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“Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:6-8 (read 1-8)

The LORD God created us to be His own, do His will, and walk in His ways. When we rebelled against Him and turned to our own evil ways, He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem us that we might not be condemned but repent and turn to Him in faith and be forgiven, be His people, and have everlasting life (cf. Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:15).

But is He pleased with us if we only pay Him lip service and yet continue on in our own disobedient ways, doing our will and living according to our own sinful desires?

God’s people did this in the days of Old Testament Israel and Judah. They claimed to be God’s people and they worshiped Him outwardly with sacrifices and burnt offerings, but their hearts were far from Him. Instead of walking in His ways, they turned aside to their own ways and lived according to their own sinful desires (cf. Matt. 15:7-9; Isa. 29:13ff.).

What does God say? “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

God does not desire sacrifice or just going through the motions of confession. He desires that His people repent of their sinful ways, trust in Christ and His cross for pardon and forgiveness, and, as a fruit of His grace and mercy toward them for the sake of Christ our Savior, walk according to the LORD’s commandments, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.

In His Word, He has shown us what He requires and expects of His people. Rather than being dishonest and unjust, He desires that we live justly. Rather than being harsh and unmerciful, He desires that we be merciful and forgiving toward others as the LORD has been merciful to us — that we be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven” us (Eph. 4:32).

And, rather than walking in pride and self-righteousness and thinking we can earn God’s favor with our works and service, He would have us walk humbly with our God, acknowledging our sinfulness and unworthiness and trusting in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Bible tells us that “the LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18; cf. 1 John 1:7 — 2:2). And, “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5; cf. Matt. 5:1-12).

O LORD God, my only Hope and Salvation, grant that I trust in You and Your mercy for Jesus’ sake and walk humbly in Your ways, looking for and awaiting that Day when You will receive me into Your glorious kingdom which has no end. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him. …” Matthew 2:1-2 (read verses 1-23)

Once again, through the recounting of the Scriptures, we have heard of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem of Judea. God the Son was made true man, born of a virgin, and laid in a manger. An angel told the shepherds in the field nearby that this Child was none other than the Savior of the world, the Messiah, and Jehovah God Himself!

Wise men (the Bible doesn’t tell us their names or how many) from a land or lands east of Judea learned of the Messiah’s birth through the appearance of a star (cf. Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 60:1ff.) and traveled a great distance to come and worship this newborn King and bring Him costly gifts.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, King Herod was troubled at their quest and inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah was to be born. They rightly understood the Scriptures and quoted from Micah 5:2, pointing out that Bethlehem was to be the place of Messiah’s birth.

But what happened after this? The wise men continued on their journey and were led by the star to Bethlehem and to the very house where Jesus was. There they worshiped Jesus and offered Him gifts.

Herod the king felt threatened by the birth of the Messiah and sought to kill Him and prevent Him from reigning on the throne of David.

The chief priests and scribes knew the Scriptures and could tell Herod where the Messiah was to be born, but nowhere do we ever hear of their traveling the short distance to Bethlehem to worship their newborn Savior and King.

The question today is: “What about you?”

You have heard of Christ’s birth and know of His sufferings and death for your sins (and the sins of the world) and of His glorious resurrection. You have heard God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness to all who repent and look to Jesus in faith for pardon and life eternal. How do you respond?

Do you, like King Herod, reject Jesus and try to silence those who would speak to you of Him because Jesus is a threat to you and to your way of life?

Do you, like the chief priests and scribes, know all the facts about Jesus and His redemptive work but still fail to come and bow before Him and give Him your praise and worship, trusting in Him as Your Savior?

Or do you, like the wise men of old, follow the star (hearing and believing what the Holy Scriptures say of the Christ Child) to find Messiah Jesus and worship your God and Savior, presenting Him with the costliest of gifts — even your very selves?

O, dearest Jesus, You are the Almighty God and our Maker. We thank You for taking on flesh and blood and coming into this world to redeem us from sin and death. We praise You and give to you our treasures and our lives. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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Sad to say, many people flit from one congregation to another as if they are free to leave one church and join another at the slightest whim – perhaps they don’t like something the pastor said in a sermon, or they find a church doctrine or practice too restrictive. It might even be that the church holds too closely to a literal interpretation and application of the Bible’s teaching. And, it often happens when a pastor rebukes a sin in their life that they just leave and go somewhere else where their sins and evil are tolerated and accepted.

Perhaps even more shameful is the fact that other churches welcome them and take them in without rebuking their sins or even enquiring of their previous congregations in regard to their reasons for leaving.

This sad state of affairs calls for a reminder of the truth from God’s Word. And, in cases where people leave churches that are faithfully preaching and teaching God’s Word and rightly administering the Sacraments, a rebuke and call for repentance.

Christians are called upon by Scripture to leave congregations and church bodies that are unfaithful to the Bible in doctrine or practice, but resignation from a church that faithfully teaches and preaches God’s Word and practices according to it, unless it is to join another orthodox and faithful congregation, is in itself sinful. It is separating one’s self from the body of Christ in that place!

If one’s church errs in doctrine or practice, the first duty of a member is to point out the sin or error and seek to restore the church to the truth of God’s Word, leaving only after all such attempts fail (Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:1-16; Matt. 18:15-18; Acts 18:24-26).

To leave an orthodox church to join a heterodox church is sinful because it is disobedient to God’s Word, which tells us to beware of false prophets and teachers and withdraw from them (Matt. 7:15ff.; 1 Tim. 6:3-5). And, to leave a church to escape being held accountable for sin is impenitence and leads to eternal destruction.

The Bible teaches that the Church is to be subject to Christ “in everything,” and Jesus commanded that we teach “all things” He has commanded (Eph. 5:23-24; Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42).

This means that we, as Christ’s Church in this place, are commanded to teach all that the Bible teaches, neither adding to God’s Word nor taking anything from it (cf. Deut. 4:2). We are not permitted to add our own views or the prevailing views of the world to God’s Word, nor are we permitted to soften or take away from that which God’s Word teaches. To be anything less than faithful to Christ and His Word would make us heterodox and unfaithful.

As a reminder that this is nothing new, I cite some questions and answers from “A Short Exposition of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism” (prepared by the Synodical Conference and published by Concordia Publishing House in1912):

192. Who do we call the true visible Church? The whole number of those who have, teach, and confess the entire doctrine of the Word of God in all its purity, and among whom the Sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s institution.

366) Matt. 28:20. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.

193. When do we properly use this doctrine of the Church? When we take heed to be and remain members of the invisible Church; when we, to this end, adhere to the Church of the pure Word and confession, contribute toward its maintenance and extension according to our ability, and avoid all false churches.

367) 2 Cor. 13:5. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.

368) John 8:31-32. If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

369) 1 Cor. 9:14. The Lord hath ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.

370) Matt. 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

371) Matt. 7:15. Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

372) 1 John 4:1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

373) Rom. 16:17. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

2 Cor. 6:14-18. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their Cod, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

For those using “A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism” (published by CPH in 1943), see Qu. 186.

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“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29

Though Adam and Eve were created as children of God, knowing God and His holy will, truly loving Him, trusting Him, and fearing and honoring Him with their lives (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; Luke 3:38), Adam and Eve lost their right to be God’s children when they doubted God’s Word and disobeyed Him. They sought to be like God, knowing good and evil, but became children of the devil, enslaved by evil (Gen. 3).

As a result, all of us are born “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3). We are, by nature, sinners deserving of God’s everlasting punishment!

But, through the promise of His Son to be our Savior, God again gave the right and privilege of sonship to His elect, from Adam through Noah and Abraham to the present. Those who place their faith in Christ Jesus – who was to come and now has come – are called the sons of God (cf. Gen. 6:1ff.; Hos. 1:10; John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2). Those who do not trust in Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior are of their “father, the devil,” (John 8:44) and continue in his evil ways. Like the judgment of God which came upon the children of men in the days of Noah, so God’s fiery wrath and judgment will come upon the children of men on the Last Day.

How do we become children of God? God’s Word tells us: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27; cf. Mark 16:16).

We do not deserve the right of sonship, nor can we earn it; for we are sinners. But Christ has won it for us by His holy life and innocent sufferings and death in our stead.

The Bible tells us that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Because Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again, the right and privilege of sonship are ours through faith – simply by believing the truth that God will forgive our sins and accept us as His own dear children for Jesus’ sake when we place our faith in Him and His blood shed upon the cross (Eph. 1:6-7; John 1:12-13).

And, through Christian Baptism, God offers, gives, and conveys to us this forgiveness of sins, right of sonship, and eternal life which Jesus won for us on Calvary. In our Baptism, He graciously washes away our sins, and His Holy Spirit regenerates us and gives us faith and assurance that we are indeed forgiven children of our heavenly Father (Acts 22:16; 2:38-39; Tit. 3:5-6). In our Baptism, our sins are cleansed and washed away, and we are clothed with the perfect and holy righteousness of Christ – making us blameless and acceptable in God’s eyes (cf. Eph. 5:25-27). This is true, regardless of our race, status, or sex; through faith in Jesus, we are God’s children and a part of Christ’s family, the Church.

“If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29) If we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, then we are the promised offspring of Abraham (Gen. 15:5-6; 17:4-8; 22:17-18; Rom. 4:13-25) and shall inherit the blessings promised to Abraham and his seed.

We have “a lively hope” because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” for us (1 Pet. 1:3ff.). When we die, the angels will carry our soul to the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22; 23:42-43); and on the Last Day, our bodies will be raised up and changed into glorious and heavenly bodies like that of our Lord Jesus, and we will ever be with the Lord (cf. 1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:16-17)!

Dear Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the privilege of being Thy children through faith in our Savior. Dear Christ Jesus, we thank Thee for winning for us the right and privilege of sonship by Thy holy life and innocent sufferings and death. Dear Holy Spirit, we thank Thee for bringing us to faith in Christ Jesus and making us children of our heavenly Father. Graciously keep us in the true faith until we receive the promised inheritance – eternal life with Thee, the Son, and the Father, and all our fellow believers. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21

Today, we remember what took place on the eighth day after Jesus’ birth, His circumcision and naming. And, while today’s Gospel reading is only a single verse, often overlooked, it is of great meaning and importance to you and me today – in fact, without the events of this day, Jesus could not have taken our place under the law and provided for us the “plenteous redemption” promised in Psalm 130:7-8.

Remember also what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (Gal. 4:4-5): “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” It was necessary that Jesus be under the law in order that He might fulfill it for us and then redeem us from the curse and condemnation of the law by being made a curse for us (cf. Gal. 3:10-13). If Christ had not done that for us, we could not be adopted as God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 3:26-29).

Why circumcision, a cutting away of the flesh of the foreskin? God commanded Abraham, who was already justified by faith in God’s promises (cf. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4), to be circumcised in Genesis 17:7-14: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”

It is for this reason that all who shared in the faith of Abraham were to be circumcised and sealed, by the cutting away of the flesh, as God’s own children through faith in the promised Seed of Abraham who would make atonement for the sins of all people. Circumcision was the sign and seal of the Old Covenant, and no one could be a part of spiritual Israel or partake of the Passover sacrifice unless he was circumcised and under the Covenant (cf. Ex. 12:43ff.).

(This remains one of the reasons we only allow those who are baptized and have made a public profession of the true faith to partake of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus – of His body and blood which were given and shed for us on the cross to make atonement for our sins and are offered and given to us in His Supper.)

Thus, Jesus’ circumcision is important for us because He took our place under the covenant of God and under the law that He might fulfill all the demands of God’s law for us and then make atonement for our sins by being offered upon the cross as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18ff.; cf. John 1:29). Indeed, the shedding of Christ’s blood at His circumcision points ahead to the blood He would, some 33 years later, shed upon the cross for the sins of all.

And, it is also on this day that He was named Jesus – Jehoshua (meaning Jehovah saves) – for He would save His people from their sins, as the angel of the Lord had told Joseph (Matt. 1:20-21). As the name of Joshua was changed from Oshea, the son of Nun, to Jehoshua (Num. 13:16), indicating that it is the LORD God who saves His people, so Jesus was given a name indicating He was and is Jehovah God Himself come into this world to be our Savior and redeem us from sin and death and lead us into the promised land – something we could not accomplish under the law.

Though many are still circumcised today for health reasons, Old Testament circumcision has been replaced by Christian baptism, which the Apostle Paul calls “the circumcision made without hands” in Colossians 2:11 (cf. v. 11-15).

We are no longer circumcised that we may be under the Old Covenant (or Testament) and the worship laws which pointed ahead to Christ. Rather, we are joined to Christ in our baptisms that we might be under the New Covenant in which we have forgiveness for all our sins and life everlasting through faith in Christ’s death on the cross in our stead and His glorious resurrection (cf. Col. 2:11-15; Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-13).

Christian baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant in which we obtain forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. That is why the Apostle Paul, after he met Christ on the road to Damascus, was told by Ananias, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

By means of baptism, we become children of God. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:26-29): “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

It doesn’t matter whether one is a Jew or a Greek, a slave or free, a male or a female. We all become children of God and a part of Christ’s holy Church in the same way, by believing the Gospel promises offering forgiveness and life for Christ’s sake and being baptized into Christ (cf. Mark 16:15-16), signifying that we are no longer trusting in our own righteousness or our own works of the flesh under the law, but we are trusting in Christ Jesus’ holy life in our stead and in His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of all and in His glorious and victorious resurrection on the third day.

As Abraham believed God and was counted righteous through faith and received the sign and seal of God that he was a child of God under the Old Covenant, so we through Spirit-wrought faith in the promises of God are made partakers of the New Covenant in and through our baptisms and are given the blessings won for us by Christ Jesus, our Savior! Being joined to Christ in baptism, our sins are washed away in His shed blood and we are raised up with Him to new life as children of God in Christ’s eternal kingdom; and, as God’s adopted children, we inherit with Abraham and the believers of all time the eternal joys of heaven!

O Christ, Son of God made man that You might fulfill all righteousness in my stead and bear on the cross the full and just punishment for all my sins, grant that I, through baptism, may be joined to You in Your death and be raised up with You unto life eternal through faith in Your glorious resurrection. Keep me in the true and saving faith and grant that I live as a child of God until that day when You come again to grant to me the eternal inheritance promised to all who look to You in faith and become Yours in Holy Baptism. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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