Jesus Washes the Feet of His Disciples

Why do so many people consider a pedicure to be necessary?

John 13:1-17     It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

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Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples by Jacopo Tintoretto (1547)

This painting is from the wall of the 12th century church, San Marcuola in Venice. In the painting we also see the celebration of the Last Supper. The scene to the right of Jesus washing the feet of Peter and another disciple illustrates the example of humility and service to others. This work was acquired by King Charles I of England and later purchased by Luis de Haro, who gave it to King Felipe IV, who had it hung in the sacristy at El Escorial, where it remained until it entered the Prado Museum in 1936.

The fascinating part of this paining is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is washing the feet of his followers. What may be of even greater interest is that the other disciples in the background are also getting ready to have their feet washed. Their motivation had to be Jesus’ statement in verse 8 to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” For Tintoretto and us, we know Jesus is not just washing feet but cleansing us of all our sins and imperfections of character. Jesus is also pictured as an ordinary person or as one who is also equal to us. A clear reference to Renaissance humanism or more specifically to the teaching of Martin Luther that Jesus Christ is both God and man.

Martin Luther preached in his Maundy Thursday sermon the importance of every Christian washing the feet of others!

“Again, we must understand by the term “feet-washing” a disposition which not only willingly serves others in a humble spirit, but which is also ready to forgive the failings of the brethren, as St. Paul says: “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”

We are often inclined to think: If only our neighbor had not this or that failing, we would gladly associate with him; but his many faults seem to us insufferable and repulsive. Let us bear in mind, whenever we observe such shortcomings in our husband, wife, child, servants, neighbors and others, that we have an excellent occasion for feet-washing. Let us do it then; that is, let us bear with mildness such infirmities, and seek to relieve others of them, always aware that this world is really a filthy cesspool, which we cannot pass without soiling our feet. This happens to me and to you, and to everyone. Should we therefore run away into deserts and solitudes, and associate with no one, as formerly the monks did? No, it is a Christian duty to wash the feet of others, we must stay where they are. We must be among the people who wade through unclean, filthy places. We must unbend our proud reserve, and though our feet should be clean and pretty, it behooves us to carry water, rags, soap and brush to cleanse and wash the feet of those who need such ablution.

To do this we must obey the word of the Apostle and “bear one another’s burdens”; we must right willingly assist the weak and needy, exercise patience and compassion, give them our hand for a support, and instruct and guide them to a purer and better life. If we are prudent, wise and learned, we ought therefore not to despise the simple and silly, but should so much the more exercise our skill to help them and to improve their condition. If we are pious, chaste and temperate let us not judge others harshly who have not such virtues, but let us strive to turn them from their evil way and lead them to do what is right. If we have not the faults which we notice in our brother, let us thank God that it is so; but at the same time we must not forget that we may have other failings which need patience and assistance from others. On the other hand, our neighbors have gifts with which they can help us in our infirmities; and even if they should be unable to help us even in the least, they are still our neighbors, whom we should treat with Christian love, as God has commanded us. Let harmony and friendship prevail among us as much as possible, and to this end let us exercise the spirit of humility.

What a pleasant, quiet, Christian life we could lead, if we would only be ready ever to wash each other’s feet! The one would assist and defend the other; we would all exercise patience and mildness and have no other aim but to make each other happy. Then might we be comforted by the assurance that we had, to some extent at least, complied with the command of Christ, and might appropriate the word of our Lord: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” But if we are derelict in the performance of our duty in this regard, we will feel a piercing sting in our hearts and be unhappy people, devoid of grace and joy.

From this we learn what this feet-washing means; it teaches a humble, friendly and Christ-like spirit, which Christians should, under all circumstances, manifest in their intercourse with each other. The Lord desires to direct our thoughts to the necessity of humility and condescension ; therefore He performed this ceremony of feet-washing shortly before His death. No matter what our ability may be, we dare not boast on account of our great endowments, but must reason thus: By giving us greater gifts than others, God meant that we should employ them in the service of others, and that we should cultivate so much the more a spirit of lowliness, and thrust the devil aside with his promptings to pride and arrogance.

The Lord, however, wishes to teach us, just here, another and more important lesson in regard to His person. When Peter refuses to be washed, Jesus answers him: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” In these words Christ refers not to the external washing of the feet, but to the washing from sin by His blood shed upon the cross, which washing still is efficacious among the believers in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Such washing is no example; for we can cleanse neither ourselves nor others from sin. The Son of God, the Lamb of God, who bore the sins of the world, can do it, and He alone. They who are washed of Christ confess that God in mercy, through His Son, pardoned and forgave their sins, and therefore they are ready to forgive the wrong which others may have done unto them, as Christ teaches in Matthew 18 and as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

It is therefore evident that we should practice this feet-washing during our whole life. Amen.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Jesus Enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

Jesus Enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

What question would you ask Jesus if you saw Him?

Matthew 21: 1-11   As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”   11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Giotto Entry into Jerusalem

The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto di Bondone (1305)

The Entry into Jerusalem is told in detail in all four gospels indicating its importance for Jesus and our salvation. Although this may not be the most descriptive painting of Palm Sunday, it reminds me of the importance of continuity over time as this fresco was painted over 700 years ago! The historical evidence of Holy Week is in the documented love and grace of Jesus Christ!

Jesus is the center and His face is filled with peace and reflection as the crowds to the left rip off branches and take off their outer garments. This moment is not about Jesus but it is all about the people – the apostles on the left who believed Jesus as their Savior and those on the right who are looking for a savior. The artist is aware of the violent death Jesus will face in a few days. We see the reaction of Martin Luther below in his commentary on Palm Sunday as the people asked: “Who is this?”

Martin Luther’s perspective is one that is likely to appear shocking to us in the 21st century because they should have known who Jesus is! “Therefore, it is truly a disgraceful question when they ask who He is in Matthew 21:10, as if they did not know Him and as if the temple, the city, and everything belonged to them. He answers them with a question, however, and sets before them John the Baptist. He asks them where John’s Baptism is from. The common people and children give them a fine answer and say: ‘Have you not heard of John’s testimony? This is Jesus, the prophet from Galilee’ in Matthew 21:11.

They have to fall silent. They cannot allow themselves to answer Christ’s question by saying that John the Baptist’s Baptism is from men, for the people regarded him as a prophet (v. 26) And as they say here: “The prophet comes from Galilee.” (verse 11). The people say, ‘He is Jesus, the prophet.’ And the very word ‘prophet’ is for them like a clap of thunder. This was not to be trifled with, for the people believed that a prophet held the highest authority in spiritual matters. Whatever he might order of command must be done….

For the Lord did not ride in to stir up a revolt or to usurp the government , but He did want to clean out and reform the temple. (Matthew 21: 12-17) And for that reason He attacks only those who are in the spiritual government, to which He was called, and enters the temple as the true Messiah and Lord.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Joseph Resists the Advances of Potiphar’s Wife

Joseph Resists the Advances of Potiphar’s Wife

Why did God allow Joseph to go to prison after resisting adultery?

Genesis 39:7-23 Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

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Joseph likely came to Egypt around the time of the Hyksos invasion around 1900-1850 B.C.E. or 400 years before the Exodus. He was purchased by Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. He was recognized for his ability and promoted to manager of the household.

Although Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him on several occasions, Joseph resisted her temptations. Rembrandt captures this moment of moral strength by raising his left hand to shield himself from her and attempts to leave the room. During a physical struggle, Potiphar’s wife grabs Joseph’s robe and accuses him of rape. Unfortunately for Joseph, his robe was sufficient evidence to convict him or rape and he is sent to prison.

Luther respected Joseph’s resistance to the temptations of seduction and encouraged chaste living in his sermons and lectures. Although he was sent to prison, his trust and faith in God became stronger instead of weaker. Luther understands this as an example of trust.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Israel’s Demand for a Political King

Why did the people of Israel demand a political king?

1 Samuel 8:4-22: So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.

18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

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King Saul and David by Rembrandt (1655-1660)

In this painting by Rembrandt David has returned to Jerusalem after defeating the Philistines. The superstitious King Saul considered David a threat to his position as an unpopular ruler and desired for young David, now a popular hero, to die in battle. The spear in his hand could be used against David in a moment of uncontrolled anger. At the same time, he is moved to tears by David’s harp playing and Rembrandt illustrates this with Saul drying his eyes with a curtain. Leaders are human – sinful, incompetent, arrogant, and in need of God’s help and the grace of Jesus Christ!

Luther: Israel will have three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon before it is divided into two separate political states or northern and southern Israel. For Luther, this story revealed that God is truly the master and in control of every situation. He based this on the Scripture verses that stated Saul was chosen and anointed while looking for a beast of burden (1 Samuel 9-10) and when he lost half of his army in a battle with the Philistines. Luther understood the need for rulers to be repentant, humble, and trusting in God. In his time Luther warned rulers against being too clever especially when they lacked experience in warfare by citing the story from Cicero of Phormio, a Roman philosopher, who lectured Hannibal on how to conduct a war.

Luther writes in his commentary on 2 Samuel 23 of the special joy that King David had when he knew that one of his descendants would sit at the right hand of God!

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.

The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of  morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’

“If my house were not right with God, surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part; surely he would not bring to fuition my salvation and grant me my every desire.

But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand. Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Creation of the World

The Creation of the World

How did God create our world: life, planet, universe, and beyond?

Genesis 2: 4-8: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

Genesis 2:19-25:  19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Isaiah 40:25,26: 25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Creation-Michelangelo

The Creation by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

God is depicted as an elderly, yet muscular, man with grey hair and a long beard. This is dramatically different from previous images of God wearing royal garments. Instead of showing God as an all-powerful ruler, Michelangelo shows God in a light tunic in a personal and intimate person.

Adam is depicted as a lounging figure who rather lackadaisically responds to God’s imminent touch.  This touch will not only give life to Adam, but will give life to all mankind.  It is, therefore, the birth of the human race.

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The Creation of Eve by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

In the panel on the Creation of Eve, God is actively interacting with Eve and depicted as a man of wisdom while Adam continues in a deep sleep and unaware of the miracle taking place or the temptation to sin (a death sentence) that he will experience.  God’s wisdom includes the birth of His Son through another miracle in Mary – a Son who will give us the miracle of grace and the promise of salvation.

The painting is in the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is interesting to see how God is larger than the painting as His head does not appear to fit within the frame. For Michelangelo, there is no doubt that God created the earth and the universe.

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http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2014/12/creationism_poll_how_many_americans_believe_the_bible_is_literal_inerrant.html

Luther: In Luther’s lectures on the biblical creation account in Genesis 1:1- 2:4, it was not so much the concept of “creation out of nothing,” but the idea of ultimate creation, preservation, and governance by God’s spoken word that formed the main emphasis. Luther gives us his picture of God’s personal nature and caring character in his lectures.

Luther came to understand a personal God through the spoken word of God in the words, “God said.” This is why Luther understood the spoken Word of God to us in the Bible and through sermons and songs shows the creative activity of how God’s Word works in our lives. hat the various creation acts are preceded by the phrase “God said” was a circumstance that Luther regarded as a reference to the creative activity of the Word.

According to Luther, the action verbs—said, made, and saw—were intentionally chosen to assist the reader in understanding more clearly the doctrine of the Trinity. Luther distinguished between an unspoken and a spoken word in God. The unspoken Word was one with God and the spoken Word created all things. God created all things through the uncreated Word by speaking.

Luther sensed that the statement “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:27) was intended to explain the divine mystery that “from eternity there is one God and that there are three separate Persons in one Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”9   In this perspective, Luther viewed everything in the account as a revelation of God’s love and grace. The creation of the heavenly bodies, the physical conditions of the Earth, and the plant life reveal God’s character as He prepared “a home and an inn” for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and furnished it with every joyful thing for them to enjoy.

In this way God had already taken care of human needs even before He created humans, suggesting that divine providence is far greater than our “anxiety.” The heavenly bodies—Sun, Moon, and stars—were intended for the counting of time in days, months, seasons, and years. Luther emphasized that God repeatedly expressed His satisfaction and delight with the results of His creation. It was perfect!

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Wise Men Visit Jesus

The Visit of the Kings

Is God visible or invisible in our lives and world?

Matthew 2:1-12: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler     who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Opnamedatum: 2010-02-18

Adoration of the Kings, by Hendrik ter Brugghen (1619)

The richly garbed kings are full of reverence as they offer their gifts with the young toddler, Jesus, grasping at the gifts as all babies do. Brugghen suggests the wise men or kings knew the importance of the birth of Jesus. Jesus will be the savior of all nations and people!

Martin Luther: In his 1522 sermon for Epiphany, Luther used the example of the Magi to emphasize that the priests and educated of Israel knew the Scriptures but failed to understand and assimilate them. Instead they allowed a foreign king, Herod, to cultivate their fear and dismiss this as fake news. Luther ponders that even if they believed God’s Word on the prophecy of a savior as truth, they frustrated it.

Instead, the Magi were prepared to leave their homes and possessions and search for the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They studied the Scriptures and recognized the star. When they arrived in Jerusalem they did not ask for Annas or Caiaphas, priests, or an address. They asked where they would find the King of the Jews! Luther concluded that God works in opposites, He appears in unlikely places, with ordinary people, and hidden from what we might expect. (Robert Kolb. Luther and the Stories of God, p. 129)

“From this we can easily conclude why Christ had to die and rise again in order to rule spiritually to all eternity. For though the passage here proves that He had to become a true natural man, it yet follows that He had to change this bodily life into a spiritual invisible life, as it was impossible for Him to rule bodily as widely and as long as the prophet indicates.

Micah continues and says: “Therefore will he give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the residue of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.”

From these words it is clear that Christ’s kingdom should be extended to the ends of the earth by preaching and suffering, of which the prophet says that in the majesty of the name of Jehovah He would preach and feed his flock, showing also that He would be persecuted on account of his preaching. Therefore the prophet also says that they should be given a respite as to their temporal existence and government until a new people had been born. The woman in travail represents the little flock of the apostles which during the sufferings of Christ was in the agony of the birth of a new spiritual people for this ruler of Israel, as Christ Himself foretells, John 16:2. “Then Herod privately called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship Him.”

From this text we learn that the wise men were not kings nor princes, but common, honest people, like the learned and the clergy. Herod does not treat them as belonging to royalty, but sends them to Bethlehem, tells them to attend to their mission, and, as if they were his subjects, commands them to bring him word again. He would not have done this if they had been kings or lords; he would have invited them to his palace, accompanied them on their journey, and treated them with great honor. For all historians agree that Herod was a pompous man, who knew how to treat people royally after the way of the world, and wished to be admired by the people.

As, however, he calls the men privately and without display and parade they must have been of much lower rank than he was.

But why does he call them privately, since the land was his and in his full control? He did it for this reason. He knew quite well that the Jews were his sworn enemies and wished to be rid of him. He was afraid, therefore, that if he called the men publicly and the Jews became aware of it, they would go to the wise men and enjoin them not to acquaint Herod with the true state of affairs, so that the new king may live before his eyes.

When he asks them about the time of the star he does it out of the same anxiety. He was already resolved in his heart to slay the innocent children.

He reasoned thus: If the new king is born the Jews will rejoice, and will secrete him for a while until he is grown up, and then will espouse his cause, put him on the throne and banish me. I must forestall them, therefore, and carefully inquire into the time of His birth; and although He is hidden from me I shall still find Him amongst the people when I slay all the children, and their disguise will avail them nothing. He pursues this plan diligently so that the new king might be made known to him, commands the wise men to bring him word again, and puts on a pious and devout face as if he wished to worship the child also.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Massacre of Innocents PP Rubens 1609-11Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1609-1611)

Hymn Parade – Away in a Manger

Hymn Parade – Away in a Manger (1882)

How do you see the face of Jesus – as a baby, man, friend, Savior?

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

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes; I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky, and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

 Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVSoAM7YrxE

Although many have credited Martin Luther with “Away in a Manager” as his “Cradle Song” it is unlikely that he actually wrote this song since there is no known copy written in German. However, the carol came to America through Lutheran immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. It was first published in March 1882 in The Christian Cynosure under the heading of “Luther’s Cradle Song” and identified as the song Martin Luther sang to his children. The musical setting is also debated between the most common one composed by William J. Kirkpatrick in 1895 and the one by James Ramsey Murray in 1887.

Christmas became America’s third national holiday (after Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day) in 1870. After the Civil War, Americans looked for a holiday that would unite everyone and the symbols of decorated Christmas trees, wrapped gifts, Santa Claus, cards, carols, nativity pageants, and the theme of the gift of salvation emerged in American culture. There was a strong religious expression in this holiday which united the people in America’s growing cities and rural communities. Away in a Manger is considered to be an American song! The song became very popular in Sunday School and public school programs for Christmas.

Adoration of the Shepheds-1622The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)

The following excerpt is from Martin Luther’s Christmas Day sermon in 1522.

“But the birth itself is still more pitiful. There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at such times. Everything is in commotion in the inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, no one thinks of this poor woman. It is also possible that she did not expect the event so soon, else she would probably have remained at Nazareth.

Just imagine what kind of swaddling clothes they were in which she wrapped the child. Possibly her veil or some article of her clothing she could spare. But that she should have wrapped him in Joseph’s trousers, which are exhibited at Aix-la-Chapelle, appears entirely too false and frivolous. It is a fable, the like of which there are more in the world. Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?

Some argue as to how this birth took place, as if Jesus was born while Mary was praying and rejoicing, without any pain, and before she was conscious of it. While I do not altogether discard that pious supposition, it was evidently invented for the sake of simple minded people. But we must abide by the Gospel, that he was born of the virgin Mary. There is no deception here, for the Word clearly states that it was an actual birth.”

It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary’s experience was not different from that of other women, so that the birth of Christ was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth, which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin, without shame, without pain and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin. The curse of Eve did not come on her, where God said: “In pain thou shalt bring forth children,” Genesis 3:16; otherwise it was with her in every particular as with every woman who gives birth to a child.

Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves and promotes it. Likewise Mary, without doubt, also nourished the child with milk from her breast and not with strange milk, or in a manner different from that which nature provided, as we sing: ubere de coelopleno, from her breast being filled by heaven, without injury or impurity. I mention this that we may be grounded in the faith and know that Jesus was a natural man in every respect Just as we, the only difference being in His relation to sin and grace, He being without a sinful nature. In him and in His mother nature was pure in all the members and in all the operations of those members. No body or member of woman ever performed its natural function without sin, except that of this virgin; here for once God bestowed special honor upon nature and its operations. It is a great comfort to us that Jesus took upon Himself our nature and flesh. Therefore we are not to take away from Him or His mother any thing that is not in conflict with grace, for the text clearly says that she brought him forth, and the angels said, unto you he is born.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – O Come All ye Faithful

Hymn Parade – O Come all ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis) by John Francis Wade (1743)

How does this hymn emphasize the importance of this historic event in Bethlehem?

Video: https://vimeo.com/2506973

Luke 2:15-16:  15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem! Come, and behold Him, born the King of angels!

Refrain: O come, let us adore Him; O come, let us adore Him; O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation; sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above! Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning; Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

The context of this story begins 400 years before with the prophesy in Micah 5:2 that Jesus or Immanuel would be born in Bethlehem.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

For 400 years, God was silent or a 21st century person might think that ‘God was dead.’ But by living and dying in real time on earth, Jesus saved us from our sins. Fact Check: It is documented real news!

We are familiar with the story, but these words in Micah 5:2 give some context about how God prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem and told to us through His prophet Isaiah that His Son would be named Jesus, sometimes called Immanuel, “because by coming to dwell with us, living and dying among us, He would be able to save us from our sin.” That’s the Christmas story. Jesus came to live among us, not as royalty, but in poverty, “with no place for the Son of Man to lay His head.” 

 Adoration of the Shepheds-1622

The Adoration of the Shepherds (1622), by Gerard van Honthorst

The hymn was composed in Latin and is also named, Adeste Fideles. It was sung regularly at the Portugese Embassy in France during their Christmas services and this is how it came to England about 100 years later. In England Frederick Oakeley translated the hymn from Latin to English. It was published in the hymnal in the Anglican Church in 1852 (during the time of Queen Victoria) in the form we are familiar with today.

The words of the hymn place the singer among the shepherds and in the continuing procession of Christians from the historic event over 2,000 years before. The second stanza, which is not included in all hymnals, reflects the words of the Nicene Creed.

God of God, light of light, Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;

Very God, begotten, not created:

Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Matthew 2, “The revelation is itself divided into parts of its own, the first of which is the star; the second, the confession of the Wise Men; the third, the witness of the priests; and the fourth, godless Herod’s admitted fear. By all these things the birth of Christ is preached and revealed – that is, by a mute creature, the star; by foreigners, the Wise Men; by His own people; and by His enemy and persecutor – so that there may be no excuse for anyone not to know that Christ has been born.

 His personal identity is this: from the tribe of Judah, the city of Bethlehem, the true Son of David and true man from the Father in eternity; the true Son of God, true God, as is more fully evident in Micah 5:2. His office is this: the prince of the people of God, but a prince in a different way, not like David and other mortals and their successors. He is unique and He is immortal – without successor – because He is an eternal person, as Micah 5:2 says, ‘His coming forth is from the beginning before the days of the world.’”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – Joy to the World!

 Joy to the World by Isaac Watts (1719)

How is this a song about our future?

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHS7StIz1S8 (National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.)

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLLtnTXxErM (Chris Tomlin)

Psalm 98:4-9    Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness   and the peoples with equity.

This favorite Christmas hymn was not written for Christmas, is not based on the birth of Jesus as written in Luke 2, and the familiar tune is pieced together from various sources! The original poem was written in the present tense, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” However, it is not uncommon to hear it sung in the past tense, Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

The tune, Antioch, was pieced together from Handel’s Messiah by Lowell Mason, a Boston music teacher, in 1836.

joy to the world

The story of Joy to the World is emphatically written in St. Paul’s letter to the people in the large urban center of Ephesus in Ephesians 2:4-9

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved); and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God!”

Martin Luther wrote in The Freedom of a Christian Man about the everlasting joy that is our greatest gift! Yes, God’s personal love for each of us should be understood as a gift that is equal to or greater than saving Noah’s family from the flood, the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the return to Israel from captivity under the Persians in Babylon. God’s gift came to us in the birth of Jesus Christ!

“Should you ask how it happens that faith alone justifies and offers us such a treasure of great benefits without works in view of the fact that so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed in the Scriptures, I answer: First of all, remember what has been said, namely that faith alone, without works justifies, frees and saves; we shall make this clearer later on.  Here we must point out that the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.  Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as soon as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it.  …That which is impossible for you to accomplish by trying to fulfill all the works of the law – many and useless as they all are – you will accomplish quickly and easily through faith.  God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing.  …Thus the promises of God forgive what the commandments of God demand and fulfill what the law prescribes so that all things may be God’s alone, both the commandments and the fulfilling of the commandments.  He alone commands, He alone fulfils.

The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom.  …Christ is full of grace, life and salvation.  The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation.  Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, He must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are His.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

The Shepherds Came to See Jesus

The Shepherds

How did our grandparents and great grandparent, and the people in our families before them understand the meaning of the Christmas story?

Luke 2: 8-14: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Adoration-of-Shepherds-Giorgione__National_Gallery_of_Art

Adoration of the Shepherds, Giorgione, 1500

At first glance this painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds seems unexciting with Mary and an older looking Joseph gazing at the newly born Jesus with two shepherds looking at a naked baby. But the landscape to the left of the painting appears more engaging than the humble birth of God’s Son. Perhaps Giorgione is painting how he envisions Jesus in the world or people in the world connecting with Jesus. This painting is 17 years before the Reformation.

Luther: “The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them.

O, what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that He utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes.”

Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/protestant/2000/01/the-story-of-jesus-birth-a-sermon-by-martin-luther.aspx#WpkpQTqDHBUJArJ0.99

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org