Click here for the reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel…” (Ezekiel 34:2).

“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.” (Ezekiel 34:17)

Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy of the Lord God himself being His people’s shepherd is sandwiched between two harsh judgements.  Neither the shepherds of Israel nor the sheep escape without blame.  Neither the shepherds of Israel nor the sheep can boast of great virtue.  To the shepherds Ezekiel is sent to say: “Should not the shepherds feed the sheep?” (Ezekiel 34:2) And against the sheep he asks: “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?” (Ezekiel 34:18)

It is bad enough when the people are like sheep without a shepherd.  But the situation in Ezekiel’s day was even worse.  They had shepherds who were gorging themselves on the sheep.  And the sheep themselves were living in arrogance and greed, with the strong taking advantage of the weak in every conceivable way. 

The shepherds of Israel were those in positions of authority.  Scripture speaks of the kings of Israel as shepherds.  But the term can also be used more broadly for priests and other political authorities.  And while authorities in two of the three estates are mentioned, it is proper to understand fathers and husbands too as shepherds of their own families.  What had gone wrong in Israel during Ezekiel’s time is not unique to Israel.  Authorities in society, in the church, and in families shirk responsibilities and duties all the time.  And so the sheep suffer.  Then, and now.

The history books of the Old Testament provide no shortage of examples.  Wicked kings and faithless priests appear throughout the pages of Scripture.  And the resultant damage to the flock of God’s people is amply recorded too.  Only scan the prophets and you will see that as it went among the leaders so it became among the people.  The sheep not only suffer from the neglect of the shepherds but learn to be just like them.  Like father like son. Like king like people. Like priests like congregation. 

Nevertheless, Ezekiel is not sent only to condemn the shepherds and the sheep and to warn against the abuse of authority.  He is sent with a promise from the Lord God: “I myself will be the shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:15)  The continual and repetitive use of the personal pronoun along with its emphatic repetition, “myself,” adds exclamation points to the Lord’s promises.  The promise of being shepherd is attended with a whole constellation of functions that he will perform.  Searching for (vs. 11), seeking (vs. 11), rescuing (vs. 12), bringing them out (vs. 13), gathering and bringing them in (vs. 13), feeding (vs. 13, 14, 16), making them lie down (vs. 15), binding up the injured (16), strengthening the weak (vs. 16), and destroying the strong (vs.  16) are all mentioned.

While Ezekiel 34’s promises certainly speak of the return from exile, it is evident from our Lord’s words in John 10 that He has come to deliver the sheep not just from Babylon but from eternal enemies.  The return from exile is incomplete without the Lord’s incarnation, atonement, and resurrection.  It is in His life and voice that the pasture of the flock is truly entered into. As the preacher prepares his sermon he will find plenty of comparisons and contrasts between exile and death, return and resurrection that will serve to magnify the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Click here for the reading: Mark 16:1-8.

The women were too slow.  But who can blame them?  The crux of the matter is that the Lord is just too fast.  Judah’s lion bounds out from the grave.  The bridegroom leaves his chamber like a strong man running his course with joy.  And by the time the women arrive, somberly walking to anoint his dead body, He is not there, their task rendered utterly unneeded.

The speed of our Lord is not emphasized here as though he just intends to win a race.  Neither is our Lord trying to avoid his people.  Rather, it is as the young man (angel) says, “To Galilee he goes before you…”. He makes haste to pave the way for his people to follow. 

It is strikingly odd that on Easter Sunday we have a reading from which Christ is absent.  We know from later verses and the other Gospels that Jesus didn’t simply leave them in his wake.  He came back to those women, to his disciples, and eventually even to 500 others.  But, on Easter morning, at the tomb, it is the “going ahead” that is emphasized.

Much can be made of the “going ahead” of our Lord.  So much is spoken of in our times about forming and becoming good leaders.  But already long ago Christ was, or shall we say, is, the great leader.  That primal call, “follow me,” which he spoke with such magnetic force that Andrew and Peter, James and John, abandoned their business and their own fathers to follow.  The Lord has always been the one who “goes ahead,” of his disciples.

Accompanying his speed, his going ahead, though is a title and a promise.  The young man at the tomb makes sure that the women know that the crucifixion has not receded into history.  It has left its mark.  So he titles the Risen Lord, “the crucified one,” which in Greek is a perfect passive participle, emphasizing the ongoing effect of the crucifixion.  Easter Sunday is probably not the time to take your congregation on a Greek grammar tour, but the point can and should be quickly and powerfully made.  The one who goes ahead is not an unknown enigma.  He is now and forever, “The Crucified.”  All who know him as this, know Him well and can safely and confidently follow where he goes.

The promise is given after the title, “You will see him in Galilee, just as He said to you.”  Context is important here, lest we suppose we must book a flight to Tel Aviv and make plans for a trek to that ancient village.  To the apostles the Galilean appearance was promised.  Not so the church.  But do we not have our own promises?  Where has the crucified one who is now risen promised that we will see Him?  (Every Lutheran preacher worth his salt will know how to answer and proclaim this)

Finally something should be said about the women’s reaction.  We shouldn’t blame them for being too slow, and neither should they be faulted for being fearful and silent.  After all, it isn’t every day that a man is raised from the dead.  While we do not aim to generate emotions, there is value to proclaiming the fear, the awe, the dread of the Lord that overcame them there at the tomb.  Do we dare to become accustomed to the risen Lord?  Do we suppose Him to be at our beck and call?  Let it never be so!  He, the crucified one, still is He who goes ahead of you.

Consider what and who your people follow.  Who are the wise and learned who go ahead into the future and call us to follow their guidance?  What token of trustworthiness do they leave behind that would garner our faith?  Is there anything people stand in awe of anymore today?  Is there a sense of wonder or excitement or has all been reduced and explained away?  What would a healthy dose of the fear of the women do for a Christian?  Might it be worth inculcating?

Click here for the reading: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.

The greatest of all festivals in old Israel was the Passover.  And connected to Passover was the week long celebration of unleavened bread.  Set free from Pharaoh’s bondage the people of Israel went out with haste.  To facilitate that haste the Lord had commanded them to eat bread without leaven, bread that did not require time to rise.  The food of freedom was to facilitate a hasty escape.

This then became an ordinance in Israel.  For one week’s time, beginning with the day of Passover, no leaven was to be used.  What’s more, the old leaven was not only kept in the pantry, but was discarded.  Just as Egypt and all its works and all its ways had been physically left behind, so too the people of Israel were to annually discard their leaven and leave behind the spiritual Egypt and all its works and all its ways that had crept back into their hearts.

Writing to the Christian congregation at Corinth St. Paul speaks of the fulfillment of that Old Testament festival.  He identifies Christ Jesus with the Passover lamb, sacrificed for the people’s redemption from sin, and the Christian Church with the unleavened bread, cleansed from sin’s leavening effects.  This indicative reality comes with an imperative calling: “Become who Christ has made you to be, an unleavened lump.”

At Corinth, sin’s old leaven had been working through the congregation in many ways.  The immediate context is the sexually immoral man who was committing fornication with his own step-mother, something even the pagans would not tolerate.  Making matters worse, there was an air of arrogant boasting about this, as though the Christian congregation had been set free from sin for further sin!  Imagine Israel coming out of Egypt only to outdo Pharaoh in idolatrous worship!  Was Christ raised to be a servant of sin?

The Apostle warns his erring congregation that sin’s tolerance and boasting will not remain isolated, but will spread through the whole lump.  The Church is not a loosely affiliated association of individuals, but an organically united whole.  Malice and evil are to be guarded against so that sincerity and truth may have free reign.

The festival that Paul speaks of celebrating was not confined to a day, a week, or even a 50 day, “tide,” but encompassed all of life.  While the reading certainly has application for the importance of pastoral oversight and corporate discipline in a congregation, there is also an individual application.  Each individual participates in the corporate life of the congregation and has a responsibility to the others to offer all of life as a living sacrifice.

Consider the obstacles to sincerity and truth that your hearers live with.  While St. Paul could speak in powerful images of the leaven of malice and evil, he also specified what he meant by this in detail, giving a healthy example for preachers to name the sins that would leaven their congregation if unchecked.  Lists of vices are part of the Pauline corpus.  But so are lists of virtues.  Consider too that hearers need to hear sincerity and truth identified and praised.  Without a vision of the beauty of holiness will anyone pursue it?

Click here for the reading: Job 19:23-27.

Job was “blameless and upright,” before the Lord.  In God’s sight there was, “no one like him in all the earth.”  And yet, Job suffered like one full of blame and iniquity.  In his sufferings he looked for aid and found none.  He spoke with his friends, his counselors, and found no support.  So he appeals again and again to the Lord.

The famous words that we hear in chapter 19 come hard on the heels of Job’s lament that everyone has forsaken him.  He starts by lamenting that his friend, Bildad, has wrongfully accused him of unrighteousness.  But the list goes on.  Job feels forsaken by God and that forsakenness trickles down through every human relationship.  His brothers, relative, close friends, guests, servants, even wife and children seem against him.

The clear implication of all of this is, “where can I look for help?”  It is this question that the reading gives answer to.  He appeals to an unknown Redeemer.  Unnamed, but living, the Redeemer will vindicate Job out of his living death.  In this, the redeemer is not just one who buys back, but who serves as an advocate.  Before the Lord and before the world.  The Redeemer will raise Job up so that He will be able to see God with his own eyes.  There is an adumbration of resurrection in these words of the sufferer.  Job’s heart faints at the very thought of this, though whether in ecstatic joy or in exhaustion is unclear.

Job’s sufferings transcend his own time and person.  He is a pattern of the greater one who will come long after him, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who though he was blameless and upright in every way, suffered for the unrighteous, the innocent in the place of the guilty.  With the coming of Jesus, Job’s unnamed Redeemer, is now named and known.

This Redeemer sticks closer than all those other human relations who have abandoned Job. In His crucifixion he stands in with Job and with all of his creatures to the very end.  He laments beside Job and takes the forsakenness of His Father upon himself, bearing the full weight of sin and suffering Himself.  But, by His resurrection He is revealed to be the Redeemer who lives forevermore.  The advocate for all mankind has been raised up by the Father, vindicated before the whole world.  All then who hope in Him, who look to Him for help, will not be disappointed.

Consider where your hearers look for help.  Who are the alternative “redeemers,” that might be appealed to?  What help do they hold out?  Why are such helpers finally inadequate?  What is the redemption and advocacy that only Jesus can give?  How does this redemption cause the heart to faint?  Is it an exhausted fainting, or somehow a fainting that leads to conviction and strength to bear one’s burdens?

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.