marriage as John the Baptizer had, which move resulted in John’s death (Mark 6:14-26). Jesus's clear teaching in Mark’s account ought to be especially noticed by anyone considering divorce and remarriage.

An image by an unknown artist depicting Jesus’ blessing little childrenWhen our congregation is blessed with the birth of another child, it is sometimes my privilege to share with the parents and child a Gospel account about Jesus blessing little children, similar to the one we read today in Mark 10:13-16. (By an unknown artist, the image with this post depicts that scene, apparently for some turn-of-the-20th-century Sunday School material; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it.) In the blessing of little children, notice that in verse 14 the KJV’s and ASV’s “suffer” means the same as the NIV’s “let” and the NASB’s “permit”. Jesus teaches that we are to have child-like faith (not childish faith), and His teaching should raise questions for those who would deny Baptism, the Divinely-appointed means of entering the Kingdom, to little children.

The rich young man wants to get eternal life on his own merits without the grace of God, even though he is unwilling to keep the first commandment (without which it is impossible to keep any of the others). Nevertheless loving the man for his earnestness, Jesus makes it clear that entering the kingdom is only possible with God, and His comments in verses 29-31 must not be taken as any sort of promise of prosperity in this life.

As the group makes its way towards Jerusalem, likely in the procession of Passover pilgrims, Jesus again predicts His death and resurrection, perhaps intending to remind His followers that the resurrection was a part of the expected events so that they would not so completely fear the coming crucifixion.

As happened shortly after the previous recorded passion prediction (Mark 8:31-38 and 9:33-37), the disciples again miss the nature of Christ’s kingdom. James and John want positions of glory, when the nature of Christ’s work is to serve (note well 10:45 and its theme of your and my redemption, and remember that here “many” is the same as “all”).

Finally, as if to illustrate the healing and saving nature of His work, Jesus gives sight to the son of Timaeus. Let me draw your attention to the cry of Bartimaeus that we can make our own: “Jesus, mercy!” (The historic liturgy of the church makes a similar cry in the "Kyrie Eleison" ("Lord, have mercy!".) As the Lord heard it then from Bartimaeus, so he hears it now for us, whether we are one day, one decade, or one century old.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, does not tap Mark 10 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains four hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Mark 10.
  • 10:13-16 -- #300 (Pastor Sullivan has taken to sarcastically calling this my favorite Baptismal hymn; while I'm not completely against it, I do think there are better Baptismal hymns. This one has too much talk for my taste about what “we” are doing, and I also lament the fact that two previously omitted stanzas emphasizing the connection to Jesus’s blood remain omitted in Lutheran Service Book.)
  • 10:14 -- #302 (also a somewhat lacking “baptismal” hymn that seems more suited to a “dedication”), #627 (a hymn someone assembled from three hymns by someone else), #630 (you'll have to check your hymnal for this one) (None of these three made it into Lutheran Service Book.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 08, 2008

Ps 36 / Mk 9

Today we have two readings very timely for our Epiphany season. (Remember this Daily Lectionary we are following is described as “generally in harmony with the liturgical church year”.)

Psalm 36

In Psalm 36 we find a sharp contrast between the wickedness of some and the goodness of God.

Overview

Verses 1-4 describe the wicked as having no regard for God, plotting evil when planning the day’s activities, and the like. Verses 5-9 describe God’s goodness and mercy towards the world, preserving humans and animals, providing life and illumination to all types of people, etc. Verses 10-12 present the prayer that God would continue to be gracious to the faithful, and especially verse 12 confidently anticipates God’s just judgment on the wicked.

Comments

What do you think about when lying on your bed as you fall asleep or when you first awaken? At night I think I tend to review that day’s activities more than I anticipate those of the next day, and in the morning I tend to need to get out of bed so as not to fall back asleep! Today in Psalm 36:4 we hear the psalmist refer to the wicked people who plot evil while lying on their beds. Maybe we are guiltier of plotting or even doing evil there than we’d care to admit. Part of our review of the day’s past activities might be in prayer, confessing our sins and thanking God for His mercy and grace forgiving those sins and sustaining us through the day. Likewise, part of our anticipating the next day’s activities might be in prayer, asking for God’s blessings on those activities, including keeping us from sin. I like and try to daily use Luther’s morning and evening prayers for such purposes, including the sign of the cross to remind me that I am baptized and forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

There’s a song by contemporary Christian songwriter Michael Card called “The Promise” that relates to the birth of Christ. When I sing along with it aloud, as people who enjoy the song with me can tell you, in the chorus I usually transpose the words “life” and “light”. Now, I’m not just making excuses, but Psalm 36 gives me some justification for the switch. Verse 9 tells us that not only is the Lord the fountain of life, but verse 9 also tells us that in the Lord’s light we see light. (Be sure to see Christ through the Baptismal waters and reference in verse 9 to the “fountain of life”; see such passages as Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; John 4:10, 14; John 7:37-38; Revelation 22:1-2, 17.) You see the close connection in the verse between “life” and “light” (I also think of the practice of giving the newly-baptized at the Font of Life a burning candle to indicate their illumination by the Holy Spirit). Especially during the Epiphany season that began January 6, a little more reflection (pardon the pun) on light and life seems fitting. The psalmist says in the Lord’s light we see light, which means that apart from God we are in total darkness. Such darkness is equated with death (see, for examples, Psalm 49:19; 56:13; Job 3:20; 33:30). But, the great news of Epiphany is that light shines on those walking in darkness and the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2, and recall Ps 23:4). Isaiah 60:1-3 tells us our darkness is broken by the glory of the Lord (that is, the Lord Himself) rising and illuminating the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). The Lord, Who wears light like a garment (Psalm 104:2) and Who by His Word first created literal light out of literal darkness (Genesis 1:3-5) sends His Word to us, in Whom we find light and life (John 1:4). Our sin-caused death is remedied by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Who is the light of the world (John 8:12). In the light of the Lord’s countenance (Psalm 4:6) we have salvation (Psalm 27:1). His presence is light (Isaiah 2:5), and we recall that in the heaven of eternity there is no need for a sun (Isaiah 60:19; Revelation 21:23; 22:5). Finally, in the Spirit of Epiphany, remember that we who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light show forth that light to the world by our praise (1 Peter 2:9). (For more on the Lord’s light see this Memorial Moment.)

Q&A

No readers have yet asked questions about Psalm 36, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Given the Epiphany connection, there’s little surprise that The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 36 among those appointed for at least one Sunday in the Epiphany season.
  • The Second Sunday after Epiphany
  • The Presentation of Christ and the Purification of Mary
  • The Sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
  • The day of St. Simon and St. Jude

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains two hymns said to refer to verses from Psalm 36.
  • 36:7 -- #340 (a "lay" is "a short lyric or narrative poem intended to be sung"; the hymnwriter’s and KJV’s “loving-kindness”, checed in the Hebrew, is “unfailing love” in the NIV and also is frequently translated elsewhere as “mercy”)
  • 36:9 -- #600 (this 1572 hymn by Nikolaus Selnecker was first published with Psalm 116:9 as the given Scripture reference, but, when published again six years later, Psalm 36:9 was included among the references)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Mark 9

Mark 9 continues to tell of events while Jesus was withdrawn from Galilee, and then it tells of His final ministry in Galilee.

Overview

We find in Mark 9 accounts of the Transfiguration (9:1-12), of an exorcism from a young boy (9:14-32), of a debate over who is the greatest (9:33-37), of the nature of fellowship (9:38-41), and of the danger of causing sin (9:42-50).

Comments

An image of the Transfiguration altarpiece by Raphael (1483-1520), said to be one of Europe’s greatest artistsJesus’s inner circle of disciples’ (Peter, James, and John) seeing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain can be said to be seeing the kingdom of God come with power (Mark 9:1). The Transfiguration is the clearest revelation of the Divine nature in the Man Jesus (“God in man made manifest”, the refrain of a well-known Epiphany hymn--see TLH #134, "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise"). Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah, whom the disciples recognize or deduce the identity of from the conversation, and Peter wants to hold on to the moment of glory by building tabernacles for them, instead of facing the suffering of which Jesus had recently spoken (Mark 8:31-33). The Father’s voice from heaven, as at Jesus’s Baptism (Mark 1:11), emphasizes Jesus’s Sonship and beloved status and this time adds the exhortation to heed what Jesus says. On the way down the mountain, Jesus identifies John the Baptizer as the expected Second Elijah who had been rejected (Mark 6:14-29). The Transfiguration of our Lord is arguably the greatest of His showing-forths of His Divine nature from His human flesh. Yet, it was just a glimpse, full glory waits for Jesus until the cross, as full glory awaits us after we are finished bearing ours (recall Jesus’ teaching in Mark 8:34-9:1, which immediately precedes the account of the Transfiguration). Although it's not how I usually picture the Transfiguration, the image with this post is of the 1520 Transfiguration altarpiece by Raphael (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). Raphael lived from 1483-1520, and this altarpiece, said to be the most ambitious and largest of his oil paintings, was his last altarpiece, exhibited just after his death. Giulio de’ Medici had commissioned the painting for the French Cathedral of Narbonne, but after 1523 it was still in Rome, in San Pietro in Montorio. Napoleon had the work taken to Paris in 1797, but it was brought back to the Vatican in 1815.

Once down the mountain, Jesus casts out a demon from a young boy, after addressing a question about the boy’s father’s faith. The words of the boy’s father in verse 24 can be our constant prayer: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” There may be a distinction in demons apparent from verses 18 and 28-29, or Jesus’ statement may go more to the disciples assuming they had the power to cast out the demon without remembering from where their authority to do so had come.

Next Jesus speaks about the servant nature of the kingdom and how welcoming those who come to the kingdom is the same as welcoming Jesus Himself.

Then Jesus speaks about who is “with and for” Him or who is “against” Him. (For much more on this particular saying of Jesus especially as it compares to statements that basically say the opposite, see an article I authored that was published in the theological journal of the Lutheran seminaries in Canada.)

Finally Jesus speaks of the dangers of causing someone else to sin or of allowing oneself to be lead into sin. Though there have been those who have taken Jesus’ words here very literally, He really is speaking more figuratively about the great importance to be placed on avoiding sin and striving to enter the kingdom by faith in Him.

Q&A

The following verses and topic are addressed in answers to a previous reader’s question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers comes up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services makes no use of Mark 9 for Gospel readings.

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal apparently contains no hymns that are specifically said to refer to verses from Mark 9 (although compare the hymn linked in the comments on Mark 9 above).

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 07, 2008

Ps 35 / Mk 8

Today we read an earnest prayer for the Lord’s protection, and we see a wonderful example of His gracious provision.

Psalm 35

Psalm 35 quite simply calls for the Lord to fight on behalf of the psalmist, who is suffering attacks from those with whom he has been quite close.

Overview

Verses 1-3 make a general appeal to the Lord, and three sections of petitions follow, each concluding with its own commitment to praise the Lord for His deliverance (4-10, 11-18, 19-28).

Comments

Sometimes our sinful human pride doesn’t want someone to help us, but knowing there is someone to fight our battles for us can also be a great comfort! “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me,” the psalmist says in verse 1. We should not think that God will fight for us when we are on the wrong side, however. But, when we are on the Lord’s side, we can rest assured that He does contend with those who contend with us. In the person of Jesus Christ He has already defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil for us, even if we do not fully appreciate that victory until the Last Day.

On our own we may be able to tell that there is a god, but we can’t know The God without His revealing Himself to us. We are reminded of that as we hear the psalmist pray in Psalm 35:3, “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’” Now, we know that a person cannot pray to God without faith in Him, so the psalmist was not asking for God to reveal Himself to the psalmist for the first time, but the psalmist was asking for continued revelation. God speaks through Word and Sacrament not only to our souls, but He speaks to our whole beings (see vv.9-10). Hearing the Word and touched by the life-giving water of Baptism, our sinful bodies and souls are redeemed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and our redeemed bodies and souls are strengthened by continuing to hear the Word and by being fed with bread that is Christ’s body and wine that is His blood.

Some of us no doubt have known intimate betrayal: when a co-worker, close friend, or family member, whom we thought was on our side, turned on us and figuratively stabs us in the back. The psalmist is apparently suffering from such a betrayal; note in verses 13-16 what the psalmist had done for them when they were afflicted compared to how they had reacted when he was afflicted. Like all the psalms, Psalm 35 is perhaps best found on the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was betrayed by one of His close disciples and killed by enemies who hated Him without reason (Psalm 35:19 may be behind our Lord’s words in John 15:25). Of course, Jesus was betrayed for our benefit, and, though we often betray Him, He does not betray us. In His revealing Himself to be God and man at the manger, on the cross, and at the empty tomb, we by grace through faith have forgiveness for all our sins, even those of betraying Him.

Notice in verse 19 and throughout Psalm 35 that in contrast to other psalms we have read, the psalmist does not proclaim his innocence but rather describes himself as not deserving the attack from his foes. Likewise we do not necessarily deserve the attacks from the devil, and we pray with the psalmist, “Say unto my soul, ‘I am your salvation’,” and we respond with praise of God for His deliverance in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Q&A

No readers have asked any questions about Psalm 35, but you should feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

I expected to find Psalm 35 used in connection with our Lord’s Passion, and, indeed, two of the three days for which The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 35 among those appointed are related to the Passion.
  • Palmarum (Palm Sunday)
  • The Monday of Holy Week
  • The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal apparently contains no hymns that refer or allude to verses from Psalm 35.

Mark 8

Mark 8 continues to narrate events that took place while Jesus was removed from Galilee.

Overview

Today we read of the feeding of the 4,000 (vv.1-13), the warning about yeast (vv.14-21), the healing of a blind man (vv.22-26), Peter’s confessing Christ (vv.27-30), and Jesus' making His first so-called “passion prediction” recorded in St. Mark’s account by Divine inspiration.

Comments

An unidentified artist’s depiction of Jesus directing His disciples to feed the peoplePerhaps like you, I know there have been times in my life when I have wanted some sort of miraculous sign from the Lord—maybe like Gideon’s fleece (see Judges 6:17-40), although I usually think I would settle for something less dramatic and that one sign would be sufficient. Truly we are part of the wicked and adulterous generation (with influence from Matthew 16:4) that in desiring its own signs thereby rejects the signs God offers. In Mark 8 we see a great example of such a rejection. After the second miraculous feeding St. Mark tells how Pharisees still were not convinced of Jesus’s authority despite the fact that He had just given them bread from heaven as God had given their ancestors through Moses. Mark describes how Jesus fed more than 4,000 men, not to mention women and children. The image with this post, by an unknown author apparently from some turn-of-the-20th-century Sunday School material, shows Jesus directing His disciples to feed the people (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). The feeding recalled the manna, the bread from heaven in the Old Testament wilderness wandering, and the Jewish leaders should have recognized it. Despite the sign of the miraculous feeding, the Jewish leaders ask for a sign from heaven. I’d say “another” sign, but they didn’t recognize the one that had just been given! In the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus has directed pastors, His servants today, to feed us people bread that miraculously also is His body. The Sacrament has long been regarded to be a mysterious sign. Unlike the disbelieving Pharisees, this miraculous sign should be sufficient for us. Is it?

In the warning about yeast note that not every time yeast is mentioned it is bad (see Matthew 13:33), though in this case it appears to refer negatively to the Pharisees and Herod’s desires to see miraculous signs.

When the blind man was given back his sight, Jesus apparently restores the sight in stages, perhaps to help the man understand precisely what Jesus was doing for Him: first he sees but cannot exactly distinguish things, and then he can see and perceive.

In the next section Peter, on behalf of the disciples, makes an accurate confession of Jesus in sharp contrast to what others confessed of Him, and we are reminded that subsequent controversies have necessitated the elaboration of even the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds (not to mention the Augsburg Confession!) in order to better confess Jesus in the face of the world’s inadequate or false confessions.

Finally in chapter 8, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection but is rebuked by Peter, prompting Jesus to speak of the way of the cross, reminding us that such is our way of following Jesus, too—not all roses but far more thorns until the glory of heaven.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on one Sunday.
  • 8:1-9 -- The Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

The following hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal refers or alludes to verses from our reading and may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 8:38 -- #346 The hymn was apparently written by Joseph Grigg (1722-1768) when he was ten years old, although the version we have was significantly altered by Benjamin Francis, which alteration at least one source describes as a decided improvement. This hymn bothered me when I was younger, due perhaps to its sharp preaching of the law or to what today I would say is a near absence of Gospel. The hymn was further altered and updated for the 1982 Lutheran Worship #393, but the 2006 Lutheran Service Book omits the hymn completely.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Although unrelated to our present reading, there is a new Q&A here. God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 06, 2008

Ps 34 / Mk 7

Again we have a psalm of praise paired with a Gospel reading of gracious words and miraculous deeds.

Psalm 34

Psalm 34 is in some ways a unique offering of praise to God.

Overview

The superscription connects the psalm with the events of 1 Samuel 21:10-15. The psalm also is exceptional in how it leads to instruction about God and His ways. Structurally the psalm is nearly an alphabetic acrostic, where each successive verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. You may recognize a number of this psalm’s verses, and, if you have been reading with us, you will likely recognize some familiar figures of speech and themes.

Comments

When do you pray to the Lord? When you have a special need? When you have received an especially nice blessing? Growing up we were taught to pray before and after meals and before going to sleep. As I got older and came to appreciate more Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism, I also tried to pray consistently in the morning when I woke up, although I also seem to have reluctantly adopted the practice of before a meal praying both the before-meal prayer and the after-meal prayer. Psalm 34:1 tells us to bless the Lord at all times (KJV, ASV, NASB; “extol” NIV). Now, admittedly praise and prayer are not identical, but prayer is a form of praise and usually has praise as some of its content. (See this discussion of Luke 1:68 for more on what it means to bless the Lord.) Not only is praise to God continuously to be on our lips (see Psalm 71:6), but we are to thank God always and for everything (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). We may explain away “always” and “continuously” as exaggerated statements to make a point about frequent prayer (who can really pray “continuously”?), but I don’t think we can do that with “everything”. When we thank God for His blessings, no matter what they are, and present our requests to Him, then we experience the peace of God that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). As the psalmist reminds us, we will have afflictions and troubles (see the whole psalm, but especially vv.2, 6, 17, 19), but we can rejoice in them because the Lord saves and delivers us from them. The liturgy of the Divine Service reminds us that “It is truly meet [or fitting], right, and salutary [or healthful] that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks” unto God, and it reminds us that “chiefly are we bound to praise [Him] for the glorious resurrection of [His] Son Jesus Christ, our Lord”. The psalmist has that redemption in view, too (see v.22).

Note Psalm 34’s invitations to others for them to join in believing in God and receiving blessings from Him: “Glorify the Lord with me” in verse 3, “Taste and see” in verse 8, “Fear the Lord” in verse 9, and “Come my children” in verse 11. These words can be found on our lips not only as we praise God using this psalm, but such expressions should be found on our lips as we invite those we know to join us in believing in God and receiving His gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament in the context of the Divine Service.

No one wants to be materially “poor”, but we should all want to be spiritually “poor”. Today in Psalm 34:6 we are told how the Lord hears the poor person. These “poor” people are not necessarily those with few or no possessions, but they recognize that they do not have the resources to deliver themselves and so depend on God to do so. They are genuinely sorry for their sins and trust in God for forgiveness for Jesus’s sake. Note how in verse 18 the psalmist tells us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Verse 22 is also relevant in this regard, and there redemption and condemnation are specifically contrasted. Thank God that His Holy Spirit works through the law to crush our prideful spirits and move us to take refuge in Him!

Peter uses verses 12-16 in 1 Peter 3:8-12.

When you read verse 8, think of the Sacrament of the Altar, for there is no more concrete form of both physically tasting and of realizing how wonderful God’s love for you in His gift of forgiveness is.

Verse 9 emphasizes that while we who believe in God may lack some things in our lives, we lack nothing good that we need (although, as the REM song says, “What we want and what we need / Has been confused”).

Also give attention to verse 20, which seems to be behind St. John’s reference in John 19:36.

Q&A

No readers have asked any questions about Psalm 34, but you are welcome to do so.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 34 among those appointed for six days of the Church Year.
  • Invocavit (the First Sunday in Lent)
  • Easter (the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord)
  • The Eighth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • St. Michael and All Angels

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal contains three hymns said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 34.
  • 34 -- #29 (a metrical version of Psalm 34 from the late 1600s that originally contained 18 stanzas)
  • 34:7 -- #413 (a number of other passages are also given as the basis for this fine hymn about our walk as Christians; note the balance of three “in danger” stanzas and three “deliverance” stanzas; the tune, which predates the hymn, is said to be named for a hymn that redeemed the melody from a folk song that dishonored God.)
  • 34:8 -- #307 (a wonderful Lord's Supper hymn, apparently 7th-century Irish in origin)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Mark 7

Mark 7 narrates a number of events during Jesus’ withdrawal from Galilee.

Overview

There is teaching and action on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (vv.1-23), in Phoenicia (vv.24-30), and in the region of the Decapolis (vv.31-37).

Comments

First in 7:1-23 we read of Jesus’ comments regarding what is clean and unclean. Note how Jesus is far more concerned about moral cleanliness than the ceremonial cleanliness of the Pharisees. Moral laws are God’s, and many of the ceremonial laws and traditions were those of the Pharisees. The example Jesus gives is of taking away money that would have been used to support one’s parents and instead giving it to the temple. The things offensive to God are the evils that come out of our sin-infected hearts.

 From the floor in front of tower oratory altar at the Jerusalem YMCA, an unidentified artist’s etching of dogs eating the children’s crumbs, referring to Mark 7:28Second in 7:24-30 we read of the great faith of a woman from Syria whose daughter was possessed. Jesus talks about the bread belonging first to the Jewish “children” versus the Gentile “dogs”, but He knows how she will respond, happy to “settle” for the crumbs, which are really no worse than the bread itself. (For a clarification on that comment, see here.) Unless you were born a Jew, you and I are Gentiles, grouped with the woman whom Jesus figuratively refers to as a dog but nevertheless blessed to eat the Jewish children’s crumbs, especially the bread that is Christ’s body in the Sacrament of the Altar. Depicting such a scene and suggesting such an application, the image with this post is from in front of the altar in the tower oratory of the Jerusalem YMCA (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). While our Lord’s comment can seem quite harsh, we do well to note that in Mark’s account He is not excluding the Gentiles from the plan of salvation (the Jews get the bread “first”; see Romans 1:16), and Jesus’ certainly knows what is in the woman’s heart and may well be testing her faith, as He tests ours. She finds the promise in His words, understands her position, persists with her request, and her confession of faith is praised and rewarded. May we also receive such praise of and reward for our confessions of faith.

Third and finally in 7:31-37 we read of another miracle, Jesus healing a man who could not hear or speak (the KJV’s “dumb” = the NIV’s “mute”). Note how the people in the miracle recognize Jesus as the essential Messiah (see Isaiah 35:5-6). This reaction in verse 37 is said to be the greatest-ever astonishment of the crowds at Jesus’ work. How astonished are we at what Jesus does for us in Word and Sacrament?

Q&A

The following verse and topic is addressed in answer to a reader's question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services appoints one Gospel reading from Mark 7.
  • 7:31-37 -- The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer to verses from Mark 7.

God bless you this Epiphany Day, and may you let him make it holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 05, 2008

Ps 33 / Mk 6

Today we read a psalm of praise and then hear of some pretty praiseworthy deeds of our Lord!

Psalm 33

Psalm 33 may have been used as a liturgy of praise to the Lord. A leading Levite, the Levitical choir, and the people probably all participated.

Overview

The psalm is one of only a handful of the early psalms without a superscription, so the original occasion that prompted the praise is harder to determine. The 22-verse length of the psalm is determined by the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Structurally, a 3-verse introductory call to praise and a 3-verse concluding response to praise frame the body of the psalm, itself two 8-verse parts praising the Lord.

Comments

In verse 3, remember that the “new song” is not because a new form of song is better but because the Lord has done something new to deliver His people.

Read the second half of Psalm 33:4, “He is faithful in all He does” (NIV; “all His work is done in faithfulness” ASV, NASB, ESV; or “truth” KJV, NKJV; “you can trust everything He does” Beck’s AAT; but compare “all His work endures” NEB). Just about any way the statement is translated, it is quite a statement. God essentially is free to act any way He wants, and we do not always know the reasons behind His actions. A distinction is sometimes made between God’s absolute power and His ordained power. That distinction in God’s power somewhat relates to talk about God’s hidden aspects compared to those He reveals to us. So often we do not understand the reasons behind things that happen, but by faith in God, created and informed by what He reveals about Himself in His true Word (the beginning of verse 4), we are able to know that no matter what happens God is still acting faithfully, truthfully. One commentator says that God’s truthful acts verify the truth of His Word, but I also think that the second half of verse 4 can be understood as a statement drawn from the Word of the first half, for we would not know of God’s faithfulness apart from His Word. God is faithful in all He does: even the seemingly unjust death of His innocent Son for our sins, even the seemingly unjust redemption by grace through faith of all of us who have sinned, and even the seemingly unjust more minor things that we regard as “bad things” happening to “good people”. Those “bad things” fit into God’s plan, although we do not understand how, and we confess with the psalmist that they are faithful and truthful acts.

Psalm 33 relates to what we believe about God’s Word, that is, the Bible, particularly in verses such as 4, 6, 9. Verse 4 reminds us that God’s Word is without error, that is, neither its writers were deceived nor do they themselves deceive. Verses 6 and 9 emphasize the powerfulness of God’s Word, but we remember that as God exercises that power through the Bible we can resist it. His Word can and does give us new life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but we are able to fall away from the faith, to commit spiritual suicide, as it were. May God enable us to persevere in the faith unto life eternal with Him in heaven!

Notice how the Lord’s all-powerfulness is comforting because it means that His merciful and gracious plans for us who believe cannot fail (see especially vv.11, 18-19).

Take note of verses 20-22, which particularly struck me as I read the psalm this time. Though often used alone with somewhat exchangeable meanings, in this psalm “waiting”, “hoping”, “rejoicing”, and “trusting” in the Lord, “our help and shield”, and “His holy Name” all come together. The faith of the people makes itself known in a sung confession others can hear and in a prayer to the Lord.

Q&A

The following verse and topic are addressed in answer to a reader’s question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 33 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for five days of the Church Year.
  • Quinquagesima (the Sunday in the fifth period of ten days before Easter)
  • Laetare Sunday (the Fourth Sunday in Lent)
  • The Feast of the Holy Trinity
  • St. Michael and All Angels
  • The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 33 and thus may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 33:1 -- #31, a “worship and praise” hymn, offering 5 of Joseph Addison’s original 13 stanzas of gratitude.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Mark 6

Mark 6 narrates some events of Jesus middle Galilean ministry, as well as His withdrawal from Galilee to the eastern and then western shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Overview

In the middle Galilean ministry, there are reports of unbelief in Jesus’s hometown (vv.1-6), of apostolic teams touring Galilee (vv.6-13), and of Herod’s reaction to Jesus’s ministry (vv.14-29). As Jesus withdraws from Galilee, we hear both of His feeding 5,000 (vv.30-44) and of His walking on water (vv.45-56).

Comments

First in 6:1-6 we hear how people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth were unwilling to believe in Him despite their amazement at what they heard. Jesus Himself is only called a carpenter in 6:3, and we note that their question is insulting, suggesting that Jesus was no different than anyone else. Jesus certainly could have done more miracles there (He had the power), but He chose not to do so given the people’s lack of belief.

Second in 6:7-13 we read of the sending out of the Twelve previously called as “apostles” (those sent; 3:13-19). Notice how the people to whom the Twelve ministered were to provide for their needs, and notice how the Twelve were effectively to curse those who refused to welcome them and to repent.

British sculptor George Tinworth (1843-1913) depicts Herod and company waiting for the head of John the BaptizerThird in 6:14-29 we hear of Herod’s reaction to the ministry of the Twelve in Jesus’ Name, and we hear how John the Baptizer came to his earthly end. (See also the relevant Q&A linked below.) God’s messengers bring such Gospel good news their feet are said to be beautiful (Isaiah 52:7, and see Romans 10:15), but God’s messengers often first must preach the bad news of the law to show people their sin so that they will repent and believe the good news. King Herod and his family were among those to whom John the Baptizer preached the law but who presumably failed to repent and believe—as a part of a birthday banquet Herod ordered John killed and his head delivered on a platter. The image with this post is of a ceramic relief by British sculptor George Tinworth (1843-1913) that depicts Herod and company waiting for John’s head (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). What a difference between the outcome of that banquet and the one that immediately follows it in St. Mark’s account, where Jesus compassionately teaches and feeds His followers, as He does us in the Divine Service.

Fourth in 6:30-44 we hear of Jesus’ welcoming back the apostles and eventually feeding more than 5,000 people. Notice especially Jesus’ compassion and the image that is used in verse 34. Jesus teaches and then feeds, which is the same pattern we have in the Divine Service: Word and Sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is at least intentionally brought to mind by the wording of verse 41.

Fifth and finally in 6:45-56 we have the account of Jesus walking on water. There verses 51-52 are striking for what they say about the disciples—hardheartedness is usually a term used to describe Jesus’ unbelieving and impenitent opponents.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 6 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer to Mark 6.

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 04, 2008

Ps 32 / Mk 5

Sorrow over sin and faith in God for forgiveness are often said to be the two parts of repentance, and we hear of both in our readings today.

Psalm 32

Another of the so-called “Penitential Psalms”, Psalm 32 speaks well of the blessings of confession and absolution. (The other penitential psalms are 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143; see p.167 in The Lutheran Hymnal.)

Overview

Psalm 32 may have been used as liturgy, spoken by David and God (with a priest voicing God’s speech) at the sanctuary in the presence of other worshipers. Verses 1-2 and verse 11 are said to be David speaking to the assembly, verses 3-7 are said to be David speaking to God, and verses 8-10 are said to be the priest speaking on God’s behalf to David.

Comments

Whom do you think of as “blessed”? Someone who has a successful life as measured in the world by health and riches? Health and riches sometimes can be blessings from God, but Psalm 32:1-2 makes it clear that a truly blessed person (man or woman, girl or boy) is the person whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered, whose sin the Lord does not count against him or her. Those three expressions are parallel, that is, they essentially mean the same thing, and the “blessing” they refer to is only given by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. By the way, St. Paul quotes verses 1-2 in Romans 4:6-8.

Verses 3-5 remind us that God uses afflictions in our lives to lead us to repent; they can also be consequences of our sin, though not punishment for our sin. Though part of verse 5 is used in The Lutheran Hymnal liturgy of what is called corporate confession, we do well to think of individually confessing sins that especially trouble us to the pastor as God’s representative and receiving God’s forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself. (A reader’s response to that last statement is here.)

Verse 6 reminds us that “now is the day of salvation” (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2), but such will not always be the case. Depending on where you live and how much rain you’ve had at any given time, rain can be more or less of a threat or annoyance. In Psalm 32:6, there is a serious threat from mighty waters. Waves, for example, constantly seemed to threaten to engulf the land. The waters in verse 6 are mostly a figure of speech for other threatening forces or circumstances. The psalmist recognizes that with faith in God the waters do not threaten him, and we, too, know that, with faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, waters do not hurt but help us. The living waters of Holy Baptism bring death to our sinful nature but birth from above to the redeemed nature, and thereby they work forgiveness of sins, deliver us from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe.

Verse 9 indicates that we should be more receptive to God’s will than animals who respond to tugs on the reins.

In verse 10 “the wicked” are often those who are “proud” and refuse to submit themselves to God or to turn repentantly to Him; they think they are a law unto themselves, that they can live by their own standards, what seems right to them.

Finally, verse 11 calls all present to worship God.

Q&A

So far there are not any readers’ questions on Psalm 32, but you should feel free to ask any questions you have.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 32 among those psalms appointed for five days of the Church Year.
  • The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Invocavit (the First Sunday in Lent)
  • The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Mary Magdalene

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal includes two hymns that refer or allude to verses Psalm 32.
  • Psalm 32 -- #392 (Isaac Watts’ 1719 paraphrase of Psalm 32, originally headed “Justification and Sanctification”, and we can see both how Watts was influenced by Romans 4 and how he teaches well salvation by grace alone while also making clear that good works follow from saving grace.)
  • 32:1 -- #22 (Note in stanza 3 the use of the word “essay” as a verb meaning “undertake” or “try”, for which it is pronounced like the similar verb “assay”, the accent not on the first syllable but on the second.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link. Enjoy these hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, as neither of them made it into either Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book.

Mark 5

Mark 5 continues to tell of Jesus’s “middle” ministry in Galilee.

Overview

Today we continue to read of Jesus’s trip across the Sea of Galilee, specifically a mass exorcism (5:1-20), and of two miracles Jesus did when back in Galilee (5:21-43).

Comments

The casting out of the “legion” of demons from the man perhaps near the modern village of Khersa is remarkable especially in how it shows Jesus pitted against the many forces of evil in the world, which are set to harm the image of God in which people were created. In 5:19, Jesus tells the man who had been demon possessed to tell his family about what the Lord did, and we are likewise encouraged to share with our loved ones what the Lord has done for us (you are not told to go door to door telling strangers about Jesus). (Jesus seems to be less concerned about word of Him as Messiah spreading in Gentile territory, where false Messianic ideas were less likely to arise; compare 5:43 after Jesus returned to Galilee.)

An image of a painting apparently done by Czech painter Gabriel Cornelius von Max (1840-1915) depicting Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughterAfter Jesus returns to Galilee, He heals Jairus’s daughter and a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years and who had “suffered many things of many physicians” and only gotten worse (v.26, KJV; the phrase about "suffering many things" is noticeably absent from the account of St. Luke, the beloved physician—see Luke 8:41-46 and Colossians 4:14). The miraculous resurrection of Jairus’s daughter was no less an act of mercy than the preceding mass exorcism. That resurrection also points forward to Jesus’s own resurrection and thus to the resurrection from the dead and ultimate healing that all will experience on the last day—of course, disbelievers in Christ are resurrected to the never-ending horrors of hell and believers in Christ to eternal bliss in heaven. Note that in the Greek of verse 34 Jesus says to the woman that her faith “saved” her, which better helps us realize the connection between the physical and spiritual healing Jesus brings. Health can be a blessing from God, but you should understand that, while health is a blessing from God, not everyone will receive that blessing here and now the way everyone can receive forgiveness. We are ultimately healed physically only at the resurrection of the body. (The image with this post is of Czech painter Gabriel Cornelius von Max’s depiction of that miracle; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it.) For a reader’s reaction to Jesus’s trying to keep His being the Messiah a secret, see here.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 5 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from our readings and may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 5:39 -- #593 in The Lutheran Hymnal Aside from the obvious answer to the question its title poses, hymn #593 is a wonderful “death and burial” hymn, another one by Isaac Watts (1707) that failed to make it into either of the LCMS’ more-recent hymnals.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 03, 2008

Ps 31 / Mk 4

Trust in the Lord is a theme common to both of our readings today.

Psalm 31

Psalm 31 is said to be the psalm that expresses the most “sturdy trust in the Lord” in the face of human opponents, but we can also pray it confidently in the face of spiritual enemies.

Overview

Eight lines of Hebrew poetry (vv.1-8) are said to precede the heart of the psalm (vv.9-18), just as eight lines of Hebrew poetry are said to follow the heart of the psalm (vv.19-24). Verse 13 expresses the psalm’s occasion and is surrounded by stanzas resounding with the theme of trust.

Comments

People today, it is said, are all about instant gratification. We want something, and we want it right now. Communication technology such as faxes, cell phones, and high-speed internet only increase such expectations. I remember when college grades were mailed, and students returning home from a semester had at least a couple of weeks to work on their parents before grades arrived; now students, and perhaps in some cases their parents, can instantly view grades via the internet (the University of Texas at Austin does not even mail grades unless a request is made each semester). Psalm 31 prompted me to reflect on our frequent desire for an instant response because I noticed how the petition of verse 2 seems to have already been granted by verse 3. The psalmist asked the Lord to be his rock of refuge and strong fortress, and then he asks the Lord to do things since the Lord is his rock and fortress. That’s a pretty immediate response on the part of the Lord! Of course, not all of our petitions to God are answered in such a way within the same prayer. We know for sure, however, that when we repentantly and in faith prayer for forgiveness, we are immediately forgiven, even if the gratification of our full and final deliverance is much delayed.

Let’s talk more about the second part of verse 3. Holy writers frequently will use God’s honor and reputation as a basis for their prayers. In this case, God’s “name” is not just what others will think of Him as Creator of the world but, because His “name” has been put upon us in Holy Baptism, God’s “name” also is what others think of Him as Redeemer and Sanctifier. Moreover, God’s “name” stands for all that He is and does, and with His “name” put on us, we are included as His. In Holy Baptism He gives us His Name, and we also receive our own names, which He knows and calls us by to lead us and guide us (see John 10:3 and Psalm 23:2-3).

“I’m in your hands,” we might say to the barber or hairdresser when we sit down in the chair. We entrust ourselves to all sorts of people for all sorts of things: parents to raise us, teachers to instruct us, and doctors to care for our bodies. Reading Psalm 31:5 I noticed how the psalmist and we commit our spirits into the Lord’s hands for the purpose of His redeeming us, and we also notice how the psalmist and we trust God to do so. We might get a bad haircut, not the best upbringing, a not-so-great education, or malpractice, but our trust in the Lord for our redemption by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is never misplaced. Jesus quoted verse 5 on the cross (Luke 23:46), and Dr. Martin Luther teaches us to pray the same way in his Morning and Evening Prayers: “into Thy hands I commend myself, my body, soul, and all things.” Anticipation of delivery (or perhaps past delivery) leads the psalmist to praise God (vv.21-22), and we can and should likewise praise Him while we are experiencing afflictions He in His mercy permits and even before we are fully delivered from this world. (Psalm 31:5 also came up in this discussion of the Father forsaking Jesus.)

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions on Psalm 31; please feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 31 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for five Sundays of the Church Year.
  • Septuagesima Sunday (the Sunday that falls in the seventh period of ten days before Easter)
  • Invocavit (the First Sunday in Lent)
  • The Eighth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to Psalm 31 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • Ps 31 -- #435 Note well how it expresses our submission to whatever God actively sends or allows to happen!

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Mark 4

Mark 4 continues to tell of Jesus’ “middle” ministry in Galilee.

Overview

In Mark 4 we read some parables of the kingdom (4:1-34) and of the beginning of Jesus’ trip across the Sea of Galilee, specifically the calming of the sea (4:35-41).

Comments

Remember with the parables there is generally one primary point of comparison, and we must avoid trying to make every single detail line up to something else. In case of the first parable, the Parable of the Sower (or perhaps better put “the four soils” that respond differently to the seed they receive), we have Jesus’ own explanation of the parable given later privately to the disciples. Note that Jesus is not trying to hide details about the kingdom; the “secret” is openly proclaimed to all, but only those with faith truly understand it. The results of Jesus’ preaching are like those of Isaiah’s (whom Jesus is quoting in Mark 4:12—see Isaiah 6:9-10): some believe and others harden their hearts. The third parable, that of the Growing Seed, is notable in that like God’s Word we who share it really have nothing to do with whether or not it produces fruit, nor does it need our special methods to produce fruit: it does it all by itself, by God’s power and authority.

Stephen Gjertson's 1997 depiction of Jesus' stilling the seaThe incident of Jesus calming the storm demonstrates both that Jesus is Lord over all creation and that when we are in His boat (that is, the Church), we who believe do not need to be afraid of the storms of life that come our way. Jesus’ words to the wind and waves in Mark 4:39 in a sense could have been said to the disciples and be said to us, as we need not question what comes or doubt whether our Lord cares for us, since He gave His life for us that we might have eternal life. I remember well Mary A. Baker’s hymn on this text that we sang when I was in choir growing up. The image with this post is a 1997 painting by Stephen Gjertson, an American classical realist, which is apparently owned by St. John's Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Mound, Minnesota (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it).

Q&A

There are no previously posted questions and answers on these chapters, but, if you’ve got one, you are certainly welcome to ask it! Your question will be posted anonymously when it is answered.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 4 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refers or alludes to verses from Mark 4.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 02, 2008

Ps 30 / Mk 3

A song of praise for deliverance and a vivid example of our deliverance are included in our reading today.

Psalm 30

Though the background of the song of praise that is Psalm 30 is somewhat uncertain, the psalm contains a number of well-known verses.

Overview

One commentary breaks the psalm into the following parts: introduction to the occasion for praise (vv.1-3), call for the worshippers to join in the praise (vv.4-5), expansion of the reason for praise (vv.6-10), and vow to praise God forever (vv.11-12).

Comments

From the content of the psalm we deduce that David had some sort of close call with death, possibly from an illness, and that he wrote this psalm to publicly praise the Lord. The superscription says the psalm is for the dedication of the temple, and at least one commentary points to 1 Chronicles 21:1-22:6 as detailing that as the occasion for this psalm, including the predicament from which David was delivered. These two “theories”, if you want to call them that, are not inconsistent, nor is the later use of the psalm relating it to Israel’s exile or the still later use of the psalm in connection with Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the inter-testamental Temple (circa 165 B.C.).

Verse 5 is one of the well-known verses from this psalm, emphasizing the eternal joy that comes after a short period of grief or suffering. I imagine that most of us have had overnight guests in our homes, and in verse 5 weeping is portrayed as a guest that comes in at evening to lodge for one night. The translations pretty much all paraphrase the more-literal wording of the Hebrew. Now, some of our guests who originally were going to stay for one night may have ended up staying longer, but, when it comes to the weeping the psalmist describes, we can be sure that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ ultimately there will be a morning of rejoicing, and an eternal morning at that!

One time having watched a lot of college and professional football over a period of a few days, I remembered hearing the commentators on at least one game talk about how a team can get intimidated by its opponents’ defense and become less aggressive and perhaps lose the game as a result. Psalm 30 suggests quite the opposite is the case in our Christian life. Notice how in verse 6 the psalmist is self-confident and how in verse 7 that self-confidence resulted in a humbling by the Lord. That humbling, however, resulted in a cry for mercy that itself resulted in restoration. Like St. Paul, we can say that when we are weak and dependant on God then we are strong in Him (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Verse 11 speaks of the “mourning” that God turns into “dancing” by leading us from repentance and suffering’s grief and sorrow to the joy of His salvation. As in so many of the psalms, be sure to notice how the Lord’s deliverance leads us to praise Him. Can someone who believes not take part in the worship of the community? (There’s an answer to that question here.)

Q&A

No readers’ questions have been asked about Psalm 30 yet, but you should feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 30 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for two Sundays of the Church Year.
  • The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to Psalm 30.

Mark 3

Mark 3 wraps up Jesus’ early Galilean ministry and moves to His middle ministry in Galilee.

Overview

In Mark 3, we have another Sabbath offense to the Pharisees (3:1-6), crowds following Jesus and evil spirits confessing Him (3:7-12), the naming and sending of the Twelve apostles (3:13-19), the claim that Jesus acted by the devil’s authority (3:20-30), and the emphasis on spiritual relationships (3:31-34). The comments that follow below relate to each of those five sections.

Comments

In the first section, note how already there is division over Jesus, Who He is and what He does. His opponents always expect Him to answer their questions, but they refuse to answer His, and you can read of His reaction!

In the second section the people are coming from virtually all over Israel and the confession of Jesus as the Son of God goes strongly to one of the themes of Mark’s account (even if the demons were hardly the channel for that confession and if their confession was discouraged by Jesus).

In the third section, note how some of the disciples but not all are sent as authoritative representatives. (A reality that speaks to us today, too.) The “apostling” comes in a rich Old Testament context of the shalach, and Jesus was “apostled” by the Father and in turn “apostles” others. (For more on that Old Testament concept see here.) Note also how the evangelist (the writer of the Gospel account) reminds us of Jesus’ betrayal and death even in this otherwise “innocent” listing of the apostles.

An unidentified artist’s depiction of a bound manIn the fourth section, there is an anticipation of the “family’s” later intervention (v.21 setting the stage for vv.31-35, and perhaps indicating that Jesus’s rebuke of the teachers of the law also applies to his extended family). The scribes attribute Jesus’ work to the devil, which Jesus then equates to the so-called unforgivable sin. Pastor Sullivan one time put it well when he said that if you are worried about committing this sin you probably do not need to worry about it. Put another way, any and all sins damn, but the only “sin” that really damns is failing to answer the Spirit’s call to repent. The illustration Jesus uses of entering the strong man’s house is usually associated with Jesus’ descent to hell: He is the stronger man who enters the strong man’s house. (See my professor’s and my translation of Luther’s sermon on the descent—page 5 and following of this PDF.) In fact, we are only strong, when we are “weak”, because of Jesus, Who is the Man stronger than the strong devil. Jesus binds the devil and in a sense “robs” him of us! An unidentified contemporary artist depicts a bound man, in the image that accompanies this post; he's not particularly satanic, although he can also depict us bound in sin (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it). (There is some additional discussion about the image here.) Jesus’ defeat of and power over the devil are definitely key points to remember from the reading of Mark 3 today. Notice those points not only in the parable of verse 27 but in all the surrounding context. Jesus can command the demons to come out of people because He is stronger than their master. (Realize also that the demons’ confession of Jesus as in v.11 does not do them any good, such as saving them by faith.)

Finally, the so-called “brothers of Jesus” are often understood to be step-brothers (earlier sons of Joseph by a previous wife) or cousins—not necessarily as sons of Mary and Joseph. Regardless of the precise relationship these thought-to-be-relatives of Jesus had, Jesus emphasizes the spiritual relationship shared by those who keep to God’s will and answer the call to repent and believe. Our spiritual relationships begin at the Baptismal font where we become Children of God and thus brothers and sisters, and we can also find our “blood” ties in the Sacrament of the Altar where we share the Blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 3 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer to verses from Mark 3.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

January 01, 2008

Lk 1:68-79 / Mk 2

Happy new secular year and month! With the new month comes a new seasonal canticle, although we continue to read the Gospel account we began last month.

Luke 1:68-79

The seasonal canticle for January is Luke 1:68-79, another one of the four great canticles from the Gospel account of St. Luke, known as The Benedictus for its first word in Latin that we translate as “Blessed be”.

Overview

The Benedictus is Zacharias’s Divinely-inspired first words after a long silence at the birth of his son, John the Baptizer. Note especially how this liturgical song, often used at Matins, emphasizes the themes of God coming to His people to redeem them and the relationship between salvation and forgiveness.

Comments

Regarding verse 68, many translations keep with “Blessed be” (KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV; the NKJV translates “blessed is”), although others do not (the NIV translates the same Hebrew “Praise be to”, the NEB renders “praise to”, and Beck’s AAT puts it as a command, “Praise”). I suppose that either “blessed” or “praised” is correct if properly understood. Usually we think of people blessing other people in the form of a prayer to God or of a representative of God declaring God’s blessing on people. But, there is also this blessing or praise of God by people, a giving God the glory that flows from faith and gratitude, that also usually takes the form of a prayer. The Divinely-inspired author of Hebrews 7:7 tells us that the greater blesses the less, so in that sense our “blessing” God seems odd. The verbal forms can be used to refer to things that are set apart as holy, and God certainly is that! In the New Testament, the Greek adjective Zachariah uses is used only of God. Perhaps we can still translate “blessed” if we think along the lines of what Dr. Luther teaches us regarding the Lord’s Prayer and mean that, while God is praised in Himself, we pray that He may be praised among us.

This prophecy and praise by John the Baptizer’s father Zechariah recognizes John as the forerunner to the Redeemer, the Horn of Salvation (v.69; for more on the “horn” imagery see the entry for Psalm 18). Zechariah’s prophecy is in keeping with all prophecy that has gone before. Be sure to notice that in verses 76-79, Zechariah is directly addressing John.

Note well that the purpose of the rescue and deliverance is for those redeemed to “serve” the Lord (v.74, KJV and others), but the meaning behind the Greek word latreuo there is "worship", and, of course, when we come to worship God He serves us with the forgiveness of sins, which Divine service thereby brings about our praise and thanksgiving. In my head I always hear verses 68-79 as they are sung in the Gospel Canticle of Lutheran Worship’s order of Morning Prayer (pages 239-242), which we sang quite regularly in the daily chapel services at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. If you look at that text and tune, you will notice that verse 74 is paraphrased “to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life,” and, if you can pick out the tune, you may notice how the melody especially brings beauty to the text.

Q&A

The following verses and topic are addressed in answer to a reader’s question; this link is repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Aside from being an option for the canticle in Matins, we at Grace do not use Luke 1:68-79 for a Gospel reading on Sundays or festivals, as the historic 1-year lectionary we use does not appoint them for any.

Hymn References

Three hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Luke 1:68-79 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 1:78 -- #359 (the connection apparently is the Dayspring)
  • 1:78, 79 -- #88 (a Christmas hymn with an otherwise familiar tune that also makes good use of the light imagery as the spread of the Gospel)
  • 1:79 -- #512 (a “missions” hymn that similarly makes use of the light imagery)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Mark 2

Today we hear more from St. Mark’s telling of the Gospel of Jesus, the Man of Action.

Overview

In Mark 2 we continue to hear of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee in four different sections: the healing of a paralytic (2:1-12), the calling of Levi (also known as Matthew, 2:13-17), the questioning about fasting (2:18-22), and the saying about Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28). In a very real sense, however, all of today’s reading of Mark 2 is all about authority.

Comments

An unidentified artist’s image of Jesus forgiving and healing a paralyzed manFirst is the healing of the paralytic and the authority to forgive sins. We might note the faith of the four men determined to bring the paralytic to Jesus in the house (which may have belonged to Peter). We definitely should note the connection between the healing and the forgiveness of sins: healing is a sign that Jesus is God and has the authority to forgive sins. Now, often when someone talks about authority (or “power”, as the Greek word is sometimes translated), the discussion is negative and resentful, as if someone is on an ego or power trip. That’s certainly not the case with Jesus—His authority is for our benefit, and we should welcome it. He can forgive sins, as demonstrated in the healing of the paralyzed man as pictured in some what is apparently an unknown artist’s turn-of-the-20th-century Sunday School material (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it), and He authorizes others to do so on His behalf, notably through Word and Sacrament (note the meal, the wine, and the grain). The authority to forgive sins is given by Jesus to the apostles and to their successors, that is, pastors today (for example, Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23).

Second, in the calling of Levi, we realize how Jesus’s mission is to call sinners to repentance and ultimately to provide them with forgiveness, and His meals with sinners during His earthly ministry point us all to His table fellowship in the Sacrament of the Altar, where we sinners are given the forgiveness He won for us.

Third, in the question about fasting, we are reminded of the Small Catechism’s statement that fasting is fine outward preparation for the Sacrament, but fasting can never be imposed on someone the way the Pharisees imposed it in Jesus’s day. Those who welcome Him and His Kingdom will leave the old works-righteous ideas behind.

Finally, picking grain while walking through a field on the holy day was not forbidden by God, but the Jewish tradition had forbidden it. Jesus, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, is Lord of the Sabbath, and His Word and the needs of His people supersede the legalistic Jewish tradition that obscured the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith. We can certainly understand why the New Testament Church under the Holy Spirit’s direction freely changed the day of the chief weekly worship from Saturday to Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answer to readers’ questions; these links are repeated with other verses to which the answers refer.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Mark 2 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer to verses from Mark 2.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM