Hymn Parade – These Are the Days of Elijah

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

Bible Verses That Influenced Hymns

Days of Elijah – Robin Mark (1994)

 How do the events of our lifetime show examples of extreme suffering and the presence of evil?

These are the days of Elijah/Declaring the word of the Lord, yeah/And these are the days of Your servant, Moses/Righteousness being restored.

 These are the days of great trials/Of famine and darkness and sword/Still we are the voice in the desert crying/Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MtdyRDy4fU (by U.S. Marines)

These are the days of Elijah declaring the Word of the Lord

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14

And these are the days of Your servant Moses righteousness being restored

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19

And though these are days of great trials of famine and darkness and sword

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:35-36

Still we are the voice in the desert crying prepare ye the way of the Lord

 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

[Chorus] Behold He comes riding on the clouds

 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. Revelation 1:7

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

So lift your voice it’s the year of Jubilee

Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clanLeviticus 25:9-10

And out of Zion’s hill salvation comes!

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,  gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

The lyrics to this song were inspired by the tragedy of the Rwandan civil war in 1994, which claimed the lives of 1 million innocent people. The people of Israel felt helpless in the 9th century B.C.E. in a divided country living in a foreign culture under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The people of Israel who believed in God faced persecution and death if they did not worship the statue of Baal. Elijah stood up against the false religious system and spoke for God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

I felt in my spirit that He replied to my prayer by saying that indeed He was very much in control and that the days we were living in were special times when He would require Christians to be filled with integrity and to stand up for Him just like Elijah did, particularly with the prophets of Baal. “These are ‘Elijah’ days”. Elijah’s story is in the book of Kings and you can read how he felt isolated and alone in the culture in which he lived. But God told him to stand up and speak for Him. When Elijah called to God for fire and it came, the people realized the truth. Unfortunately for Elijah, he had to hide in the wilderness to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel.

The references to famine and trials, darkness and swords are the story of world history, including the conflicts in our 21st century world. The song, especially the chorus reminds us of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. This is why we worship and desire to be in the presence of God!

Mount-Carmel1

Statue of Elijah at Mt. Carmel in Israel.

Elijah is calling upon God to set fire to the altar to demonstrate His almighty power in heaven and on earth.

In his sermon on Christmas morning in 1525, Martin Luther commented on the “days of Elijah” and his coming to earth before the coming of Christ: “But first we must answer the inquiry liable to be made, If the voice of God today is the last message, why is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Antichrist?

I answer: Concerning the advent of Elijah, I hold that he will not come in a physical manner. As to the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and earth, but I am inclined to believe it will not take place bodily. However, I will not contend hard against the other view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he likes. I well know St. Augustine has somewhere said, ‘The advent of Elijah and of Antichrist is firmly fixed in the belief of all Christians. But I also know there is no statement of Scripture to substantiate his assertion.

Malachi’s prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah (Malachi 4:5) the angel Gabriel makes reference to John the Baptist (Luke 1:17), and Christ does the same even more explicitly where He says in Mark 9:13, ‘But I say unto you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him, ‘Now, if John is the Elijah of the prophecy, as the Lord here says he was, the prediction of Malachi is already fulfilled. And there is nothing more prophesied concerning the coming of Elijah. The statement the Lord made just previously to the one quoted, ‘Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things,’ may be fairly interpreted to mean that Christ, referring to the office of John, practically says: ‘Yes, I well know Elijah must first come and restore all things, but he has already come and accomplished it.’

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Stoning of Stephen

The Stoning of Stephen and the Big Picture of Pentecost

How did Stephen’s faith give him the freedom to forgive his murderers in the pain of his violent death?

Acts 7: 54-60  54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Stoning of Stephen-Rembrandt-1625

The Stoning of St. Stephen by Rembrandt, 1625

This is Rembrandt’s first painting with a biblical subject. Stephen was a member of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Stephen’s job was to care for Greek widows. “And according to Acts 6:8, Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.”

A group of Jews became jealous. In front of the high priests they falsely accused Stephen. He defended himself with a long plea that ended with accusing the priests. Stephen claimed they did not uphold the law, and that they betrayed and killed those that announced the coming of the “Just One” who is Jesus Christ.

The crowd in the temple was infuriated and seized Stephen. Outside the city he was stoned to death. That made Stephen into the first Christian martyr: someone who died for the faith. The yet unconverted Saul (Paul) looked on with approval. (Acts 6, 7 and 8:1).

In the background to the right are the priests. In the top center members of the Christian community watch with fear and worry. Stephen wears a fine gown, common among the deacons in Rembrandt’s days. His last words were “lay not this sin to their charge”. The light that shines on Stephen’s face represents the sign that heaven saw all this happen. The man on horseback is probably Saul, the persecutor of Christians, who will soon take a trip to Damascus where he is converted to the Christian faith after being without sight for several days. His name is changed to Paul.

In the selected passages from Martin Luther’s sermon on St. Stephen’s Day, we discover how faith gives us freedom.

Do we need churches?

“There is no other reason for building churches than to afford a place where Christians may assemble to pray, to hear the Gospel and to receive the sacraments; if indeed there is a reason. When churches cease to be used for these purposes they should be pulled down, as other buildings are when no longer of use. As it is now, (1523) the desire of every individual in the world is to establish his own chapel or altar, even his own mass, with a view of securing salvation, of purchasing heaven. Let us, therefore, beloved friends, be wise; wisdom is essential. Let us truly learn we are saved through faith in Christ and that alone. This fact has been made sufficiently manifest.”

The Faith of Stephen

First, we see in Stephen’s conduct love toward God and man. He manifests his love to God by earnestly and severely censuring the Jews, calling them betrayers, murderers and transgressors of the whole Law, yes stiff necked, and saying they resist the fulfillment of the Law and resist also the Holy Spirit. More than that, he calls them “uncircumcised in heart and ears.” How could he have censured them any more severely? So completely does he strip them of every creditable thing, it would seem as if he were moved by impatience and wrath.

Stephen’s love for God constrained him to his act. No one who possesses the same degree of love can be silent and calmly permit the rejection of God’s commandments. He cannot dissemble. He must censure and rebuke everyone who opposes God. Such conduct he cannot permit even if he risks his life to rebuke it. Love of this kind the Scriptures term “zelum Dei,” a holy indignation. For rejection of God’s commands is a slight upon his love and intolerably disparages the honor and obedience due him, honor and obedience which the zealous individual ardently seeks to promote. We have an instance of such a one in the prophet Elijah, who was remarkable for his holy indignation against the false prophets.

Stephen’s conduct is a beautiful example of love for fellowmen in that he entertains no ill-will toward even his murderers. However severely he rebukes them in his zeal for the honor of God, such is the kindly feeling he has for them that in the very agonies of death, having made provision for himself by commending his Spirit to God, he has no further thought about himself but is all concern for them. Under the influence of that love he yields up his spirit. Not undesignedly does Luke place Stephen’s prayer for his murderers at the close of the narrative. Note also, when praying for himself and commending his spirit to God he stood, but he knelt to pray for his murderers. Further, he cried with a loud voice as he prayed for them, which he did not do for himself.

Who can number the virtues illustrated in Stephen’s example? There loom up all the fruits of the Spirit. We find love, faith, patience, benevolence, peace, meekness, wisdom, truth, simplicity, strength, consolation, philanthropy. We see there also hatred and censure for all forms of evil. We note a disposition not to value worldly advantage nor to dread the terrors of death. Liberty, tranquility and all the noble virtues and graces are in evidence. There is no virtue but is illustrated in this example; no vice it does not rebuke. Well may the evangelist say Stephen was full of faith and power. Power here implies activity. Luke would say, “His faith was great; hence his many and mighty works.” For when faith truly exists, its fruits must follow. The greater the faith, the more abundant its fruits.”

hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Ascension of Jesus Christ to Heaven!

Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven

 How do you understand the perspective of the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven?

 Acts 1: 6-11     So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Dosso_Dossi_022

The Ascension by Dosso Dossi, 1520

The Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is documented as 40 days after His resurrection on Easter. It is one of the most important dates in the Church and it is a statement of faith in the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. It is accepted by Roman Catholics, the Eastern and Russian Orthodox Churches, and Protestants.

He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

It is through faith that we understand heaven as the community of all believers or what has been called the invisible church. There are many things we cannot see or understand in this life and perhaps an analogy is that microscopes help us to see molecules, telescopes the depth of space, and magnetic reasoning images the secrets of our body, we are able to see heaven through faith and the reading of God’s Words.

The people of this world will challenge our faith and instincts which is why our understanding, explanation, and actions are powerful illustrations of God’s kingdom and heaven.

Saint Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15-16, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

This is Scripture and this is God’s Word, which is greater than all understanding and reason. The Scriptures document the truth – authentic news and not fake news.

 In 1534 Martin Luther preached on Ascension Day. Luther speaks about the history and the fruit of the ascension. This history states what happened, how Christ was taken up and hidden by a cloud. If this is preached only as history, Luther says, it does not benefit us. Yet it is preached for our sake!

As he preaches the fruit and use of the ascension for us, Luther proclaims that Christ has made captive all those things that held us captive. Sin, death, devil, etc. no longer hold us captive. Christ has bound them in captivity on high. Since Christ has captured our captors, we are now free from the things that would hold us captive before God: sin, death, hell, and the devil. Luther is drawing here on Ephesians 4:8.

A key fruit of this for us is that we are free from sin. Luther says that we can now taunt sin. If sin threatens to terrify us, we can say to sin: “You are my servant, I am your lord. This is one component of being free from sin, the freedom from fear before God. Another component is the freedom to turn away from sin. Luther preaches both components:

“If you believe in Christ, then the text says that you believe that He sits above, and that He has taken captive my captivity, that is, my sin. In what way? It should not terrify me before God…. I believe in Him who is above, who has captured sin.

Free in Christ, we can stand against temptations because Christ has led sin into captivity by His ascension.

hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

Hymn Parade – I Know That My Redeemer Lives!

Hymn Parade – I Know that My Redeemer Lives by Samuel Medley (1865)

How does Jesus Christ change the way we understand life and people?

Job 19:25    I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgY-da_w36Y

1 I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my everliving Head.

2 He lives triumphant from the grave, He lives eternally to save, He lives all-glorious in the sky, He lives exalted there on high.

3 He lives to bless me with His love, He lives to plead for me above, He lives my hungry soul to feed, He lives to help in time of need.

4 He lives to grant me rich supply, He lives to guide me with His eye, He lives to comfort me when faint, He live to hear my soul’s complaint.

5 He lives to silence all my fears, He lives to wipe away my tears, He lives to calm my troubled heart, He lives all blessings to impart.

6 He lives, my kind, wise, heav’nly friend, He lives and loves me to the end; He lives, and while He lives, I’ll sing; He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.

7 He lives and grants me daily breath; He lives and I shall conquer death; He lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there.

8 He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives, “I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Women-at-Tomb

Samuel Medley was introduced to the stories of the Bible by his grandfather but gave them little attention. It was during the Seven Years War (1756-1763, also called the French and Indian War in the Americas) when he was injured in a naval battle that he feared for his life. He prayed without stopping throughout the night that his leg would not need to be amputated and his life spared from death by infection. In the morning, his wound showed a miraculous sign of healing. He was retired from the military and attended a worship service at the Baptist Church on Eagle street and following a sermon he wrote the words to I Know that My Redeemer Lives! He opened a school and began a ministry to seamen.

Emma Smith composed the melody in 1835 and titled it “Duke Street,” which was his address in London.

Martin Luther, wrote: Aber ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt, und als der letzte wird er über dem Staub sich erheben. Und ist meine Haut noch so zerschlagen und mein Fleisch dahingeschwunden, so werde ich doch Gott sehen.

 Ich selbst werde ihn sehen, meine Augen werden ihn schauen und kein Fremder. Danach sehnt sich mein Herz in meiner Brust.

Translation: But I know that my Redeemer lives, and as the last He will rise above the dust. And if my skin is still so broken and my flesh is gone, then I will see God.

I’ll see Him myself, my eyes will look at him and not a stranger. After that, my heart is yearning in my chest.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Hymn Parade – When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Hymn Parade: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts (1707)

 To what extent is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the single most important event in world history?

Galatians 6:14     May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQlJm-5_Ll4

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts (1674–1748) wrote hymns that reflected the theme of the sermon and in a poetic style that was ideal for congregational singing. Before Isaac Watts, hymns often supplemented the Psalms or based on the strict interpretation of Scripture. Isaac Watts is credited with writing 750 hymns! The hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross is inspired by the most important event in human and personal history!

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Christ_on_the_Cross

Christ on the Cross was painted in 1627 by Peter Paul Rubens

In this painting, Jesus Christ is shown crucified on a cross with three women beneath him weeping with sympathy. Jesus is based in the center of the painting to clearly state the importance of His sacrifice and that the subject of this painting is religious. The use of darker colors makes the sacrifice of Jesus to appear as sympathetic and personal for the viewer. Imagine the impact of the perspective of this painting around the same time as the Pilgrims and Puritans were coming to Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colony.

Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. “God forbid,” says the Apostle, “that I should glory in anything as dangerous as the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a poison that destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them glory in the flesh if they wish and let them perish in their glory. As for me I glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He expresses the same sentiment in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he (Paul) says: “We glory in tribulations”; and in the twelfth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “Most gladly, therefore, will l rather glory in my infirmities.” According to these expressions the glory of a Christian consists in tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities.

But the Cross of Christ is not to be understood here as the two pieces of wood to which He was nailed, because it is all the afflictions of the believers whose sufferings are Christ’s sufferings. Elsewhere Paul writes: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

It is good for us to know this lest we sink into despair when our opponents persecute us. Let us bear the cross for Christ’s sake. It will ease our sufferings and make them light as Christ says in Matthew 11:30, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. “The world is crucified unto me,” means that I condemn the world. “I am crucified unto the world,” means that the world in turn condemns me. I detest the doctrine, the self-righteousness, and the works of the world. The world in turn detests my doctrine and condemns me as a revolutionary heretic. Thus the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world.

In this verse Paul expresses his hatred of the world. The hatred was mutual. As Paul, so we are to despise the world and the devil. With Christ on our side we can defy him and say: “Satan, the more you hurt me, the more I oppose you.”

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.

300px-Guido_Reni_(Italian_-_Joseph_and_Potiphar's_Wife_-_Google_Art_Project

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

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.

Creation_Eve-Michelangelo

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