Onesimus and Philemon

Onesimus the slave or servant.  Philemon the master.  Paul the friend, the mediator pleads for the safe return and proper treatment of Onesimus upon his return to Philemon.  The story is recounted in Paul’s letter to Philemon, a letter that was sent to the church that met in the house of Philemon, with instructions that it be read aloud to the entire congregation.

Onesimus had left the household of Philemon without permission or without fulfilling his obligations to his master.  There was some sort of dispute, according to Paul’s letter, and Onesimus found his way to Paul during his imprisonment where he served the apostle.  Paul, however, does not permit Onesimus to shirk his civil duties to his master, nor does he allow his master, who is obviously in a position of advantage both in terms of finances and authority, to treat his servant unjustly upon return.  Rather he urges love and forgiveness, reconciliation in this relationship.  Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother in Christ upon his return, not as a slave that he owned or servant in his employ. For while our vocations may place us in different statuses in our relationships, as one in Christ, we are obliged by the love of Christ, which is the fulfillment of the law, always to treat one another as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the King in Christ.  And we do this despite our worldly status.

Listen to more on this week’s Sunday School Lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielson of Concordia Publishing House on Issues, etc.

Moses and the Plagues, Sunday School Lesson, October 30, 2011

Exodus 5-10

Click to hear the Issues, Etc. discussion of this week’s Sunday School lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielsen.

This week we enter into the story of God’s redemption of Israel from out of the bondage of slavery into which it had fallen in the land of Egypt.  God planted Joseph in Egypt to preserve his family.  In the great famine that plagued the world for seven (7) years, all people were drawn to the land of Egypt, and to Joseph who was placed in charge of the land by Pharaoh working as God’s chosen instrument.  God used Pharaoh in this way to make Himself known to Joseph’s family, especially his brothers.  God once again uses Pharaoh to make Himself known.  This time, however, it is to reveal Himself by His name, יהוה (yhwh) to all the world.  For He is the God who kills to and makes alive, He wounds and heals.  He is the one and only God, beside Him there is no other in all the world.  Deuteronomy 32:39.  And in using Pharaoh, God hardens his heart, that is God gives him courage and strength in opposition to Moses’ request.  Exodus 9 tells of the plague of boils, oozing, horrible sores that afflicted man and beast throughout the land of Egypt.  Until now, it was Pharaoh who had changed his mind, becoming more and more resolved not to let Israel go.  Yet this time, the plague of boils affects even Pharaoh.  The text does not tell us if he actually received the sores.  It does tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not that Pharaoh hardened his own.  The plague must have touched Pharaoh in some way to at least cause him to waver a bit.  Yet God would have none of it.  He would make his NAME known in all the world, that there is one God and one God only, and He would make it know through these slaves in the land of Egypt.

This is a strange work, foreign to the nature of God.  To think that He would actually turn someone against His divine Will in order to reveal His name and who He is to the world.  And yet, to make us alive, God must first kill us.  Death and sin and killing were caused by man’s rejection of the Word of God, by our disobedience to His command.  So God hardening the heart of Pharaoh should not seem so difficult to grasp.  For He uses man as He is, sinful, opposed to God, and gives him over to his own sinfulness to wallow in it.  See Romans 1.  Sometimes God acts with us as He does with Pharaoh, hardening his heart even more than Pharaoh had done for himself.  In our stubbornness, we refuse to heed His Word, rejecting it and steeling our hearts and minds in opposition to it.  For we want to be in control of our own destiny, our own lives.  God uses this stubbornness and opposition against us, gives us over to it.  Sin is heaped upon sin until man is broken despairs of his own ability.  And yet, all the while, God is at work using His Word to turn us to Him, to bring us to our knees in solemn repentance, begging for mercy, for forgiveness.

Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get our attention as in the case of Pharaoh.  It shocks our consciences and senses to think that a good and gracious God would give us over to evil and to our own sin.  It does not comport with our darkened sense of goodness and justice.  And yet, because of our sin that has turned us completely away from Him, God works on us in ways that are strange and alien to His nature and to who He is.   To we who are dead in trespasses and sin, God’s work seems wrong. For His nature is mercy and love.  He is the God of creation, who creates and gives life.  And yet when He kills, he does not take our lives away — He uses it to create new life within us.  So what seems bad to us is God working on us for our good.   And the suffering of the plagues of sin that we must endure is something good, for it disciplines us, corrects and rebukes us, and turns us back to God and, as we will see next week, the Cross of Christ.



Joseph Rises to Second in Command to Feed Egypt and the World, Sunday School Lesson, October 2, 2011

Joseph made ruler in Egypt
Image via Wikipedia

Genesis 40-41

Click here to listen to the Issues Etc. interview with Tom Nummela of Concordia Publishing House.

This week’s Sunday School lesson focuses on Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.  While he was in jail, two key persons in the Pharaoh’s service, his baker and cupbearer, were jailed because Pharaoh became angry with them.  Both had dreams while in prison.  Joseph was given the meaning of their dreams by God, and the interpretations came to pass — the cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker was executed.  The cupbearer soon forgot about Joseph as he went about the service of his master, the Pharaoh of Egypt.  After two years had passed, Pharaoh was troubled by some dreams.  He called together the magicians and wise men of Egypt, and no one could interpret them.  It was at this time that the cupbearer remembered Joseph.  He was brought before Pharaoh and was given by God the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams — 7 years of plenty, and 7 years of famine throughout Egypt and the world.  Pharaoh made Joseph the second in command, in charge of all Egypt

From the very pit of despair and humiliation, God raised Joseph, at the right time, to feed the people placed in his care as well as the known world at that time.  41:57 tells us that the famine was so severe that all the world came to buy grain from Egypt.  The story of Joseph is a story of the Christ whom God sent into the world to save mankind and to feed all those who come to him not with food for the belly, but with the bread of life.  This story also shows how God cares and provides for you and for me.  Joseph held fast to the hope that God would deliver him from this prison, that he would preserve and protect his life.  Joseph did not become bitter or curse God, and God did not forsake him.  Joseph confessed the truth of God in the very presence of the Pharaoh.  And God raised Joseph up to be the second in command, to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, the father of Egypt.  Not because of what Joseph did or the confession he made, but because God’s plan for salvation had been working since before Joseph was sold in slavery in Egypt.

God took what was low and humble, and made him great.  Such is the work of our God, to create life from nothing, to make hope out of despair.  And we, like the magicians and wise men, are powerless in these divine matters.  And we can sit in awestruck wonder, and sing vague songs about God’s majesty and awesome power and love and how it makes me feel and seek that experience and encounter with the divine in some sort of mystical union with God, or we can take heed and listen to the Word He gives us that HE is at work in your life for you in Christ, providing, protecting, and preserving your very life.  Not so that you can stand before Him as He is in His full Majesty and Divine power and Glory, but so that you can live here in this world, today, carrying the Cross as a disciple of Christ, taking Christ to the world.

Joseph Continues to Face Challenges, Sunday School Lesson, September 25, 2011

Genesis 39

Last week, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead.  Interestingly, he was sold to the Ishmaelites, cousins of Jacob.  Ishmael was Isaac’s brother.  The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officers, and a captain in the guard.  God preserved Joseph’s life, and he soon came to have responsibility for the operation of Potiphar’s entire household.  Yet he also found favor with Potiphar’s wife who sought to seduce him.   Joseph was truly a man of God, and, trusting alway that the Lord was watching over him, refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife.  He was falsely accused of trying to take advantage of her for refusing her advances, and thrown into prison.  Again, however, God was moving and preserved Joseph’s life.  He soon gained favor in the prison with the jailer who put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners.

God’s grace is evident throughout Joseph’s life.  When one is faced with such cruel events, there is the temptation to become angry and bitter.  We are tempted to reject God and blame Him for the evil that has befallen us.  And while the difficulties in our life are not always God’s doing, they are quite often something He does to us in our lives.  We like to see such things as bad, unjust, wrong, and evil.  For Joseph, as a young boy he is torn from his family, betrayed by his very own brothers, the ones who are to watch over him and protect him.  He is taken away to a foreign land and sold to a strange house.  Joseph certainly would have been justified in becoming bitter and vengeful toward his brothers.  We certainly could have understood if he would have embraced the gods of Egypt and rejected Adonai Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob.  This is especially so when he suffers a further grave injustice at the hands of his master’s wife when he is falsely accused of trying to take advantage of her and thrown into prison.  Yet Joseph does none of these things.  Instead, he trusts in the God of his fathers to protect him.  He does so despite the awful circumstances that are worked upon him by his God, our God.  You see, God does not always give us what we want.  He does not always come to us in ways that we can see or even expect.  Our sinful flesh is opposed to God — we want to be god and not let God be who He is, submit to Him and let Him rule over us.  Joseph experiences the suffering of the cross, and in faith receives God’s grace as his life is preserved.  In so doing, as we will see in the next lessons, he is raised up to preserve the lives of his family in a time of desperate need.

Click here to listen to Tom Nummela of Concordia Publishing House talk about this week’s lesson on Issues, Etc.

Joseph and His Brothers, Sunday School Lesson for September 18, 2011

If you have ever had an annoying, know it all, favorite son, little brother, then you can relate to the story of Joseph and his brothers found in Genesis 37.  Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son born of Rachel whom Jacob had to work 14 long years to be permitted to marry.  After many years of being unable to conceive a child, and after watching her sister bear Jacob six children, Rachel’s womb was opened.  Joseph, the second youngest son — Benjamin was the youngest — was a pest.  He tagged along with his brothers when they went to shepherd the flocks in the field, and then tattled on his brothers for the things they did.  Jacob had a lavish coat of many colors made and gave it to Joseph.  The brothers could not speak to Joseph nicely as a brother.

There was bitterness and envy between them, and when Joseph told them of the dreams he had about the son, moon, and stars and the wheat in the field all bowing down to him, they hated him even more.  Yet little did they know that Joseph was making a prophecy, not just of the salvation of his family from famine, but of the salvation of the world.  For Joseph’s dream introduce an important theme that runs through the story of salvation that the older shall serve the younger and the younger shall rule over the older.  Put another way, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  Or the greatest among you shall be the least and servant of all.  This is ultimately fulfilled in the person and work of the Christ.  Joseph does become for his brothers an example of the Christ and what He will do for His people.  While Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead, eaten by a lion, Joseph did not repay their evil with evil when the time came to rescue them from the devastating famine in the land.  Joseph, second in command to the Pharoah in Egypt, ruling at the right hand of the king, had mercy on his brothers, forgave them for what they had done, and brought them into the land of Egypt where they lived and prospered the rest of their days.

To learn more about this week’s Sunday School Lesson, click here to listen to this week’s interview with Tom Nummela of Concordia Publishing House on Issues Etc.

Stephen, The First Martyr — Sunday School Lesson, May 8, 2011

Acts 6-7.  Listen to this week’s interview with Deaconess Pam Nielsen and Pr. Todd Wilken here on Issues, Etc.

Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the Apostles to serve as deacons, essentially, to assist the Apostles in the ministry of that early church.  The Greek Christians complained that their widows were being neglected and left out of the daily distributions of food and other necessities by that early church.  They made it the work of the church to take care of the poor and the needy, in their midst, caring for their daily needs.

Luke describes Stephen as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, full of power and grace, who did great wonders among the people.  Some of the Greek converts to Judaism got into a dispute with Stephen.  The specifics of the dispute are not mentioned in Acts, but Luke suggests that it had to do with Scripture and most likely Christ as fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Way to Life.  These Greek converts instigated rumors of blasphemy against Stephen.  They seized him and brought him before the council and elders charging him with their false accusations of teaching about Christ.  Luke tells us that all who sat on the council looked at Stephen and his face was like the face of an angel.

In the midst of the council, Stephen recounted the history of the people of Israel and how it led to the rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.  Stephen does not mince words.  He confronts them with the very Cross of Christ and how their rejection of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit killed the Savior on the Cross, and, ultimately, will lead to their own death.  It is fitting that Luke points out that the accusations were brought by Greek converts to Judaism, for they are included in Stephen’s message.  Thus, his message is not limited to the people of Israel alone, but to all people.  Just as Israel was the church, God’s chosen people on earth, so too are we the church God’s chosen people.  We cannot escape the accusation that we killed our Lord, nor can we shift responsibility to God’s ancient chosen people.  They are still God’s special people, chosen for a purpose.  God does not forget His promises.  What He has in store for them remains in the council of the Godhead.

Yet what happens to Stephen should serve as a message for believers in His Church — the Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing.  It is difficult for unbelievers to grasp, painful.  It causes anger and resentment in them, but it is God working on them, a suffering that they must endure to receive faith.  They will turn this anger, resentment, and wrath on us as God’s visible instruments in Christ on earth.  Their pain will in turn be our pain, and we must be prepared for it.  In Stephen’s case, He was stoned.  The ring leader was a pharisee of pharisees, from the tribe of Benjamin.  He held the coats of the men who gleefully pummeled Stephen to death with stones.  As he died, Stephen was given by the Holy Spirit a glimpse of the Glory of God, with our Lord Christ standing beside the Father’s Glory.  He was given the faith to pray for those who persecuted him to death.  God grant each of us this faith to endure to the end.

Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead, Sunday School Lesson for Sunday April 17, 2011

Raising of Lazarus
Image via Wikipedia

In John 11, Jesus receives word that his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was ill.  It was serious enough that Lazarus’ family called upon the miracle worker.  Yet Jesus does not go to him, telling those whom the sisters had sent that the illness was not serious, and did not lead to death.  John goes to great lengths to point out that Jesus had a special affection for this family.  It was Mary who had anointed Jesus with oil, and Martha who was scolded for failing to recognize the rest and nourishment to be found in our Lord Jesus.  Instead of going to Bethany where they lived, Jesus stayed where He was two days longer.  His disciples must have agreed with Jesus’ decision because they become concerned when Jesus asks to go to Judea.  They argue with Him, but Jesus tells them plainly that Lazarus had died.  And curiously Jesus tells them that He is glad, for their sake, that He was not there when Lazarus died.

This ragtag band of fishermen, would be soldiers and rulers in Christ’s kingdom, had to be quite puzzled.  They were clearly afraid that they would be attacked by the Jews again.  They were angry.  Jesus had clearly agitated them, and the disciples were getting cold feet.  Dazed and confused by Jesus’ statements, Thomas tries to muster some courage and rally the troops saying, “Let us go to Bethany and die with him!”  Yet the work of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.  God never comes to us in the way we expect Him to.  He reveals His glory in ways that we cannot anticipate.  What did Thomas expect when they got into Judea?  What about the disciples?

Martha meets Jesus before He gets to Bethany, scolding Him.  Rightly, she says that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been there.  Yet faith would not have been created in His disciples.  Nor would we have gotten a glimpse at the fully incarnate God-man Christ as we do here.  For Jesus gives us the full range of His humanity in the emotion and love He displays for this family, the concern for His disciples’ faith, and the full range of His Deity in the creation of faith and raising Lazarus from the dead.  And Lazarus was not just dead — he was REALLY dead.  Four days.  Decay had set in.  And lest we forget, Christ Himself makes the claim here that He IS God in one of the great I AM statements of John when He tells Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”  There is life in no other.  We who are dead can only be made alive by Christ;  we only receive life in and through Christ.  Make no mistake, when it comes to our salvation, without Christ, we are all exactly like Lazarus no matter how good of a person we are.

Christ, the life of all the living,
Christ, the death of death, our foe,
Christ, yourself for me once giving
To the darkest depths of woe:
Through your suffering, death, and merit
Life eternal I inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks are due,
Dearest Jesus, unto you.                      — Ernst C. Hornburg

Listen to Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s lesson on Issues Etc.

Jesus Heals a Blind Man, Sunday School Lesson April 10, 2011

The Son of Man
Image by Mike Rawlins via Flickr

Listen to Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s Sunday School Lesson with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc.

In John 9, Jesus heals a man blind from birth.  As they pass near this man, Jesus’ disciples pose the question — “Who sinned?  This man or his parents?”  The disciples recognized that man is sinful, but linked the physical disability to a specific sin of the parent or the child.  And while there is a kernel of truth here, namely that our sin has consequences that are felt in this world both physically and spiritually, Jesus, acknowledging that kernel of truth, tells His disciples they miss the bigger point:  This man is blind, so that God’s glory may be revealed in Him. And Jesus, pulls the man aside, spits in the dirt, creates mud, puts the mud on the man’s eyes, and tells the man to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  When he returns, the man can see.

The Pharisees are shocked and dismayed by this act.  They argue that a sinner like this man Jesus, a carpenter’s son whom they know, cannot heal the blind.  Only God can do miracles such as these.  But it is in the creative work of Christ, coming to the blind man, making a healing salve out of spit and mud, speaking to the man the Word of God, and the washing of water which gives the blind man faith to believe.  It is a pure gift of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit which leads this man to confess that Jesus must be a great prophet.  And when the pharisees finish their questioning, Jesus again seeks out the man, and being the Christ, he confronts the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  His reply, “Tell me who He is Sir, that I may believe.”  The Spirit has not only opened this man’s eyes to see the world, but his heart has been opened to draw on the well of spiritual knowledge from which he has been fed throughout his life.  And so when Christ, the Cross itself, comes to him and confronts him, the blind man has a sense of hope welling within him.  Having been made ready to receive salvation by the law, Christ reveals Himself to the man.  This was done in the presence of some Pharisees, and Jesus takes the opportunity to reiterate His purpose in coming into this world — for judgment — that those who see or think they see may be made blind, and that those who are blind may be given sight.

Just as Jesus comes to the blind man to heal him, He comes to us, creates in us the faith to believe and receive Him.  Christ openly confronts each one of us with the reality of the Cross and our sinfulness — He  makes us ready to receive salvation, giving us the faith to receive Him.  Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe!  Keep us humble dear Christ, that in faith, we may receive you and carry you to others.

Listen to Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s Sunday School Lesson with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Sunday School Lesson, April 3, 2011

Christ and the woman of Samaria at Jacob's Well
Image via Wikipedia

John 4:1-42

Click here to listen to this week’s Issues Etc. interview with Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House.

This week, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  The disciples are off gathering food.  In broad daylight, Jesus, a Jew, meets with a woman.  Not just any woman, a Samaritan woman.

Samaritans were Israelites.  They were children of Israel from the northern kingdom who were taken into captivity by Assyria.  When the northern kingdom was overrun, the Assyrians settled in their land.  They intermarried with the children of Israel.  No longer were they pure in blood.  They were mixed with Gentile blood.

And women.  Men and women were not supposed be seen speaking together in public.   In the synagogues, they are separated — men on one side, women on another.  Usually behind a veil.  Interaction was inappropriate, against social convention.  Especially if the woman was married.

Yet here Jesus asks this woman for a drink.  The woman is taken aback, for she knows that the Jews hate the Samaritans.  They resent one another.  So she calls Jesus on it.  But as our Savior always does, He confronts her in an unexpected way — If you knew the gift of God that was speaking to you — you would have asked Him for a drink, and he would have given you Living Water.  Little by little Jesus reveals Himself to the woman, giving her the faith to believe in Him.  More importantly, Christ Himself goes to her at the well, meets her where she is, and raises her out of the pit of shame and humiliation that she has made of her life.  By exposing her sinfulness directly, Jesus confronts her with it and with Himself, the Living Water, the Bread of Life — the Cross.  Jesus beautifully shows us here both His divine and Human nature.

Jesus does not wait for us to come to Him.  Nor does He beat around the bush when it comes to our sin.  Instead, He comes to us and deals with our sinfulness directly.  He does not put the social mores and traditions of men above the lost sinner.  Nor does Jesus hide His identity from the sinner.  Rather, He reveals who He is, and embraces the sinner as he is.  He then tells the woman to be who He has called her to be.  And isn’t that what Christ wants for us?  To embrace who we are as Christians.  And if of a particular denomination, say Lutheran, embrace the heritage into which you were born and out of which you were called?  Jesus draws the heritage out of the woman, shows her how she is connected to the Messiah.  He also shows her how the Messiah is not meant exclusively for the children of Judah, but for all people — including women.  This is a point that cannot be overlooked either.  Jesus elevates women in His life and ministry.  They play prominent roles.  This woman is the witness of the Messiah for the Samaritans.  Similarly, women were the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection.  All tribes, all nations, all races, male and female.  Christ comes to us all, even today.

Want Bible Study? Issues Etc. 24 — April 8 4:00 pm CST to April 9 4:00 pm CST


24 hours of uninterrupted study of Holy Scripture.  Live.  In person at Issues This is one of the best shows out there in Christian Talk Radio.  And for 24 hours straight, without interruption, you will hear nothing but pure Gospel awesomeness, as Pastor Todd Wilken discusses 12 books of the Bible with 12 of the best and brightest Pastors and Seminary Professors God has gifted to the LCMS.  Isaiah, Revelation, Daniel, Mark, Ephesians, Psalms, and 1 Corinthians will be covered.  Wilken and guest will spend two full hours on each book.

Make some time with the family, your youth group, Bible Study class, men’s group, women’s group, spouse, friends, etc. and study the Scriptures for a couple of hours.  It will be the best time you have spent on a Friday night in a long, long time.  Your kids always beg to stay up late on a Friday night, now you have no excuse not to let them.  Mark April 8, 2011 beginning at 4:00 p.m. Central Time until Saturday April 9, 2011 at 4:00 p.m.