Based on Isaiah 65:17-25
How is it that Christianity in general and the season of Lent, in particular, have come to be painted in gray, sodden tones — as heavy, burdensome, full of pain and guilt? In medieval times, art in most of its forms aimed to remind people of the shortness and futility of life, driving them to their knees before paintings and sculptures showing skulls, skeletons and sinners at the foot of the cross. Martin Luther was raised in such an environment, and his fear of the judgement and wrath of God set him on a path that led him to the monastery, where he hoped he could find peace with an angry God, through prayers, devotions, fasting and mortification of his flesh — acts intended to “mortify” or “put to death” his sinful nature. And yet, this spiritual struggle finally drove Luther to Scripture and the writings of St. Paul, where Luther found, not fear and guilt but freedom and joy. Luther remembered this revelation, writing in Wittenberg in 1545:
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.
God revealed the freeing, life-giving Gospel to Luther, through the Scriptures. Luther was born again and felt as if he had entered paradise, through this Good News. As in the words of the prophet Isaiah above, in Christ, God has created a new heaven and a new earth. Former sins and guilt “shall not be remembered or come to mind.” We are to “be glad and rejoice” in this new life God has created for us, in Christ Jesus.
Prayer: Lord God, in the midst of life and Lent, cause us to rejoice and be glad! Amen.
Lenten response: Is there a sin which troubles you? Write it on a slip of paper and light it on fire!
This year’s devotional was prepared by the Rev. Dr. David Wendel, NALC assistant to the bishop for ministry and ecumenism. To learn more about A Lenten Walk Through the Word, visit thenalc.org/lent.
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
65:17 For look, I am ready to create
new heavens and a new earth!
The former ones will not be remembered;
no one will think about them anymore.
18But be happy and rejoice forevermore
over what I am about to create!
For look, I am ready to create Jerusalem to be a source of joy,
and her people to be a source of happiness.
19Jerusalem will bring me joy,
and my people will bring me happiness.
The sound of weeping or cries of sorrow
will never be heard in her again.
20Never again will one of her infants live just a few days
or an old man die before his time.
Indeed, no one will die before the age of a hundred,
anyone who fails to reach the age of a hundred will be considered cursed.
21They will build houses and live in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22No longer will they build a house only to have another live in it,
or plant a vineyard only to have another eat its fruit,
for my people will live as long as trees,
and my chosen ones will enjoy to the fullest what they have produced.
23They will not work in vain,
or give birth to children that will experience disaster.
For the Lord will bless their children
and their descendants.
24Before they even call out, I will respond;
while they are still speaking, I will hear.
25A wolf and a lamb will graze together;
a lion, like an ox, will eat straw,
and a snake’s food will be dirt.
They will no longer injure or destroy
on my entire royal mountain,” says the Lord.(NET Bible)
54:1 For the music director, to be accompanied by stringed instruments; a well-written song by David. It was written when the Ziphites came and informed Saul: “David is hiding with us.”
O God, deliver me by your name!
Vindicate me by your power!
2O God, listen to my prayer!
Pay attention to what I say!
3For foreigners attack me;
ruthless men, who do not respect God, seek my life. (Selah)
4Look, God is my deliverer!
The Lord is among those who support me.
5May those who wait to ambush me be repaid for their evil!
As a demonstration of your faithfulness, destroy them!
6With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you!
I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good!
7Surely he rescues me from all trouble,
and I triumph over my enemies.(NET Bible)
5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. 2Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! 3And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight – the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
7You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! 9A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise! 10I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. 11Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!
13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 15However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. (NET Bible)
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.
The disputation with Eck, 1519, especially led Luther even farther on this course. Now he also divorced himself from the authority of the Councils. When he denied their infallibility he advanced from their fallibility to the infallible Scripture as the sole decisive norm for everything that wanted to be accepted as divine truth, and thereby without more ado he identified Scripture and the Word of God. Thus in his Disputatio J. Eckii et Mart. Lutheri he applied the admonition of Paul, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” to the decrees of Popes and Councils and expressly said of them that they have erred, but that Holy Scripture is the inerrant Word of God (verbum Dei infallibile). (16)
–Johann Michael Reu, Luther on the Scriptures
This daily Bible reading guide, Reading the Word of God, was conceived and prepared as a result of the ongoing discussions between representatives of three church bodies: Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The following individuals have represented their church bodies and approved this introduction and the reading guide: LCC: President Robert Bugbee; NALC: Bishop John Bradosky, Revs. Mark Chavez, James Nestingen, and David Wendel; LCMS: Revs. Albert Collver, Joel Lehenbauer, John Pless, and Larry Vogel.