WEDNESDAY AFTER EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
Many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.
Ephesus, which is in ruins today, used to be the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. There were already the beginnings of a church here under the leadership the learned Apollos, who was instructed by the tentmaker Aquila, or probably even more so by his wife, Priscilla. In the ancient church, everyone realized their duty to bring others to the faith. Only men appeared in public as teachers, according to the commandment of God, but in private it was not only a right but a duty for a Christian—man or woman—to clearly show the way of God when someone found that another Christian lacked the necessary knowledge. This happened quite often. Many became disciples of Christ during His lifetime, then left Palestine. They weren’t there at Easter or Pentecost. Maybe they were baptized by John in the Jordan River. Therefore, there may have been dedicated disciples who spoke of Jesus without been baptized and without having heard the news of God fulfilling His promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Apollos was one of those disciples, along with the men Paul met when he came to Ephesus. We see that they immediately were acknowledged as Christian brothers, but at the same time it was made clear to them what was lacking, and they were grateful to find that out. There was no talk of "you can believe in many different ways" or “there are many ways to God."
There was a revival in Ephesus and many came forth and confessed what they had done. It's part of a true conversion to confess that one has lied, to make up for the damage one caused others, to ask one's enemies for forgiveness, or to return things that one came into the possession of in a wrong way or kept out of negligence.
Among the things that emerged from the people in Ephesus were the superstitions that existed among this modern and enlightened people. Witchcraft and magic, which entails trying to control and benefit from covert powers, have always existed as a degenerate side of religion. They can be conquered only by a vibrant faith. In Europe these practices and superstitions were prevalent until the national revivals of the 1800s. They continue even today, and show signs of increasing and returning in new and different forms (such as amulets and horoscopes and belief in lucky and unlucky days). This is a natural consequence of the disappearance of a living faith. When Christ becomes our Savior, we see that this kind of fear for unknown forces and all attempts to appease them is just a lack of faith and idol worship.
Lord, reveal for me everything I should confess to others. Help me to make amends for everything I can. Lord, is there anything I've hidden and tried to forget that stands between us? If there is anyone who is suffering or mourning for my sake, Lord, show me the way to make it right again. And if I can't, bless twofold whomever I've caused grief and injury to. You can turn evil into good and damage into profit. If this can happen through me, so be it, for Your name's sake. Amen.
TUESDAY AFTER EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
He had been instructed in the way of the Lord.
Sometimes the Gospel in the New Testament is simply called "the way." Sometimes it is called "The Lord's (Christ’s) way." Antagonists could speak of "the way" as a sect (Acts 24:14). We see examples of that attitude today. Christianity is perceived as one conceivable point of view among
others in a pluralistic society. To believe in Christ, however means confessing that He is the way. No one comes to God except through Him.
For the Jews the Law was "the way." To love the Law and live by the Law was, for them, the right way to God. They could be in complete agreement with the Christians about the goodness of God's Law and that love is the integral element. The disagreement arose when the Christians declared that the Law doesn't lead to God. It is no way for us to live because we never can go that way all the way to the end. There will always be something that separates us from God. That separation can be bridged only by Christ, who alone complied with the Law and therefore is the fulfillment of the Law.
This is the reason for the violent resistance that the Gospel met among the Jews. The resistance had nothing to do with their godlessness. Paul says in Romans 10 that he can give his fellow countrymen—the ones who were knocked around with him—this testimony: that they have a zeal for God. He says, however, it is not enlightenment. "For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness" (Romans 10:3). The law is their proud and distinguishing feature. They received it from God. They suffered for it. They can't understand that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4).
Many may think that old disputes like these between Jews and Christians should now be forgotten. That's right, as far as thet are concerned. Christians have persecuted the Jews much More unmercifully than the Jews have persecuted Christians. The problem remains, however, when we talk about faith in the Law. That faith is and will always be the Gospel's antitheses and worst enemy, and that faith is widespread within Christianity also. All too often it is noted as being a distinct and wholehearted Christianity. It can also pose as a universally religious humanism. Christ is, however, no longer Lord and Savior when people build their trust in some kind of deed. Then we are no longer on the way He paved for us.
It is not good works Christ has liberated us from, Luther says, but the wrong view we have about them. Even Paul could do these extra deeds that pious Jews considered it their duty to do. He could bind himself to a promise, and shave hair and bring forth sacrifices in Jerusalem on specific days. As Luther said, a man can go into a monastery just as long as he doesn't do it to earn eternal bliss but to serve his neighbor. Deeds belong to "the way," but the Way is Jesus and nothing else.
Lord Jesus, show us the way and make us willing to follow it. Show us that the only way to Your Father's house is the one You paved for us when You went up to Golgotha all alone and carried ours sins with You. Take us with You on that way and let us feel how good it is to follow You and be close to You, and show us how much there is to do there for Your sake. Amen.
MONDAY AFTER EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
For I have many in this city who are my people.
Paul had arrived in Corinth and "was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). Corinth was a new, rich, materialistic city with a population from every corner of the world, two harbors, and an immorality that was notorious. Among this money hungry population, Paul was careful not to ask for anyone's help, worked in the evenings and preached during the day. There was plenty of work for a tentmaker and sail maker during the fall when the shipping trade had stopped and the harbors were full of ships that needed their sails repaired. For an assistant he had a refugee from Rome whose name was Aquila. There had been an uprising in the Jewish district and Caesar Claudius. had sent all the Jews into exile. The reason for the uprising was a certain "Chrestus," recounts a Roman historian, and it's possible that it was the Gospel about Christ that was the cause. Aquila, and maybe even more important, his obviously very gifted and significant wife, Priscilla, became Paul's best friends and colleagues.
Work progressed. The director of the synagogue himself, Crispus, was baptized. There was also strong resistance among the Jews, however, and Paul had to relocate his work to a private home near the synagogue. The majority of the Christians came from the heathen in the slums. It appeared that in this city God had many followers who were notorious their corruption.
Then a new proconsul was appointed in the city –Gallio—a distinguished Roman who was the brother of the renowned philosopher Seneca (who dedicated two of his philosophical essays to him). This Gallio is noted historically for being an educated, honest man, maybe a little too softhearted for a pragmatic politician. It's possible the Jews wondered about his inexperience and cautiousness when they started the uprising, and accused Paul of teaching a belief in God that was contradictory to the law. The purpose was certainly that Gallio was to believe Christianity conflicted with Roman law. Gallio saw through the trick and declared that he wasn't appointed as a judge in disputes regarding Jewish law. Then he drove them out of the tribunal. The fact that he reluctantly got involved in other people's disputes was again proven when a fight broke out at the entrance to the synagogue. Apparently anti-Jewish Corinthians seized the custodian of the synagogue, Sosthenes, maybe the one who succeeded Crispus, and beat him, convinced they could get away with it.
But, just as God had many followers in godless Corinth, so also does His work go on right through all the bickering, the fights, intrigues, and injustices that so often fill everyday life, even today and even for Christians.
I called on Your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; You heard my plea, do not close Your ear to my cry for help! You came near when I called on You; You said, "Do not fear!" You have taken up my cause, O Lord, You have redeemed my life. You leave seen the wrong done to me, O Lord, judge my cause. You have seen all their vengeance, all their devices against me. You, O Lord, reign forever; Your throne endures to all generations. Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old! (From Lamentations 3 and 5.) Amen.
EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
Which is the greatest commandment in the law? …What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?
"Obedience through faith" is the topic for this Sunday. Faith and obedience belong to real Christianity, and real obedience comes through faith.
In our Scripture reading, we are confronted with two of the most important questions that can be asked. The first one is about God's will. What is the most important thing God expects from us, the thing we must remember above everything else? Everybody usually understands that this question is, important. If you have any kind of faith in God, you're apt to understand that it is He who decides and not us, and it's not advisable to go against His will.
Jesus gave an answer that we all at one time probably learned was the synopsis of God's Law: We should love God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves. That answer could be accepted by every pious Jew. The ones who asked Jesus probably wanted to have something to accuse Him for, but they were completely satisfied with His answer. Mark tells us that the scribe said: Master, You are right. This is far superior to any kind of burnt offering or other sacrifice. When it came to the finest and most important thing in the law, there was no difference between Jesus and the Jews.
Then, however, Jesus counters with a question: "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" This question is related to the first. It can reveal a very deep disparity concerning the way to God. For the Jews it was obvious that the way to God was the Law. Those who upheld the Law would prevail. Jesus, however, showed with all His preachings that those who take the Law seriously are as doomed and exposed. They are guilty through harsh words and unclean thoughts, through their carefully rationed friendliness and all their futile words. That's why the question of the Messiah is so important.
The scribe answered: He's David's son. That's exactly what many people would answer today. Jesus was a man, a Jewish prophet from an old royal family, a wise teacher of the Law, a brilliant example, and one who taught us that love is what's most important. If that was all, Jesus would've sealed our fate. He would've shown us all how we should be and could've been, but aren't.
Happily He's something more. David called Him Lord, my Lord. He gives Him God's name, and rightly so. God not only gave us His Law with the most precious of all Commandments, He also gave us His Son, who is the fulfillment of the Law. He is the redemption for our sins, righteousness from God.
Joyous is he who has the right answer to both of these questions!
Lord, open my eyes so I can see the wonders of Your Law. Teach me to love Your Law because it's Your love that fills all Your Commandments. They're Your hand that guides me and shows me what I can do to please and help and be a blessing. Open my eyes so I see the path to Your kingdom, the way that is my Lord Jesus and no one else, not even Your precious Law. I can go to Your kingdom for Your beloved Son's sake, and I thank You for that. Amen.