Click here for the reading: Matthew 4:1-11.

Jesus hungered after fasting forty days and nights. The devil comes to our Lord when he thought He was weakest. He tempts Him with food, security, and power. The Lord never succumbs to temptation.

Jesus answers the devil with something very powerful, the very Word of God. The devil too knows his Bible and sought to trick Jesus using God’s own Word. Just as he did in the Garden, the devil would distort the Word in order to lead men into sin. Jesus does not fall for such trickery. Where our father Adam failed, Jesus Christ is victorious, and the devil flees.

As we are buffeted by sin and temptation, the devil whispers in our ears, sometimes using Scripture, but often appealing to our own reason or base appetites. Where Jesus found comfort and protection in the Word, the devil will often tempt you to find remedies elsewhere. Are you struggling with stress? The devil would lead you away from prayer and the Psalms and turn you toward drugs and drink. Are you a glutton? The devil will sing siren songs of freedom and glorify you as you gorge yourself. Are you fearing you won’t be saved? The devil turns your own eyes toward you and directs you to find salvation outside the finished work of Christ.

But the promises of Scripture are more powerful than any demon. The promises of Scripture are sure and true. Jesus says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Jesus delivers what He promises. He gives you rest from this weary world and cleanses you from all sin. In times of great trial, we must remember the Words of Christ.

As we are led into the wilderness, we often forget to bring that which is necessary, and find ourselves with the very thing that will guard us in moments of temptation. We must keep the Word in our hearts and minds. If we do this, we will never be without a two-edged sword.

Do not give ear to the devil. Instead turn to God’s Word. Turn to Christ. Pray to Him for deliverance. Our Lord is victorious over the devil. Our victory is His victory. Fear not the evil one. Cling to the Word. It is a mighty arm for battle.

Click here for the reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The Apostles understood the urgency of carrying the Gospel into all the world and placed no obstacle in anyone’s way, nor did they allow anything to dissuade them from fulfilling their calling.

“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (vv. 3-10)

Knowing the urgency of the message and understanding that “now” is the time and no other, Paul would suffer greatly for the sake of Christ, so that man might come to a knowledge of Him and find salvation. Through all of his trials, he could rejoice knowing that God the Holy Spirit was working faith in the hearts of those who would believe.

The time to believe the Gospel is when you hear it, and the time of preaching the Gospel is now. May we recover some sense of urgency, some measure of the zeal of the Apostles, some taste of their dedication. Let us be ready to hear and believe. Let us be ready to proclaim the Gospel whatever may befall us. Let us trust the Lord to sustain us in all things and bring to completion the work He has begun in us and all who believe in Him.

Click here for the reading: Genesis 3:1-21.

In the beginning all was well. Our Lord made everything good. Soon, the devil, that wily serpent, tempted Adam and Eve. God gave a simple command: “you shall not eat of this tree.” Eve, being tricked by the serpent, ate of it, and all creation fell into sin. Adam failed to rightly shepherd his family, failed to be a faithful leader, and thus all men are now subject to sin and death (Romans 5).

Satan likes to twist the word of God. He tricks Eve by saying “did God actually say?” This happens to us today. The devil would have you doubt the clear Word of God. The devil, like a good lawyer, would trap you in word-games, subtleties, and legalities. He does all he can to twist and distort the Word in order to bring about your destruction. He would have you disbelieve, dilute, and rationalize the Word away. He was victorious in his first effort to sway our parents.

Adam and Eve eat of the fruit and their eyes are opened. They feel their nakedness for the first time. They feel shame. God confronts them about this, and Adam reacts with fear, blame, and contempt. He no longer protects his wife, but seeks to place all blame on her (v. 12). Satan seeks to divide, and he succeeded in the Garden. He divided husband from wife, and thus sowed the seeds of discord in the first family of Creation. He has been doing the same ever since.

God curses the serpent to forever crawl upon his belly. He curses man that his work be a toil and curses woman that her travails in childbirth be greatly increased. He curses all to natural death as a consequence of that first sin. Yet our Lord is merciful to mankind. He Himself makes garments of animal skins to cover their nakedness. Our Lord would not leave our forefathers without hope. He gives them the Gospel promise, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (v.15)

Mankind is the Jewel of Creation, and the devil would seek to tarnish our crown. Thanks be to God where Lucifer twists the Word, the Holy Spirit dwells to keep it forever in our hearts. Where Eve allowed the devil to twist the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ is present to keep it straight in our hearts minds.

Immediately after the Fall, our Lord preaches the Gospel. And even today we must be constantly reminded of it. When Satan cries “hath God indeed said?”, we proclaim all the more loudly “indeed He has!” He has prophesied His own coming and fulfilled it! He has redeemed His people from the curse of their sins! He has crushed the head of the serpent and put death to death!

Click here for the reading: Matthew 6:16-21.

In the sixth chapter of  Matthew, Jesus begins by explaining the three basic forms of Christian living: charity, prayer, and fasting. These three are part and parcel of the Christian life and serve as a perfect text for Ash Wednesday and the entrance to Lent.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  Matthew 6:1-2

The Christian is expected to give alms (vv. 3-4), to pray (vv. 5-15), and to fast (vv. 16-18). Yet these must never be done in a way so as to boast or draw attention to oneself. Those who do so are described by our Lord as hypocrites. They are like play-actors who seek only the applause of men.

You are to perform these spiritual acts in secret, making no provision for man’s acclaim. God sees these acts and will reward you, according to the words of Christ. However, we do not do these things for earthly rewards. The crown gained by a life of faith is found in heaven, not in temporal things. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

To be after heavenly things is to be after God. It is to follow Him in a life of faith. Your desire is for Him alone. What do almsgiving, prayer, and fasting have in common? Nothing less than self-denial. We give away some of what we have to those who need it, demonstrating that all we have is God’s. We demonstrate the mercy we have received from God in the mercy we show to others. We pray, a sacrifice of time meant to bring us closer to God. We fast because man does not live by bread alone.

We need the season of Lent and its texts, because we need discipline. We must consider our ways. We consider our ways and amend them according to the Word of God and with great humility. Beware those who would diminish or demean these disciplines. Beware those who boast in themselves, be it for their righteousness or unrighteousness, from their rooftops, pulpits, or digital street corners.

Let the Word of God have its way with you this Lent. Do not be afraid to give, to pray, to fast. Let these disciplines continue with and in you throughout all seasons. Consecrate a fast that will lead to feasting.

Click here for the reading: 2 Peter 1:2-11.

In his second letter to the Church, the Apostle Peter straightaway admonishes the believer to life of faithful devotion to the Lord God. He demonstrates just what Jesus has done for us and how this grants to us “all things pertaining to life and godliness.”

Words like “virtue” and “self-control” have been given a bad name by those who would not want to be associated with words like “fundamentalist” and “prude.” Indeed even the term “godliness” is rarely heard from pulpits and studies. Yet Peter is clear in this text. You have been called to God’s own glory and excellence, and “for this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

To lack these qualities, says Peter, is to be blind. To neglect love of neighbor or self-control, to refuse to live according to God’s will, is to forget the forgiveness of sins you received (v. 9).

Those who are being saved are elected in Christ before the foundation of the world. This brings great hope to the believer, that from first to last God is the author and perfecter of our faith. However, Peter tells you to be diligent to confirm your calling and election.

We must guard our faith from the devil and seek shelter from the temptations of the world. The promise of salvation is to those who have genuine faith (Matt 10:22, 24:12-13, Heb. 3:6). True faith persists until the end and will bear good “qualities” or fruit.  “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Healthy introspection is not detrimental to faith, if one keeps his eyes on the cross. Peter begins with what is ours in Christ and urges toward cultivating that and keeping it close to us. To grow in godliness is to grow closer to Him. We do so by prayer, meditating on his word, discipling our bodies, and brotherly love. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, keep your ears open to His Word, keep your heart inclined toward Him and to your brothers, and these qualities will be yours.

Click here for the reading: Joel 2:12-19.

In this great age of compromise and equivocation, the temptation to soften the language of “return” or repentance is strong. Yet the message God gives to the prophets is clear: “return to me with all your heart.” The Lord promises mercy to those who return to Him.

The call to repent goes out to all. “Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.” What does repentance look like? Is it different for the young and the old? In what ways do we hesitate to preach, ponder, and exercise repentance, and why?

Contrition and repentance go hand in hand. We must be humbled by the knowledge of sins, knowing first of all that we have offended God and wronged ourselves by giving way to passions and sins.

There is an outward element to repentance that is often lacking and important to highlight as we observe Ash Wednesday. The Word of the Lord says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

It is true that the Lord looks upon the heart and not the outward appearance. It is likewise true that the Lord breaks our hearts to bind us closer to Him. The contrite heart at times gives ways to tears, to mourning, to lamenting what we have done. Do not be ashamed of such things. Be ashamed of sin but never of godly contrition that leads to repentance.

The sinner is called to repent, to turn to the Lord, rending his heart, and He responds with mercy.  “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

The Lord Jesus Christ forgives sinners. He forgives those who know they have sinned and turn to Him. We should not be afraid to repent. We should repent daily and mean it. We should let God’s Word work in our hearts, that they be broken and turned to him. He does not turn away the brokenhearted, but binds them up and washes them clean.

Fear not the Lord’s call to repent. Fear not to proclaim the urgency of repentance. Fear the Lord, not men. Trust in Him. It is only in the preaching of the pure Word of God that true repentance is given, that saving faith is kindled, that men reach their heavenly goal.

Click here for the reading: Luke 18:31-43.

The blind man cannot see the sons of Jesse pass by, but he knows Who Jesus of Nazareth is and what He can do. The blind man cannot be impressed by how people look or how they are looked at by others. The blind man cannot see the things on which the seeing man fixates. The blind man could not see that the fruit in the garden looked wonderful. But the blind man can hear about Jesus.

The Bible’s preference for hearing over sight is a temporary one. Some day we shall see Him and love His appearing, but for now hearing is far better, even as the prophecies of Scripture are more sure for Saint Peter even than the vision on the mountain he, James, and John were granted (2 Pet. 1). When the blind hear, they too believe and cry out to David’s Son.

David’s Son is able to do all things well. He is coming into His kingdom, and the blind man believes in His power to save and to heal. These wonders have still more to follow, but what follows is strange even to His closest disciples. What follows is what He has determined in His heart to do: the suffering and the death He must face at His own people’s hands. Why is this strange even to His disciples?

“Everything that is written about the Son of Man” should have prepared the disciples to receive His teaching and to understand what had to occur – how necessary for the world’s salvation and renewal is His glorious death, how much His resurrection will mean for a change in all things forever. They should have understood what the Scriptures say and what the Lord teaches, “but they understood none of these things.”

For now, these things are “hidden from them.” The knowledge of the Lord and the love of all He teaches and all He is a gift. No one comes by it naturally, and both His work of salvation for us and His opening of our minds and hearts to grasp His salvation are gifts. The Lord does not give or do or teach according to our expectation anymore than He would choose Israel’s king from among the candidates presumed likely to inherit the throne. All His works and all His ways are His own, and He chooses to reveal His Son and all things to us from sheer grace.

So we do not pray to know all and to surpass all others in our knowledge. We do not pray for might and power. He will give knowledge, might, and power in His Spirit as He sees fit and to whom it is His pleasure to give. Instead, we pray to know our blindness and to ask for grace and light. We pray for our eyes to be opened and for our minds to be opened to understand the Scriptures. We pray to receive our sight and for Him not to keep hidden His whole counsel of wisdom, truth, and grace.

Click here for the reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

The irony of this passage’s use at weddings is that marriages are among the good gifts of this life that will pass away along with prophecies, languages, and knowledge. The things now so highly and rightly prized are ours for a time and for a purpose. We have husband or wife to love and to cherish until death us do part. We have prophecy to proclaim the oracles of God as we find them in Scripture. We have languages to speak the Word of God in people’s own languages. We have knowledge to proclaim the knowledge of the Lord throughout the earth.

But this must all pass and shall pass. All this will be eclipsed. It will not be burnt up and destroyed, but it will be swallowed up and surpassed. Death will end along with all these things, when we are changed in the twinkling of an eye at the Lord’s command. I cannot fixate on my marriage or anything I have to exclusion of the love of God because everything except the love of God shall be subsumed. The weight of glory will overwhelm all else.

The reason love can bear and believe and hope is that only love knows what remains. Only love knows the fruitlessness of all effort apart from the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Only love comprehends how futile and petty our fixations and our resentments and our bickerings are. Only love recognizes that Christ shall truly be all in all, and for His sake, love believes and bears everything for the sake of and in view of the Day of the Bridegroom’s returning.

Paul’s words are not saccharine sentiments, tiresomely sweet and unnatural, wrapped in a sickly pink paper packet. His words flow easily and purely from love’s spring. In Christ there is already resurrection and life and perfection. In Christ there is already victory over sin and death, and in Christ death is already mocked. Knowing this, how can care and fixation and bickering and self-aggrandizement consume me? Am I Christ? Am I the firstfruits of them that sleep? No, we are in all things more than conquerors over sin and death and everything else solely through Him Who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

So love can be patient. Love can be kind. Love can believe and bear and hope. Love can wait as long as it has to. Love knows what’s coming and how partial and petty and light this life will prove to be when the weight of glory and the splendor of Christ enter in. Love knows we shall not all sleep but we shall all certainly at long last be changed. Then we shall know all as we are even now fully known by Him. Love knows Him, and love never ends.

Click here for the reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

The parade of the sons of Jesse features names entirely unknown. How many congregants or preachers can rattle off Eliab, Abinadab, or Shammah? No hymnals are named for Shammah. No archeologists search for evidence of King Eliab’s reign. Abinadab might as well be Shimei or Sheba in their obscurity. Yet at one time, even for a second, Samuel could imagine Eliab and Abinadab and Shammah in their turn as the kings of Israel.

And what about the others who passed before him? Their names don’t make the cut. The Lord does not see nor does He plan as man sees and plans. What is likely-looking to us is nothing to Him. David was not present for the parade, and Samuel’s eyes did not pick out the man after God’s own heart. Man could not see what the Lord has in His heart for His people’s salvation.

The bittersweet selection of a fitting king for Israel cannot be forgotten. This reading should not be happening. Israel has no need of a king like the nations. She has her King already with His royal throne of the Ark of the Covenant and His royal law written down by Moses. He already reigns. He is already mighty for His people. He already drives all His enemies before Him. Why then this parade and this anointing?

Was it to magnify the handsomeness of David? But his handsomeness would lead him into trouble with women. Man does not see the heart. What was in David’s heart was the glory and the name of the living God of Israel. His charge against Goliath would be that the Philistine had blasphemed the only living God. God’s honor would be David’s chief concern, and he would not even build a house for the throne of the Lord if God forbade him to do it. If Israel had to have a king, the king whose heart – not his face or his family name or birth position – was after God’s own heart was the one the Lord would choose.

David was anointed to rule but only under the King’s command. What David’s mighty men were to David, David would be to the Lord: loyal in all things, ready to serve his master, ready even to die for his master’s name as the young men risked their lives to get David water. Israel would have a king under the royal Law of God. He would not exalt himself too highly or speak laws in his own name, but he would serve the Lord in the Spirit of the Lord.

David’s Son, the unlikely Shepherd of Israel born in David’s royal city but raised in Nazareth’s obscurity, now reigns. He speaks with authority, not as the scribes, because His royal law of liberty comes forth from His lips with sweetness and power. He does not listen for the instruction of another as Samuel did. He does not wander after the evil desires of his heart as David did with Uriah’s wife. He is Himself the Truth, and the Spirit of the Lord rests upon Him forever. David’s anointed Son reigns as King without end. All will hear of His glorious Name.

Click here for the reading: Luke 8:4-15.

The difference between hearing and understanding is especially clear in Luke’s gospel, where the crowds are the recipients of Jesus’s story but not its meaning. Parables do not all confuse their hearers; the ones told closer to Jesus’ passion are often all-too-clear for his opponents. But if they do not confuse, they do not clarify themselves. More must be said, and what was told must also be explained. Explanation and clarity are gifts for the disciples that the crowds do not receive.

The working of the kingdom of God is through the word of God. The reign happens through preaching. As the word is spread, the kingdom spreads, and the parable is an explanation of what happens when the gospel is preached. The fact that the gospel is preached, that sowers go out to sow, and that the word spreads throughout the whole creation (as it does in the Acts of the Apostles) requires no explanation whatsoever. Nobody has to be ginned up to go out and spread the gospel. The parable presumes that the man who has seed will sow it.

The parable’s German title of “the parable of the fourfold soil” is illuminating for its meaning. Jesus is not explaining what’s wrong with the word of God since it’s perfect. He is not explaining why the sower sowed so profligately or why the devil opposes mankind’s salvation. All these are givens. The word is perfect, the word is sown everywhere, and the devil hates mankind, the crown of God’s creation and the object of His redeeming love. No, what must be explained is how any growth occurs in a world full of resistance to the word.

Some have the word snatched from their hearts before its growth can begin. They do not guard with patience and goodness what was sown. Some cannot endure testing and fall away at the first sign of hardship on account of the word. Some do not reach their full growth because the cares of this life choke out the wholesome word of life everlasting. The dangers to growth and the dangers to fruition are so many that Jesus’s description of them is elliptical, even indirect. How much of a life’s struggle and how many deceptions are summed up in “they believe for a while” or “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life”? How many lives were lived in just those ways, and how many died in their sins with the word all overgrown with weeds?

Luke 8:8 has no distinction among the growth that Matthew’s rendition of this parable does. Everyone who bears fruit bears it a hundredfold. The focus in Luke’s parable is rather on the nature of good soil, more fully described here than in either Matthew or Mark. Once the word is heard, it must be held fast, never leaving, never being choked or swamped. In the soil of an “honest and good heart,” it grows beyond all expectation from one seed to a hundredfold yield.