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.”



When Jacob Met Esau

Jacob Doubted God When he Returned Home to Face Esau

When did God surprise you?

Genesis 32: Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

Genesis 33 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.” Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down. Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?” “To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” 10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it. 12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.” meeting-of-jacob-and-esau-1844 Jacob Meets Esau by Francesco Hayez (1844)

Jacob deceived his father Isaac, who was nearly blind, for the birthright. His twin brother Esau was furious over this deceit and Jacob left the land of Canaan where his grandfather, Abraham, had lived. He has been away from his family for 20 years and receives word that his brother Esau is coming to meet him, with a following of 400 men.

Jacob fears the worst and in his desperation turns to God in prayer. The first lesson he learned was that prayer is not a simple request but a persistent struggle with God. The story in the previous chapter describes a physical encounter with an angel of God with the dislocation of Jacob’s hip. It is a powerful story, similar to how Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was faced with betrayal and death by crucifixion.

We learn in this picture the importance of humility and falling on our knees before God and other people we have hurt. We also learn of God’s blessing in that Esau accepted his brother Jacob and asked for no retribution; only love and acceptance. Hayez portrays the powerful Esau embracing his deceptive twin brother.

We learn the importance of having faith in God and trusting His wisdom over our cleverness – or the advice of Pastor Google and friends. This is such a powerful story for anyone who struggles with a broken relationship, medical issue, alienation, and loneliness. We might say that this story and picture is a powerful lesson about human behavior. In Luther’s lecture (commentary) on Genesis 33, he speaks directly to how God intervenes inwardly to change hatred into reconciliation and acceptance. Luther explains this as a miracle!

“Esau again inquires what these companies are than he may have an opportunity to converse more familiarly with his brother and to emulate him in mutual love and goodwill. It appears that he had not yet received the gifts sent by Jacob. One cannot say what the reason was. Whether it was that he was still burning with hatred and refused to listen to the messengers sent before he saw his brother actually humbling himself, or whether he refused to accept the gifts, moved by special kindness and mercy since he had become milder and had seen the companies offered by his brother, I do not really know. But it seems that he refused the gifts more out of goodwill than hatred.

I will interpret it so that it remains established that this victory worked the miracle that Esau’s heart was changed and placated. So it can be that while his anger was still hot, he set out with the 400 armed men to terrify and kill his brother. But when he saw him humiliated and sending gifts, the Lord’s hand intervened and changed his heart so that he said: ‘Why should I do violence to my brother? why should I take anything from a good and upright man, a needy exile? The Lord has blessed me more bountifully than He blessed my brother; it would be fair for me to relieve his need by the abundance of my possessions. Why, then, should I accept gifts at his hand?’

God works this inwardly through the Spirit, but outwardly through means, the respectful possession and the offering of gifts, although Esau does not seem to have accepted them because of the very great zeal and love with which he embraces his reconciled brother.” (Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis. pp.169-170)


In Christ Alone by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (2001)

In Christ Alone – Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, Northern Ireland/England (2001) 

How does this song help us to understand that Jesus Christ has been present in the lives of billions of people since the first century?

In Christ alone my hope is found / He is my light, my strength, my song / This Cornerstone, this solid ground / Firm through the fiercest drought and storm / What heights of love, what depths of peace / When fears are stilled, when strivings cease / My Comforter, my All in All / Here in the love of Christ I stand.

1200px-Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black Pieta, Sculpture by Michelangelo (1499)

The hymn published in 2002 is based on a series of Bible verses relating to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Michelangelo carved this sculpture from one block of marble and it is the only sculpture he signed. It shows the mother of Jesus holding the crucified Jesus Christ, the Son of God and her natural born son. Jesus is at peace as His love for us is now complete in His sacrifice on the cross.

 In Christ alone my hope is found; This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:9-10

He is my light, my strength, my song; Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD : The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Exodus 15:2

This cornerstone, this solid ground,  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:19-21

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11

What heights of love, what depths of peace, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

My comforter, my all in all— Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11

Here in the love of Christ I stand. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Martin Luther’s comments on this Epistle are: “St. Paul teaches, first, what the Gospel is, telling how it was provided by God alone in eternity and earned and sent forth through Christ, so that all who believe on it become righteous, godly, living, saved men, and free from the law and sin and death. This he does in the first three chapters.

Then he teaches that different doctrines and the commandments of men are to be avoided, so that we may remain true to one Head and become sure and genuine and complete in Christ alone, in Whom we have everything, so that we need nothing beside Him.

Then he goes on to teach that we are to practice and prove our faith with good works, avoid sin, and fight with spiritual weapons against the devil, so that, through the Cross, we may be steadfast in hope.”



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.


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.


Hymn Parade – It Is Well With My Soul

It is Well with My Soul by Horatio Spafford (1873)

When things fall apart, who do you go to for help?

(Perhaps a word of comfort to everyone who loses a loved one through a tragic accident act of violence, or natural death. Time is a human invention; our soul is the miracle of God’s creation!!!)

When peace like a river, attendeth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know / It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Psalm 46: 1-3:   God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer and businessman in Chicago at the time of the Civil War and presidency of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s. They faced emotional and spiritual challenges in the 1870s as their son died of scarlet fever at the age of four and the Chicago fire destroyed all of their property along Lake Michigan. The Spaffords planned a family trip to London to get away from their troubles in November 1873.

It is Well With My Soul

Unfortunately, Horatio Spafford stayed in New York for an unexpected business situation.  In the Atlantic their ship “Ville de Havre” collided with the English vessel “The Lochearn” and sank within 12 minutes claiming 226 lives, including Horatio Spafford’s four daughters. His wife survived. Horatio boarded the next ship to London and when the captain notified him of the probable location of the tragedy, he composed the lyrics to this hymn. Romans 8:31-39 is also referenced in this hymn.

Martin Luther was also inspired to write the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by the words of Psalm 46. We sing this hymn because God is with us and He defends and preserves us against all hatred, struggles, and sin. In our hour of trial we turn to God who loves us and comforts us!!!








The Temptation of Christ

Do temptations always test our faith?

Matthew 4: 1-11: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


The Temptations of Christ Fresco in Sistine Chapel 1480-1482 by Sandro Botticello

The Temptations of Christ depicts three scenes from the gospels. The story takes place in the midst of people rather than in the isolation of the desert. This application about sin and temptation in our daily lives would speak directly to the hearts of the people and to the clergy in the Sistine Chapel as it calls for repentance.

On the left, Jesus who has been fasting, is confronted by Satan who is disguised as a hermit, to turn the stones in the desert to bread. The second scene in the close-up below, Satan tempts Jesus to challenge God’s promise that the angels will protect Him. He tempts Jesus to jump from the cliff. In the third scene, Satan promises Jesus all the beauties and wealth of the world if He will deny God.

Temptation in Detail-Sandro_Botticelli

Close-up view of the upper right section of the painting

Luther, in his sermon in 1525 during the Peasants’ Revolt said: “But in spiritual matters this temptation is powerful when one has to do with the nourishment not of the body but of the soul. Here God has held before us the person and way, by which the soul can be forever nourished in the richest manner possible without any want, namely Christ, our Savior. But this way, this treasure, this provision no one desires. Everybody seeks another way, other provisions to help their souls.

The real guilty ones are those who would be saved through their own work; these the devil sets conspicuously on the top of the temple. They follow him and go down where there is no stairway; they believe and trust in their own work where there is no faith nor trust, no way nor bridge, and break their necks. But Satan makes use of and persuades them through the Scriptures to believe that the angels will protect them, and that their way, works and faith are pleasing to God, and who called them through the Scriptures to do good works; but they do not care how falsely they explain the Scriptures.

Who these are, we have identified often enough and very fully, namely, work righteous persons and unbelieving hypocrites under the name of being Christians and among the congregation of Christian people. For the temptation must take place in the holy city and one temptation is seldom against another.

In the first temptation want and hunger are the reasons that we should not believe; and by which we become anxious to have a full sufficiency, so that there is no chance for us to believe.

In the second temptation, however, the abundance and the full sufficiency are the reasons that we do not believe, by which we become tired of the common treasure, and every one tries to do something through his own powers to provide for his soul. So we do; if we have nothing, then we doubt God and believe not; if we have abundance, then we become tired of it and wish to have something different, and again we fail to believe. There we flee and turn against want and seek abundance: here we seek want and flee from the abundance we have. No, whatever God does for us, is never right. Such is the bottomless, wickedness of our unbelief.”



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.”


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.”


The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

How are wages, wealth, and inheritance understood in this story?

 Matthew 20:1-16  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This Gospel reading is traditionally read in churches on the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which is also the ninth Sunday before Easter. (Septuagesima Sunday) It tells us that we are all sinners and in need of the Grace of Jesus Christ!


The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard by Rembrandt (1637)

Rembrandt uses darkness to engage the viewer in this scene of two laborers arguing with the landlord about their pay as the workers to the right talk among themselves. The wife of the landlord is the accountant and sits at the table with the open ledger book. This parable is only found in the Gospel of Matthew (a former tax collector) a landowner is paying his workers at the end of the day. The controversy developed when the workers who labored all day received the same wages as part time workers who worked for only a few hours. The perspective Rembrandt creates is for the viewer to look at the scene from the outside, perhaps through a window. This painting is at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The excerpt below is from a sermon Martin Luther preached on Septuagesima Sunday in 1528, the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the ninth Sunday before Easter.

“Hence the substance of the parable in today’s Gospel consists not in the penny, what it is, nor in the different hours; but in earning and acquiring, or how one can earn the penny; that as here the first presumed to obtain the penny and even more by their own merit, and yet the last received the same amount because of the goodness of the householder. Thus God will show it is nothing but mercy that He gives and no one is to arrogate to himself more than another. Therefore He says I do thee no wrong, is not the money Mine and not thine; if I had given away thy property, then thou wouldst have reason to murmur; is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own ?

Now in this way Christ strikes a blow first against the presumption of those who would storm their way into heaven by their good works; as the Jews did and wished to be next to God; as hitherto our own clergy have also done. These all labor for definite wages, that is, they take the law of God in no other sense than that they should fulfill it by certain defined works for a specified reward, and they never understand it correctly, and know not that before God all is pure grace. This signifies that they hire themselves out for wages, and agree with the householder for a penny a day; consequently their lives are bitter and they lead a career that is indeed hard.

Now when the Gospel comes and makes all alike, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:23, so that they who have done great works are no more than public sinners, and must also become sinners and tolerate the saying: “All have sinned”, Romans 3:23, and that no one is justified before God by his works; then they look around and despise those who have done nothing at all, while their great worry and labor avail no more than such idleness and reckless living. Then they murmur against the householder, they imagine it is not right; they blaspheme the Gospel, and become hardened in their ways; then they lose the favor and grace of God, and are obliged to take their temporal reward and trot from him with their penny and be condemned; for they served not for the sake of mercy but for the sake of reward, and they will receive that and nothing more, the others however must confess that they have merited neither the penny nor the grace, but more is given to them than they had ever thought was promised to them. These remained in grace and besides were saved, and besides this, here in time they had enough; for all depended upon the good pleasure of the householder.”


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.”


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.”