Divine Service Texts

Jesus Christ: son of God and Prophet

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. — Deuteronomy 18:15

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Message

God announces a Prophet greater than Moses, namely Jesus Christ, in whom God promises salvation to all man­kind.

The Old Testament contains numerous references to the arrival of the Messiah. The Bible word for this second Sunday of Advent can also be understood as one such refer­ence. Moses not only led the people, but was also a proph­et, because He proclaimed the divine will.

The gospel of John brings to expression both the com­monalities and the differences between Moses and Jesus Christ: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Moses brought the law, and Jesus Christ brought grace and truth.

Grace and truth

Jesus Christ refers to the truth, namely by explaining who makes it possible to attain sal­vation and the means by which one can obtain salvation.

Jesus Christ Himself makes it clear that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Perfect fel­lowship with God is only pos­sible in Him. If we recognize the truth in the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6) we will not follow any other god or idol.

Jesus Christ reveals the will of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, He shows us how we are to conduct ourselves, but at the same time He makes it clear that we must commit ourselves to the grace of God if we desire to receive salva­tion.

Jesus’ prophetic predictions about the future

In the gospels, Jesus speaks about the future in prophetic fashion. He foretells the end of the splendid temple in Jeru­salem (Matthew 24:1–2), but He also promises the Holy Spirit (John 15:26), and speaks of His return (Matthew 24:29–31).

If we acknowledge the pro­phetic activity of Jesus, we will recognize Him as

  • The One who clearly expresses the will of God. Jesus calls upon us to lead a life of love for God and our neighbour.
  • The Lawgiver of love, namely of love for God, our neighbour, and one another.
  • The One in whom we encounter the grace of God. Let us not depend upon our own accom­plishments or works, but rather on Him alone.
  • The One who promises us a future with Him: eternal fellowship with the triune God! We can already experience this fellowship to some degree in word and sacrament, but also in our fellowship with one another. Let us make every effort to ensure that this is indeed the case among one another!

Those who follow Jesus will also share in Jesus’ prophetic ability. When we prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1–3), we speak of the will of God, point out to others that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, explain that we depend on the grace of God—and not our own works—and that Jesus will return as He has promised!

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 04 December 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Devotions: December

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The first Sunday in the month of December brings Jesus Christ into focus as the promised and expected Prophet and Messiah. Even greater than Moses, He proclaims God’s future plan of sal­vation and preaches about the outstanding importance of the grace of God.

The second Sunday of Advent is the second Sunday in the new church year. According to the motto of our theme series, we are living in the time of fulfilment.

The divine service on the third Sunday of Advent revolves around the practical applications of our preparation for the return of Christ. It endeavours to illustrate this unique event by using the image of the approaching morning after the darkness of the night.

Praise and thanks for the King of all kings—who already reigns in our midst today, and who will also rule as King in the kingdom of peace—is the core content of the divine service on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

With a view to the perspective and believing attitude of Mary, the mother of Jesus, this year’s celebration of Christmas features some new and enriching facets for our life of faith today, and confirms the truth of the fundamental statement: “Nothing that God has resolved to do is ever impossible.”

The divine service that marks the closing of the year makes ref­erence to this year’s motto of “Victory with Christ” and calls upon us to be introspective and give thanks.

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Jesus Christ: The fulfillment of promise (First Sunday of Advent)

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. — 2 Corinthians 1:20

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Message

Together with the Apostles we profess that the divine promises have been fulfilled in Christ.

Today we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and remem­ber that God already promised the Messiah in the time of the old covenant. Advent, however, is also a season in which we intensively occupy our­selves with our future. After all, we are a people of the future.

Christ is the Yes

Jesus Christ is the Yes of the divine promises, because the promises given by God have been fulfilled in Christ.

  • God promised that He will send a Man who will bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). On the cross, Jesus gained the victory over evil.
  • Isaiah announced the coming of the Saviour (Isaiah 62:11). Thanks to the merit acquired by Jesus, man can be freed from sin and delivered from evil.
  • Jeremiah announced that God would make a new covenant with His people by writing His law into their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). The sermon of Jesus ignited the hearts of His listeners. It is His love that urges us to love Him and to follow His commandments.
  • Jesus Himself will return to fulfil the promise He gave and take His own unto Himself (John 14:3).
  • The Lord will come to earth again in order to establish His kingdom of peace and offer salvation to all nations on earth, perfectly fulfilling the promise given to Abram (Genesis 12:3; 22:18).

Apostles pronounce the Amen

Apostles proclaim the Amen, which means that they profess that Christ fulfils God’s prom­ises.

  • They profess Jesus’ victory over evil.
  • By the authority vested in them, they proclaim forgiveness of sins to repentant believers.
  • They dispense the sacraments, the signs of the new covenant.
  • They proclaim the return of Christ.
  • Sent to all nations, they prepare the royal priest­hood, who, together with Jesus, will be active in the kingdom of peace.

We profess the fulfilment of the promise

We have been called to pro­fess the fulfilment of the prom­ises of Jesus.

  • Our trust in Christ proves that we believe in His victory.
  • Our willingness to forgive proceeds from the grace that He gives us.
  • Our love testifies of the effectiveness of the sac­raments: the love of God was poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).
  • Our joy in Christ is a fruit of our hope in the Lord’s return.
  • We are patient with our neighbour and offer him hospitality, because we know that God wants to save him.

Jesus announced that salva­tion is to be offered to all—and we say amen to this.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 27 November 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

 

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Justified by faith

Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. — Malachi 3:18

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Message

We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ.

Today is the last Sunday of the church year, which refers to the return of Jesus Christ at the end of time for judgement.

God had sent the prophet Malachi to comfort the people. The devout Jews had seen how well things were going for the wicked and had started to wonder and ask why things were not going better for them, seeing that they kept the law. We can understand this! The prophet encouraged them and gave them the following prom­ise of God: in the end there will be a difference between the righteous and the wicked.

Righteous through faith

One cannot become righteous by performing works of the law. The justification of the sinner is an act of God: God grants him the grace to have fellowship with Him. Through faith in Jesus Christ, the sinner can participate in this grace. That is why Apostle Paul was able to say that sinners are justified by faith (Romans 3:28; Catechism-QA 278).

Righteous – wicked

The fact that we are faithful to Christ does not protect us from adversity. This could cause us to call our faith into question. Is it all for nothing that I follow Jesus Christ? No, it is not, because the Apostles show me through word and sacrament how to prepare myself for the return of Christ.

At the return of Christ, the bridal congregation will be accepted into eternal fellow­ship with the triune God. She will not have to appear at the Last Judgement.

Those who refuse to fol­low Christ will ultimately be separated from God at the Last Judgement (Matthew 25:46).

The faith of the righteous

Justification occurs through faith (Romans 5:1). Character­istics of this faith are:

  • Obedience to the will of God, which reveals itself in the Ten Command­ments, for example (Exodus 20:2–17).
  • Trust in God, our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9).
  • Our willingness to forgive, which proceeds from the forgiveness that God has already given us.

Serving the Lord

Let us serve Christ by:

  • professing our faith and proclaiming the name of Christ,
  • modelling our lives on the gospel and practising Christian love, and
  • helping our neighbour as though he were Christ (Matthew 25:40).

Justified by faith, let us enter eternal fellowship with the tri­une God on the day of Christ’s return.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the divine service held on 20 November 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Life through the spirit

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. — Romans 8:11

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Message

God will raise us through the Holy Spirit.

The resurrection of Jesus

Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. Like every human being, Jesus consists of body, soul, and spirit. His body was killed. He committed His spirit into the hands of His Father (Luke 23:46). God raised His Son from the dead through the Holy Spiritand gave Him a new body. It was in this resurrection body that Jesus appeared in the midst of His disciples (Catechism-QA 189).

The events at the return of Christ

At the return of Christ, those who have died in Christ will rise and the faithful who are still alive will be changed (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17). In other words, soul and spirit will be united with the resurrec­tion body (Catechism-QA 92). Those who want to receive the resurrection body at the return of Christ must let the Holy Spirit prepare their soul and spirit to this end. Only faith is able to grasp the resurrection, the human mind cannot.

Receiving the resurrection body

To receive the resurrection body at the return of Christ, one must

  • be baptized with water and Spirit,
  • celebrate Holy Commun­ion in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27),
  • and give room to the Holy Spirit so that He can prepare soul and spirit to receive the new body.

It is important to put off the old nature so that the new cre­ation in us can reach maturity (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Heeding the promptings of the Spirit

Specifically, this means that we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us (Romans 8:14). The Holy Spirit prompts us to

  • Be obedient. Jesus Christ was obedient to the point of death. We are ready to surrender ourselves to God in faith and obedience, and to surrender to His will.
  • Be kind and do good works. Out of love for His neighbour, Jesus showed kindness to everyone. Let us also be kind and do good works, no matter the nationality or religion to which our neighbour belongs.
  • Jesus extended grace to those who had a bad reputation, like the woman who had been caught committing adul­tery or the tax-collector Zacchaeus (John 8:2–11; Luke 19:2–10). He also forgave those who tor­tured Him (Luke 23:34). Let us be lenient with the sins of others and forgive those who hurt us per­sonally.
  • Remain faithful. When Jesus was taken to court, He was alone, abandoned by everyone. Despite everything, He remained faithful to His Father. Sometimes we are alone, far away from the congregation. Nevertheless, let us remain faithful to God.

We need grace in order to receive a resurrection body. That is why we want to take the promptings of the Holy Spirit seriously and examine ourselves to see where our failures and short­comings are.

Those souls who are led by the Holy Spirit will receive a res­urrection body and, together with Christ—the firstfruits of the resurrection—enter the kingdom of His Father.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on 13 November 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Saved by looking up to the cross: Divine service for the departed

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:14−15

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Message

Belief in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice is essential for salva­tion.

Moses and the brazen serpent

Following Israel’s liberation from Egypt, the king of Edom refused to give Israel the right of passage through his terri­tory, which meant that they had to walk around it. This detour really discouraged the people. What is more, they began to complain about the manna, calling it “worthless bread”. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents and the peo­ple feared for their lives. So Moses prayed for the people, his brothers and sisters. God ordered Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten by a snake and looked up to this bronze serpent lived (Numbers 21:4–9). God pro­vided the means of deliver­ance. The only thing one had to do was look up to it.

The lifting up of Jesus on the cross

Jesus alluded to this incident in order to explain to Nicode­mus that His being lifted up on the cross was the means to salvation (John 3:14−15).

The snake bite is an image for sin, which leads to spiritual death: separation from God (Catechism-QA 89). By look­ing up to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, human beings are able to escape spiritual death (Catechism-QA 90). This also applies to the departed (Catechism-QA 543).

With respect to the departed let us follow the example of Moses and

  • Intercede in prayer for those who face spiritual death because they do not know Jesus Christ or do not believe in Him. They must also grasp the sacraments (Catechism-QA 544, 546).
  • Lift up the Lord so that they can see Him. This we can do by speaking about His work and activities, by professing our faith, and behaving accordingly.

Under the sign of the cross

Departed souls can be saved by looking up to Christ on the cross (Catechism-QA 547).

The suffering of the Lord teaches us that

  • The love of His Father did not spare Him from suffering, but it enabled Him to be victorious and to resurrect through the power of God (Colossians 2:12). God’s love for us is manifested in the same way.
  • Jesus trusted His Father even though He did not answer His question of why (Mark 15:34). God redeems those who hum­bly trust Him.
  • Although Jesus was con­demned to death despite being innocent, He found the strength to forgive those who were to blame (Luke 23:34). With God’s help we can forgive those who have wronged us, our “debtors”.

In our prayers we can inter­cede for the departed before God.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on 06 November 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Devotions: November

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The final month of the church year begins with the divine ser­vice for the departed. The Bible word clearly shows that looking up to the cross, to the crucified and exalted Lord, is essential in order to be able to escape spiritual death. His painful death on the cross was not a defeat but a lifting up, signifying redemption for mankind. All those who were bitten by poisonous snakes dur­ing the trek through the wilderness and looked up to the brazen serpent were saved. In the same way, Jesus grants redemption to everyone who longs for it and looks up to Him (John 3:14–15). By upholding our faith and professing the Lord we can help along the many that will still feel and recognize the Lord’s love for man­kind.

On the second and third Sunday in November we will examine the subject of the last things. We will focus on “our hope for the future” and “judgement”.

Those who have entered into life by believing in Jesus Christ can live a life whose future is filled with hope. In the same way that Christ was awakened from the dead through the Holy Spirit, believers are prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the new body, the resurrection body. That is why Christians always focus on the future and the fulfilment of the promise of Jesus. A person with­out hope cannot be a true Christian.

A true Christian will not fear the day of the Lord, the day of judge­ment, which the Bible word refers to on the last Sunday of the church year. Justified by faith, those who believe serve the Lord out of love and faith. This active love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). This distinguishes them from the wicked.

On the last Sunday of November we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which marks the beginning of the new church year. The season of Advent this year falls under the theme series “Time of fulfilment”. The birth of Jesus is the fulfilment of all promises ever given in connection with the Redeemer. In Galatians 4:4 it says: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son.” With this, God’s plan of salvation was manifest to man­kind. Something irreversible had dawned for all sinners: the time of grace! Not even the temptations of the evil one could stop the Saviour of the world from taking the road to victory over sin and death. Neither do we want to be held up from walking the way of faith and following Christ.

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Service to God means sacrifice

You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 2: 5

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Message

We comprise a priesthood that is there to serve God.

In the old covenant, the task of the priests consisted of bringing sacrifices to God. By giving Himself as a sacrifice, Jesus Christ reconciled mankind with God and thereby invalidated the sacrificial service of the Old Testament. Even though the sacrifice of Jesus is unique and fully valid, it does not exempt human beings from bringing their own sacrifices. Human beings can only be redeemed if they sacrifice their old nature and renounce sin.

Tasks of our priesthood

God has not only elected us in order to be redeemed. He has also called us in order to serve Him and bring sacrifices to Him as a holy priesthood.

Paul admonishes us to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Romans 12: 1). Our divine calling encompasses our entire being. To be in the service of God means to put the gospel into practice in all situations. Through our conduct, we can help human beings to come closer to the Lord.

Spiritual sacrifices

Let us offer thanksgiving to God (Psalm 50: 14). The church is called upon to bring praises to God. By giving thanks to God collectively, we do our part to help make God’s activity and love known to others.

The priesthood was to bring burnt offerings to God. The smoke of incense was regarded as a symbol for prayers addressed to God (Psalm 141: 2). Our calling is also to intercede on behalf of our neighbour.  Let us be built up as a spiritual house of those who pray!

The collective prayer spoken in the divine service is of great importance, however, we can also respond to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and pray together even when we are not in a divine service. There is no need to establish regularly occurring prayer meetings led by a minister! The important thing is that we pray in the name of Jesus and in His mind and spirit. The aim of our prayers is not to demand miracles of God, but to collectively express our faith, our trust, and our love for our neighbour to Him (Matthew 18: 19).

Material sacrifices

Let us “not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13: 16). Let us not hesitate to help those who are facing hardship, for example, by supporting the many organizations that are already active in this field. Let us remember the words of the Lord: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6: 3). When we help our neighbour, we do not do so in order to put the spotlight on ourselves or with the motive of bringing him into our Church. We simply do this because we love him.

Although the Philippians had to live through afflictions of their own, they wanted to support the work of Apostle Paul financially. He thanked them warmly for this and assured them that such sacrifices are pleasing to God and that He would also help them in their needs (Philippians 4: 18–19). Today too God blesses the sacrifices of the faithful who give of their income in order to support the mission of the apostolate.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on 25 September 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Our Service

And you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. — Luke 12: 36–37

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Message

In accordance with the example of Christ, let us serve God and our neighbour.

Jesus emphasizes in this parable just how important it is that we are vigilant as we wait for His return. At the same time He gives us an indication of how He understands His mission: He will come and serve those who receive Him.

The Lord came into the world to serve the Father (Matthew 12: 18) and man (Matthew 20: 28) and to redeem man. He brings eternal life to those who open when He knocks, in other words, those who believe that He is the Son of God.

The service of Jesus

The service of Jesus incorporates

  • Respect for human freedom of decision; He would never resort to violence or uttering threats;
  • Tirelessly offering His word, His grace, and His help, regardless of whether human beings accept it or not;
  • Always keeping an eye on the individual’s carrying capacity, only telling His disciples what they can understand (John 16: 12), and never giving us more to bear than we can carry (1 Corinthians 10: 13).

The service of the apostle

Jesus Christ has equipped the Apostle ministry with far-reaching powers, and it serves both God and mankind. The Apostles are completely dependent on their Sender, and can only give that which they have received from Him. They have been sent out by Jesus to offer mankind salvation and prepare them for His return. They can only fulfil their commission among those who believe in the Apostle ministry and in the return of Jesus Christ. Their service incorporates

  • Not ruling over the believers, but imploring them to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 1: 24; 5: 20);
  • Granting word, grace, and sacrament to all longing souls.
  • Serving as examples to those who want to put the gospel into practice (1 Corinthians 11: 1).

The service of the Chief Apostle

The Chief Apostle likewise stands in the service of God and mankind. He can only fulfil his commission among those who accept him as the one who exercises the office of Peter. The service of the Chief Apostle consists of

  • Ensuring that the doctrine is in perfect agreement with the will of God and that it is taught in uniform manner within the Church;
  • Further developing the teaching of the Church in accordance with the will of God, and creating the conditions required for all children of God to follow this ongoing development.

Our service

We are called to serve Christ and mankind both today and in the kingdom of peace. Our service is comprised of helping people recognize the love and power of Jesus Christ.

Each one of us serves the church. There may well be divergent opinions in our ranks, for example, with regard to music, homosexuality, or ecumenism, but to push our own will through would violate the commandment of brotherly love.

Let us strive for that which contributes to peace and mutual edification.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on 18 September 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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Being a blessing for the neighbour

Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. — Romans 12: 13

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Message

We are to be a source of blessing for our neighbour.

Apostle Paul describes a task that applies to every child of God.

The saints are believers who have been sanctified by the sacrifice of Jesus as well as through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament. In order to recognize the needs of our brother and sister, we need only think of our own (Matthew 7: 12).

Taking an interest in the needs of the saints

Just like us, our brothers and sisters need

  • Love and care. Let us prove our love to them by sharing both their joys and sorrows. Our neighbour needs just as much care for his soul as we do. Let us not take up all of the ministers’ time by insisting that our cross is heavier than that of our neighbour.
  • We expect our brother and sister to forgive us and not keep bringing up our failures. Let us do the same for them.
  • Inner peace and composure. Tensions and conflicts within the congregation prevent us from enjoying the divine service and finding deep peace. The same also holds true for others. Let us therefore make the effort to resolve conflicts as quickly as possible. Let us be aware of our responsibility toward God and our neighbour. Telling the whole world about our conflicts—or publishing them on the Internet, for example—will only serve to deepen them.

Being hospitable

Hospitality consists of sharing what we have with strangers. A stranger is someone who comes from another place and who may be different from us in various ways.

  • Let us not forget that we are all strangers. None of us can claim to exhibit the holiness and perfection required in order to enter into the kingdom of God of the present. The only reason we were able to enter there was because God granted us grace.
  • Paul called upon the Jewish Christians to accept the fact that the Gentiles had the same access to salvation as they did, even though they never had to live under the yoke of the Mosaic Law. Let us not expect the younger generation to have to tolerate the same constraints we did, nor expect our neighbour to have to endure exactly the same trials we may have had to experience. Let us simply accept that the souls who are only being sealed today will not have to wait as long as we before they can enter their heavenly home. Let us simply trust in the righteousness of God!
  • Acceptance of the stranger makes it possible for us to concentrate on that which is essential: faith, love, and hope. Our habits and preferences, or the manner in which we practice charity, are not decisive for salvation. Let us not take offence if our brother does not share them.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service held on Sunday, 11 September 2016 at Midrand Congregation.

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