His call was simple: "Come, follow me." And with that, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John, left behind everything and followed Jesus. (Mark 1:16-20) Why? If you try to find an answer in the heart and character of these men, you’ll search in vain. How often did Peter speak and act impulsively? How often did James and John show that they earned the unflattering nicknames "sons of thunder"? How often was Andrew, with the others, rebuked for having little faith? Don’t focus your attention on these men and what they left behind to follow Jesus. Focus your attention on the One who called them. Focus on Jesus’ gracious initiative to call seriously flawed sinners like them, sinners like you and me. He calls you with the same compelling message: "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15)
CONSIDER HIM WHO CALLS YOU – the One who left everything behind for you. He is the One who left the realms of heaven to enter the slums of this world for you. He is the One who worked every waking moment to perfectly obey His Father’s will, not because it was convenient or comfortable, but because of His passionate love to save you. He is the One who willfully went to the cross to suffer divine wrath, not because He enjoyed pain and suffering, but because of His selfless love to die for your sin in your place. He is the One who took your shame and guilt upon Himself so you would be forgiven and saved. THIS is the One who calls you! The good news of who Jesus is and what He came to do is the reason why the disciples didn’t let time or livelihood or family or even safety be an excuse not to follow Him. This same good news unburdens you from sin, rescues you from guilt, and changes your life. This same good news makes you a follower of Jesus. Let us share this good news and the call of Jesus with others.
Picture this scene: Jesus enters the cool waters of the Jordan River, and as He is baptized, the heavens open, the Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and the Father declares, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Then, WITHOUT DELAY, Jesus is sent into the heat of the desert to spend forty days "being tempted by Satan." (Mark 1:9-13) Why this sudden change? There was no time to linger at the Jordan, no time to bask in that glory, because the Father’s voice was a summons for Jesus to fulfill His mission, His mission to save you. And so He faces the Tempter at once – the one who countless times has deceived us, the one we have repeatedly followed enflamed with our sinful desires, the one who has led us in the ways of defying God more times than we can bear to think about. The outcome for Jesus? He was "tempted in every way just as we are – yet was without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)
Much more than to set an example of how to fight temptation, Jesus was fighting FOR YOU, in your place, overcoming temptation FOR YOU for all the times you have been overcome, obeying FOR YOU for all the times you have disobeyed. JESUS WAS PERFECTLY OBEDIENT IN YOUR PLACE. The result for you? "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (II Corinthians 5:21) Jesus’ obedient life for you led to His obedient death for you. Everything you need for salvation – the forgiveness of all your sins and "rightness" with God – is yours through faith in Him. So for all the times you may doubt that God really loves you, for all the times you may question if God could really forgive you, for all the times you struggle with guilt, remember that Jesus prevailed in your place. He who was tempted for you and overcame also overcame death and now lives and reigns for you. You need not doubt that Jesus has saved you! May this fill you with real hope and comfort and joy and strength, now and always.
What fears do you face in 2018? What challenges or even enemies must you deal with? Whatever fears and foes you may face, you can have great confidence in the Lord – bold, even defiant confidence. King David, who had no shortage of enemies, wrote, "The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1) David faced foes such as besieging armies and a betraying son, but his greatest enemies were the same as yours and mine: a sinful nature bent on disobedience, the condemning power of sin, the devil with his lies and manipulation, and the inescapable specter of death. With the Lord as your light, your salvation, and your stronghold, you have a victorious answer for all these enemies. Greater than your rebellious nature is God’s declaration, "Baptized child of God." Regarding your sin God says, "Forgiven." Over the devil God declares, "Defeated." And about death He says, "Conquered." You see the reality of these powerful truths in Jesus Christ, who came and conquered these enemies for you. So, "Whom shall I fear?" No one!
Would you like to have this kind of confidence? And how can you make sure it lasts as the enemies’ attacks persist in the new year? David continues, "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple." (Psalm 27:4) Of all the things David could have asked for, his "one thing" was to seek God’s presence and behold His beauty at church. What is your "one thing" for 2018, the most important thing that will make all the difference in your life? I hope you see the gift that coming to church is! What superior passion and purpose could you have in 2018 than to gather together with God’s people and gaze upon His beauty? What greater confidence could you receive than to hear and be renewed in the good news of the forgiveness of all your sins? What better place could there be to find the solution for every fear? So come, not for a passing glance, but to "gaze" upon your Savior, and FACE THE NEW YEAR WITH CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD.
Some very big gifts come in small packages. And I don’t just mean big in size (like the keys to a new car tucked away in an envelope), but in significance. A card can contain the gift of a check that makes all the difference for someone in a time of need. A little box can contain a ring that forever changes the life of two people. A present may be as small and dull-looking as an envelope, but you learn the true value and significance of it when you look beyond the wrapping. Nowhere in human history is this more dramatically true than in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. Famed author C. S. Lewis put it into perspective this way: 'ONCE IN OUR WORLD, A STABLE HAD SOMETHING IN IT THAT WAS BIGGER THAN OUR WHOLE WORLD.' That 'Something' is the Someone named Jesus, called "Immanuel," which means "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)
You appreciate the value and significance of this gift not just when you take a good look at the One in the stable, but also when you take a good look at the one in the mirror. Do an honest evaluation of your life this past year – even your past week or day will do! – and ask yourself how well you have loved God and how well you have loved your fellow man. Any one sin (but oh, we have many!) would be reason for the holy God to draw back from us forever. But every single sin was the very reason that God drew near to be with us: to be our sinless substitute in life and our sin-bearing substitute in death and our sin-conquering substitute in His resurrection so that we can stand before Him forgiven fully. No one and nothing in our world could do that, so the One greater than our world came to do that. And the immeasurable miracle of Christmas is not just that He COULD do that, but that He WOULD do that! Such is His love for you! I pray that this gift of "God with us" makes all the difference for you and forever changes your life.
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel,
telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him
receives forgiveness of sins through His name.
'Solve for X.' Does that instantly take you back to algebra class? (A joy for some, nightmares for others!) When used in an equation, "X" stands for something unknown. What is "X," what does it stand for, what does it mean? If "X" remains unknown, the equation isn’t really an equation; we don’t know how both sides balance out, and it doesn’t make sense. That’s why we call them math "problems," right? The problem is solved and the equation makes sense only when the value of "X" is discovered.
Weightier than any math problem is the problem we face deep within: our sin ("X") = the peace of forgiveness. If we don’t 'solve for X,' we will never know what brings us peace with God! On one side of the equation is our reality, the sin we deal with; our guilt testifies that we have earned God’s judgment. On the other side of the equation is what we need and what we ultimately long for; no worldly comforts or distractions or pleasures or intellectual denials can cover over our nagging need for peace with God. What is "X," what balances the equation, what solves life’s greatest problem?
For many people, 'the most wonderful time of the year' is the most stressful time of year. And apart from any seasonal stress, life can be stressful enough. But there is relief and refuge from stress in the Lord. I don’t mean that in a vague or generic way, but in very specific ways as you look at how He reveals Himself: "Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth." (Revelation 1:4,5)
Change can be stressful, and we face it often. But Him "who is, and who was, and who is to come" is constant and consistent. His love and care and promises are as unchanging as He is. It can be stressful to face life’s challenges, but God comes to us with "the seven spirits" – the gifts of the Holy Spirit to equip us are many. In a world of spin and deception, it can be stressful not knowing whom we can really trust. But "the faithful witness" gave His life for the sake of the truth that we might KNOW that He is our Savior. It is stressful to face death, whether yours or that of a loved one, but the One who gave His life is also "the firstborn from the dead" who rose to assure us of eternal life in His name. We can be stressed by those in authority in the world and in our lives, but who’s really in charge? Jesus is "the ruler of the kings of the earth." None of these stresses compare to the stressful burden of sin. For all our selfishness we can’t escape, for all our evils we can’t undo, for all that anguish that weighs on us, we look "to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood." (Revelation 1:5) …Look again at all that He is, all that He has revealed about Himself just in those few verses. Do you see? GOD IS GREATER THAN ANY STRESS IN YOUR LIFE. "Grace and peace to you FROM HIM." Get to know Him; grow in your relationship with Him. The more you do, the more you will find the strength and comfort to handle any stress.
Weddings are joyful events. But they usually come with a great deal of stressful planning for the bride and at a great expense to the bride’s family. One of the ways God pictures heaven is as a wedding celebration, one in which YOU are invited to come and be His bride. "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!" (Revelation 19:9)
Stressful planning? No! God has already taken care of every bit of it. His plan of salvation was in place before the beginning of time, and He has worked it out to the smallest detail. You see that in the promise of the Savior preserved from the Garden of Eden to the manager at Bethlehem to the empty tomb outside of Jerusalem. You see that plan of salvation worked out as He continues to call you to His side even now through His Word, through this very message. He doesn’t invite you to be His bride because you’ve caught His eye with good looks or good deeds or anything to win His love. No, but in love, your heavenly Bridegroom gave His life to pay the full cost for your sins which otherwise would have separated you from Him forever. Yes, the expense of this wedding celebration is great, but as with the planning, He has already taken care of every bit of it. So come! YOU ARE INVITED TO THE WEDDING SUPPER OF THE LAMB!
Have you ever been so overwhelmed or confused by a challenge or a hardship that you had no idea what to pray or how to pray? Whenever or for whatever reason you might find it difficult to pray, God wants you to know that YOU HAVE HELP IN PRAYER: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." (Romans 8:26) We struggle with prayer because we are weak, and our weaknesses are many. We often don’t understand why God does what He does. Our desires don’t naturally line up with His will. At times we are impatient or lack hope or struggle to take God at His word. Behind it all is sin, and that really is our biggest barrier to prayer. How can sinners approach God and ask anything of Him?
Before you ever uttered your first words of prayer, the Holy Spirit opened your eyes to see and believe that Jesus is your Savior from sin, that He has removed everything that would separate you from God or get in the way of a relationship with Him. And now, just as you can be confident that Christ died for your sins and rose from the dead for your salvation, you can be confident that the Holy Spirit is right there with every prayer you pray. In legal matters, a lawyer may intercede for you, but in prayer matters – in the most important matters in life – it is the Holy Spirit who speaks on your behalf! In His own divine way beyond your words, the Spirit knows your heart and expresses your deepest needs in line with God’s will. His work is described as "interceding for the saints." (Romans 8:27) "The saints"? That’s how God sees all who trust in Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death for their salvation. When you come to the Father in prayer through faith in His Son, you are holy to God; you are His saints, and the Spirit attends to your every prayer. So pray with confidence. You have divine help in prayer!
What will make you truly content in life? Fill in the blank for yourself: 'If ________ , then I will be content.' To hold up these 'ifs' as the key to contentment is to live with false hope. The sinful human heart is never satisfied; today’s 'ifs,' even if fulfilled, are replaced by new 'ifs' tomorrow. And to live life under such 'ifs' is to live at the mercy of your circumstances. Life is a constant flow of change; what would make you content tomorrow can quickly be overshadowed by difficulty the next day. God wants you to understand that true contentment is unrelated to circumstances. Paul, imprisoned for his faith, learned this "secret of being content, whatever the circumstances." What is that secret? "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13) This Bible verse is often misused, but keep the context. Paul isn’t saying that there are no limitations to what you can do in life. He’s saying that nothing in life can limit your contentment when it is rooted not in your circumstances, but in your Savior. YOUR SAVIOR IS GREATER THAN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES!
But what do we give more attention to – our circumstances, or our Savior? If it’s our circumstances, we’ll never find contentment. And here’s the great evil of our discontent: We so easily and arrogantly live the lie that God owes us better, that we’ve earned or deserve better circumstances than what we’re experiencing. The reality is that we will only be content if we understand and admit what God really owes us. We have sinned against God – often in this very matter of blaming Him for our circumstances – and we deserve nothing but His wrath and eternal punishment. But because of God’s great mercy, Jesus took our place and was punished for our sins, and we are made right with God. Now, instead of living AT the mercy of our circumstances, we get to live IN the mercy of our Savior, forgiven of our sins and bound for heaven. Greater than any circumstance in life is to know where you stand with God in life and in death and in eternity. All this is yours through faith in Jesus; He gives you strength for all life’s circumstances.
What is it like to seek someone’s approval only to feel like you can never measure up to that person’s standards, like nothing you do is ever good enough? You may have experienced that in a relationship with a parent or a spouse or a boss or a teacher. It is beyond frustrating and can lead to anger and despair. This is what Martin Luther experienced in his relationship with God. The harder he tried to please God, the more he realized he could not meet the unrelenting demands of God’s Law for continual obedience and purity of heart. Luther’s problem is our problem. How do we satisfy God? How do we gain His approval? We come to the same answer Luther did: If it’s up to us, we don’t; we can’t gain His approval by our efforts.
But everything changed for Luther when God opened his eyes to this truth: "In the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last." (Romans 1:17) Righteousness is 'right-ness' with God. Put another way, to have righteousness is to have God’s approval. Previously, Luther had only known the righteousness OF God, His standard of holiness that none of us can measure up to. But do you see what Luther saw? The gospel is the good news of righteousness FROM God. The approval you desperately need and long for comes FROM GOD, TO YOU, through faith in Jesus. He lived a life that fully met God’s approval and gave up His life as the righteous sacrifice to fully satisfy God’s wrath against sinners. His resurrection proves that His sacrifice was fully accepted and that we are fully approved through faith in Him. YOU HAVE GOD’S APPROVAL THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS! The gospel changed Luther’s life; I pray that it changes your life today as well. I leave you with Luther’s reflection on how precious this approval from God is: "If you want to be comforted when your conscience plagues you or when you are in dire distress, then you must do nothing but grasp Christ in faith and say, 'I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who suffered, was crucified, and died for me. In His wounds and death, I see my sin. In His resurrection, I see the victory over sin, death, and the devil. I see righteousness and eternal life as well. I want to see and hear nothing except Christ.' "
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.