The miracle of birth

Saturday morning, while scrolling through social media, we were surprised to see various people posting that April was giving birth.

For those unaware, April is a giraffe living in New York, who has been due any day for over a month; and thanks to modern technology, a live video feed (with corporate sponsor) was available around the clock so people could keep watch.

We watched some of it, it actually took over an hour from when the first signs appeared until the newborn giraffe plopped onto the ground.  At various points, there were well over a million viewers; and countless others have since watched a condensed version of the events online.

Why is this interesting?  On the one hand, it really isn’t; April was over a month late in giving birth; no one thought it would be this long before the baby was born.  And no doubt, a million other things have been going on in the world that rate far higher in terms of importance than a random giraffe.

But there is something deeply evident in this giraffe: in a culture where we butcher babies in the womb and do everything we can to prevent having more children than what we think will provide minimal inconvenience to our lives; we are still amazed at the miracle of birth.

What April the Giraffe reveals, is our deeply human instincts that life is good.  Millions watched the birth; millions more will enter the contest to name the baby; millions more will flock to catch a glimpse of the mother and her newborn.

Which is exactly what happens when a baby is born.  We rejoice, we celebrate, we reflect back upon the births of others, and we rush from all corners of the earth to welcome this new member of the family.

Deeply rooted in each one of us, is that very word of God that He created us in His own image, and has declared us to be holy and precious in His sight; and His love is so deep, so broad and so high, that He sent His one and only Son into the world to redeem us from our sins, even the sin of hating the very life that God has declared to be precious.

For as wretched a culture as we are, we still cannot hide the fact, that life is good.

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Jesus is enough

The Resurrection of Our Lord – St. Matthew 28:1-10

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Holy Saturday devotion

Holy Saturday – 1 Peter 4:1-8

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The last curtain

Good Friday – St. Matthew 27:51

What was the Old Testament lesson on the First Sunday in Lent?  Adam and Eve falling into sin, and being cast out of the Garden of Eden, thus being separated from God, with whom prior they had a close, personal, face to face relationship with.

With that in mind, what is the repeating mantra of Lent?  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  You have sinned, you have fallen short of God’s glory, therefore, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, you too are separated from God.

Lent is a continual reminder of our separation from God, for we are separated by our failure to keep the law; separated by our continual breaking of the Ten Commandments; separated by God’s demand that we be holy in thought, word and deed, and our failure to do so.

This separation from God shows itself in a very real and physical form in the Old Testament temple.  For where is God?  He is behind the curtain; He is found in the most holy place, where you cannot enter; where you cannot go, save for once a year, when the high priest goes in and sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement on behalf of all the people.

Your whole life, you stand on one side of the curtain, separated from God by your sins.

On the surface, that curtain is in fact nothing more than a piece of cloth; most likely a heavy cloth, but a piece of cloth none the less.  Does it move one way or the other when a breeze blows through?  Does it ever get put out of place so that you can gaze through and catch a glimpse of what is on the other side?  Or is it as thick and as immovable as a wall made of concrete?

In many senses it is the equivalent of a velvet rope or a plastic strip of police tape; it can hardly hold you back on its own, but it is the power that stands behind it that truly prevents you from crossing over.

And so it is with the curtain in the temple.  Could you go behind it?  Sure; after all, it is just a piece of fabric.  But you never would, for that curtain separates you, the lowly sinner, from the presence of the powerful and most holy God.

For 1500 years, from the time of the Exodus to today, in Jerusalem in 33AD that curtain hangs, separating the people from God; in fact, protecting the people from God, for who can gaze upon the face of God and hope to live?

Surely not you or I.  For we have indeed sinned in thought, word and deed and fallen short of the glory of God; there is no way that you or I could approach God and expect to live.

But you and I are not the only ones separated from God, and it is not just ancient Israel either; today Jesus Himself finds that He too is separated from God the Father.

For as Jesus hangs upon the cross, God the Father abandons Him; He turns His back on Him; He stuffs up His ears so as to not hear His pleas for mercy.  God the Father truly sets up a wall of separation between Himself and His one and only Son, who though innocent, now hangs upon a cross, sentenced to death.

And Jesus does die.  He is dead.  That is the punishment pronounced upon sinners who are unworthy to pass through the curtain and see the glory of God.  That is the punishment for breaking the Law, for disregarding the Ten Commandments, for refusing to be holy and perfect.

But upon His death, Matthew, Mark and Luke each record the tearing of the curtain in the temple from top to bottom.

For Jesus death is no ordinary death; He was innocent; He broke no law; He kept all of the Commandments; He lived a holy and perfect life.

Jesus did not die because He was guilty; rather Jesus died because you were guilty.  Jesus died for your sins, for your lack of holiness; for your imperfections.

But Jesus is not a random sheep that is slaughtered so that its blood may be sprinkled upon the altar thus atoning for a sin that has been committed.  Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood is shed not just to atone for one or two sins committed along the way; rather His death is to forgive all sins and to restore the relationship between God and His people once and for all.

The death of Jesus is about bringing you and your Father in heaven back into a right relationship with each other.  So that your Father in heaven will no longer look upon you in anger or in hatred, but that He might look upon you in love and grace and mercy; and you can gaze upon your Father in heaven, and live.

And with that, there is no longer a need for a curtain to separate you from your Father in heaven.  You no longer need to approach in fear and trepidation; there is no longer a veil to protect you from the glory of God.  Rather you can cast your gaze upon Him and know that by His Word, by Christ’s own suffering and death; by His gifts given and shed for you, you are His beloved child, and you will now live with Him in His kingdom forever.

For the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God, that close, personal relationship that was lost in the Garden of Eden, is once more.  For God the Father has called you by name in Holy Baptism to be His own; He invites you forward to feast on the body and blood of Jesus; He hears your prayers; He daily provides all that you need to support this body and life.

The barrier between earth and heaven, the barrier between God and His people, the barrier between you and your Father in heaven, is no more.  It has been removed by the holy and precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Christ.

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Good Friday devotion

Good Friday – Hebrews 5:14-16, 5:7-9

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Shed Blood

Maundy Thursday – St. Matthew 27:1-10

Judas did not have to die.

That is the irony of the entire Passion account.  Judas did a horrible thing, but he did not have to die.  Peter likewise did a horrible thing, in fact all of the disciples did; and yet they did not die; only Judas did.

But at the same time, Judas also shows us why the death of Jesus is necessary.

For where does Judas turn when he sees how things are unfolding before him?  Who does Judas look to when he sees that Jesus is on a fast track to death?  What does Judas do when he tries to fix this problem he was so intricately involved in creating?

He looks to himself.  He does not repent as Peter does after denying Jesus.  He does not come back and seek Jesus as the other disciples do.  Judas sees the events unfolding before him, he sees the true intent of the chief priests and the Pharisees, he sees the false witnesses that are brought forward, and he sees the plan to take Jesus to Pilate and demand that He be crucified taking shape.

He sees all of this, and the role that he played in bringing it about; and he looks only to himself; he asks himself ‘how can I fix this’, ‘what can I do to make things right’, ‘it was by my actions that this happened, surely by my actions I can turn things around’.

And that is where Judas sees how hopeless things really are; Judas cannot fix this, Judas cannot undo things, Judas cannot make things right.

Judas does the best he can: he takes the 30 pieces of silver, money that would have guaranteed a comfortable life for him and his family; money that could have bought him anything he wanted; money that would have made him the envy of everyone around him; he takes that money, and he goes to the chief priests and he tries to give it back.

Now at this point, we often blame the chief priests and say that they should have shared God’s Word with Judas, they should have offered comfort and forgiveness to Judas, they should have been more godly with him, as opposed to turning their backs on him and refusing to even acknowledge him.

All of which is very much true; but all of which is also not the point.

Judas is not looking for God, he is not looking to God’s Word, he is not even looking for comfort or forgiveness.  Judas is looking at himself and only himself.  Judas is looking at what can he do to make things right; because in his mind, that is the only way to get out of this.

And that is where we are all too much like Judas.

For when a wrong is committed what is your first instinct?  Is it to seek forgiveness?  Is it to call the pastor and schedule private confession and absolution?  Is it to go to your brother or sister in Christ and make amends?

Or is your first, second, third, and fourth instinct to try to make things right on your own?  What is the playground rule after all?  If you hit someone, don’t apologize, rather, let them hit you back, make things even.  If you take something that is not yours, give someone something in return.  If you break a window or run over the flowers or shoot something you weren’t supposed to, immediately offer to pay for the replacement.

You broke it, and just like Judas you are trying to fix it.  You take your 30 pieces of silver and you go and try to make things right once again.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a dollar for a dollar; it will all come out even in the end; and in the end, it will be like nothing ever happened.

And what happens when your efforts fail to make things even again?  Judas hung himself; a life for a life.  That is what many wracked with guilt from one abortion do, they kill the next one to make things even.  That is what murderers do as well, they kill the next one to hide the guilt of the first one.

Perhaps your sins do not rise to the level of suicide; that’s good.  But you are still left with the question of what to do about these wrongs that you cannot make right.

The pattern is the same though; you look for the one that does take the guilt away.  Allow someone to hit you twice as hard to make up for the one who would not strike.  Pay double for the next repair to cover the one you could not repay.  Suffer in your own way, so that the one you caused suffering to does not suffer alone.

Can you make things even?  You certainly try; but like Judas, you soon find that it doesn’t work very well.  There is nothing that can take the guilt away.

The only answer is blood.

Not the blood of Judas that drips down his corpse hanging on the tree; and no, not your own blood which boils with each failed attempt to undo your actions; and not even the blood of goats and calves that are sacrificed in the temple; but the blood of Jesus that is poured out for you.

Jesus offers His own blood tonight, here in the Lord’s Supper.  Here He announces that His holy and precious blood is given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.  There is no sin to small, there is no sin to great that the blood of Jesus cannot wash away, that cannot be made right, that cannot make you whole once more.

You cannot undo your wrongs or make right the ways you have fallen from; but the blood of Jesus poured out for you can.  For by His death and resurrection, the blood of Jesus does what you cannot do by your own works or actions or feeble efforts: it makes you clean, it makes you holy, it makes you right with God.

That blood shed is what restores Peter, it makes him whole, makes him right with God once more, even after denying Jesus three times.  That blood shed is what restores all of the other disciples who ran away, refusing to stand with Jesus in His hour of need.  That blood of Jesus is what restores Saul, who though he persecuted Christians far and wide, was forgiven by the blood of Jesus poured out for him on the cross.

That blood of Jesus now restores you, who fall short of the glory of God in thought, word and deed.  The blood shed on the cross forgives you, and the blood that you sip of tonight assures you that the forgiveness of sins is as certain as can be.

And yes, that blood of Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross, could have and would have restored Judas, made him right with God once more, even though he betrayed Jesus into the hands of sinful men.

Blood is shed tonight; once in despair and once in hope.  Seek the blood that offers hope, for that is where salvation is found; not in your own means or actions, but in the cross of Jesus.

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Maundy Thursday

Devotion for Maundy Thursday – 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

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