Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 13, Number 1
In this Issue:
Approaching Another Lenten Season
When Lent was developed in the Church, it was a preparation for the Pascha [the Christian Passover, the nocturnal festival of Saturday-Sunday, the unitive commemoration of the passion and the resurrection]. It was a common practice in the early church that baptisms were conducted on Easter. "Lent had a particular reference to the instruction of the candidates for baptism at the great festival of redemption" [Lent, The Westminster Dictionary of Worship, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1972]. In fact, the training of candidates for baptism "may well be the reason for the origin of Lent, the instruction being spread over a period of six weeks and the old six-day fast extended to cover the 'forty days' on the model of our Lord's fast in the wilderness" [Ibid].
"The object of this arrangement would be to ensure, so far as possible that only those of real sincerity in their Christian profession were received into the church at the paschal baptism" [Ibid]. As the church grew, more and more of its members were baptized as infants and not as adults. This meant that fewer and fewer church members experienced being an initiate for baptism. As a result, the Lenten fast came more and more to apply not only to candidates for baptism, but to the church as a whole. Over time the custom rooted itself in the devotion of the church, and church members were encouraged to exercise spiritual discipline in preparation for the annual observing and celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord. The idea was, and is, that Christians might, through fasting, study, and prayer, approach the Pascha each year in much the same way his or her baptism was approached.
The observance of Lent today is no less revelavent than in the past. With all that goes on in the lives of church members today, it is not only a good thing, it is most necessary, that we take time to reflect on the salvation which God has made possible for us by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. A seminary homiletics professor, in speaking of the practice of Lent some years ago commented, "Lent is a period of self-denial and fasting, a period of spiritual discipline. Persons need this aspect of Lent because they have become flabby, affluent, and lazy. The theme of the day is, 'You owe it to yourself,' 'Enjoy, Enjoy,' 'Let yourself go and live it up.' Lent is a pilgrimage with Jesus to suffering and death. This involves discipline and self-denial. If we expect to rise with Christ in newness of life on Easter, we must first die with him. Lent is a time of learning to die to self. The problem people face today is their unwillingness to die in order to live. In a world when crime multiplies, selfishness reigns, and sex dominates society, we need a period in which to repent and return to God. This is what Lent is for." [Professor John R. Brokhoff].
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We Preach Christ Crucified
The Cross, the Crux of Lent
by Rev. John Erickson
Another Lenten Season is just around the corner. I can well imagine the many pastors, in thinking of the series of extra sermons looming before them, asking themselves, "What am I going to do this year?" Church publishing houses and Christian booksellers are ready with their help each year. There is ample material for a pastor to choose from if it is help he wants. Any and everything is available from series' ideas and outlines to ready to preach sermons, from ready to duplicate worship formats to video presentations to whatever.... And subject wise - most anything is available here too, from some fairly good biblically based material to material that is little more than psychological "feel good" babble.
It is a challenge for the preacher of today. What can we do so that people will come out for these mid-week services? What can we do to hold the interest of people? These are valid questions, I suppose. However, they do not really get to the crux of the matter. The Apostle Paul lifts up a fact that is at the crux of the matter. And in spite of what some might think, people have not changed that much since the days of Paul. So what Paul discovered is as relevant to us today as it was in his day. What he discovered was this:
...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intellect I will frustrate."      (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)
It has always been the case that the wisdom of the world is not as precious a thing as most people believe it to be. This is the truth the preacher of today is faced with. He has a message to proclaim. It is the message of the cross. It is the message of Christ Jesus, crucified, dead, buried, raised to life again, and ascended into heaven, from where he shall come again to judge the living and the dead. And this message is utter foolish ness to the ears of the people who are the "wise" of this world. To many, this message is the most ridiculous thing they could ever imagine. So this is the challenge for the true preacher, and especially now in the season of Lent - How can I proclaim a message and expect people to listen, and to actually embrace it, when it is a message that appears to them to be completely and absolutely "off the wall" ? ...a message that flies in the face of all that is reasonable, rational, sensible to any person of intelligence? How can I preach "Christ crucified" and expect to find people in the pew for six weeks when even among those who claim to be Christians, a large percentage do not see Jesus as being the only way to salvation and to heaven?*
Well, Paul helps the preacher in dealing with this concern.
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20-23)
...the Holy Spirit has led the Corinthian Christians to understand that they have been saved through the cross of Christ. Have the learned Jewish scribes or the Greek debaters discovered that? These brilliant people have proved to be fools because they, with all their wisdom, reject the only way of salvation there is: Jesus of Nazareth dying on the cross for our sins. All God has to do to show how foolish they are is to show them his grace in his Son Jesus Christ, then wait for their knee-jerk reaction. They will automatically reject God's grace in Christ.
It didn't just happen that the worldly wise rejected Christ - despite all that they knew about so many things. God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance. God's way had nothing to do with human wisdom. He "was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." How much clearer could it be? Man does not know enough to save himself. He is incapable of saving himself.
People by nature expect something else from God than what he offers them. "Jews demand miraculous signs." "Show us a sign," the Jews demanded of Jesus; "then we'll believe you are the promised Messiah." Jesus gave them signs. He healed the sick, he opened the eyes of the blind, he raised the dead, he preached the gospel to the poor. But they wanted a different kind of sign, because they wanted him to be a different kind of Messiah, the liberator of their nation from the hated Romans, rather than the Savior from sin.
Today men look for Christ to end wars, to eliminate poverty, to banish suffering, to assure civil rights. They forget that Jesus never made any such promises. As a matter of fact, he foretold that such problems would plague the world until the end of time.
The Jews were familiar with miracles in their history: like the crossing of the Red Sea, the destruction of the walls of Jericho, the destruction of Sennacherib's army. The religious history of the Greeks did not feature miracles. They wanted a religion that challenged their intelligence; they wanted philosophy, not a story about a crucified Jew who made great claims about saving the world. In their opinion, religion should be something scholarly, and learned, something to reason out. Such people scorned a gospel of a crucified Christ.
This same gospel was "a stumbling block to Jews." They were scandalized by a religion that declared that a man executed as a criminal was their God. They were insulted when they were told that they, God's chosen people, were guilty of crucifying the Son of God. Even today very few Jews get over this stumbling block.
Christ was also "foolishness to the Gentiles" (non-Jews, like the Greeks). The Greeks laughed at the idea that God revealed that his Son became a human being. They ridiculed the thought that belief in the cross could make people better. They considered the claim that Jesus was the only true God and Savior a piece of foolishness.
But what is foolishness to one is wisdom to another. In the congregation at Corinth there were both Jews and Greeks who had discovered that the gospel they once rejected as an offense or dismissed as folly was in reality the power of God and the wisdom of God. What an amazing turnabout! Only the Holy Spirit, who calls men, women and children to faith, can accomplish that miracle.
In God's kingdom things are topsy-turvy. What man considers foolish, God proves is wisdom; what man considers weak, God proves strength. The Jews saw the cross as proof of weakness, absolutely; God made that cross the world's most powerful instrument for good. The Greeks saw the gospel as proof of absurdity; God made that gospel the greatest truth the mind of man can receive. (1 Corinthians, by Carleton A. Toppe, pp 19-23)
Paul gives further help to the preacher as he begins chapter two of First Corinthians.
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
The Corinthians held the eloquent speaker in high regard; in fact, they idolized him. The cleaver speaker, the skillful debater - they not only admired the man who had a way with words, they were ready to lay out good Greek drachmas to hire such a man to teach them rhetoric and eloquence. They wanted their worldly wisdom to be presented with persuasive words and eloquent diction. Otherwise they would not value the message.
As a speaker, Paul was almost the opposite - as his own description clearly indicates. He preached simple, unpretentious sermons. He was no pulpit orator like our TV evangelists. Nor did he try to dazzle his hearers by making impressive wisdom out of the simple gospel. Paul was "low-key" in his pulpit style.
He had a good reason for appearing before the Corinthians in his unimposing way. "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified," Paul explains. They were to fix their eyes on the crucified Christ, not on Paul the great orator. They were to concentrate on the simple gospel message, not on worldly wisdom Paul might have to offer.
Paul was capable of eloquence; he was an intelligent and well-educated man. Read his epistles; you will be convinced. Paul was a man of wisdom, and he know how to present wisdom effectively. But he was not about to woo and win the Corinthians for the gospel by playing up to their delight in learned presentations and to their love of eloquence. If he had catered to their love of such a display, and if they had then accepted the gospel, it might have been because of the apostle's way with words caught their ears, not because the message of the cross won their hearts.
The Corinthians would recall that Paul came to them "in weakness and fear, and with much trembling." He had a disappointing experience and meager success in Athens, just forty miles away, and he had reason to fear that these Greeks at Corinth might be just as hard to win for the gospel. All the while he worked among them he was also concerned about the immorality in Corinth and about the defiance of those who were not ready to give up their fleshly lusts just because a traveling preacher told them to repent. So his words also suggest anxiety about the success of the "foolish" gospel among these worldly-wise people. Try preaching Christ crucified to the sophisticated students and faculty of a world-famous university; and you will understand Paul's anxiety.
Yet Paul was successful in Corinth. At the time he wrote this letter, the Corinthian congregation may have been the largest of the congregations he founded in Europe. How could he be so successful among people who valued "wise and persuasive words" so highly that they dismissed a message as foolishness if it was not presented eloquently? Paul has the answer: "My message and my preaching were. . . with a demonstration of the Spirit's power." God's Spirit did it. The Spirit opened hearts that were closed and barred to the truth. They now accepted what they had despised, and they believed in what they had scorned. Only the Holy Spirit's power made these "wise" Greeks see the "foolishness" of God. It was not Paul's "wise and persuasive words" that wrought this miracle.
Why did God do it this way? "So that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." Men's wisdom can't make believers; only God's wisdom and power can. That is the final answer to man's pride in his own wisdom.
Every man of the God in the pulpit should let these five verses of Paul's letter guide him in his preaching. He should preach the person and the work of Christ; he should preach with a sense of weakness and anxiety; he must also preach with confidence, knowing that success does not depend on his skill but on the power of God as God's truth convinces the hearts of those who hear the preacher's words. (1 Corinthians, by Carleton A. Toppe, pp 25-27)
All this is well not only for the preacher to consider now as we approach another Lenten season, it is good also for those in the pew. What is it we want to hear from the preacher? Is our desire to know more of the wisdom of the world, or of the wisdom of God? Is it to hear what the "old nature" in us wants to hear, i.e., "what our itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim. 4:3), or is it that we want to hear the simple gospel that was "once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3) by The Lord Jesus himself? Might we use the opportunity which Lent presents to us, to convict us of the tendency most all of us have, of being content with a "form of godliness, but denying its power." Let us repent of such, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts through the preaching of Word so that the message of Christ crucified might become for each one of us "the power of God and the wisdom of God."
* Excerpts from The People's Bible: I Corinthians by Carleton A. Toppe (c) 1987 Northwestern Publishing House, Wauwatosa WI. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced further without permission from the publisher. (NPH Permissions: email@example.com
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Luther On Preaching
Christ's Redemption the Theme of the Bible.
What purpose other than this proclamation does Scripture have from beginning to end? Messiah, God's Son, was to come and through His sacrifice, as an innocent Lamb of God, bear and remove the sins of the world and thus redeem men from eternal death for eternal salvation. For the sake of Messiah and God's Son Holy Scripture was written, and for His sake everything that happened took place. (204)
What the Gospel Is. If you ask: What is the Gospel? no better answer can be given that these words of the New Testament: Christ gave His body and shed His blood for us for the forgiveness of sins. This alone is to be preached to Christians, impressed upon them, and faithfully commended to them for constant meditation. (1700)
What is the Bible Without Christ?
What matter of more sacred importance can lie hidden in Scriptures now that the seals are broken, the stone is rolled from the sepulcher, and that greatest of all mysteries is brought to light: Christ, the Son of God made Man - God, Triune and yet One, Christ, who suffered for us and will rule eternally? Are not these things known and sung in our very streets? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what else will you find in them? (437)
In the Heart of Scripture Stands Christ Crucified.
I see nothing in Scripture except Christ Crucified. (440).
Christ Crucified Is Wisdom Supreme.
To this day those who glory in Christ Crucified are ridiculed among Jews and Turks. But God wanted to be known in the form of weakness in order to confound human wisdom. For it is wisdom supreme to cling to the weak form of Christ Crucified and not to be offended, so that we know or think nothing of God but that He is crucified. The thought of God's majesty is very dangerous, for an evil spirit can assume the form of majesty; but he cannot assume the form of the cross, because in this he was overcome and overthrown. Therefore he most bitterly hates it. (555)
These quotes are from What Luther Says, A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, compiled by Ewald Plass, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis.
"...I believe that it has now become clear that it is not enough or in any sense Christian to preach the works, life, and words of Christ as historical facts, as if the knowledge of these would suffice for the conduct of life; yet this is the fashion among those who must today be regarded as our best preachers. Far less is it sufficient or Christian to say nothing at all about Christ and to teach instead the laws of men and the decrees of the fathers. Now there are not a few who preach Christ and read about him that they may move men's affections to sympathy with Christ, to anger against the Jews, and such childish and effeminate nonsense. Rather ought Christ to be preached to the end that faith in him may be established that he may not only be Christ, but but be Christ for you and me, and that what is said of him and is denoted in his name may be effectual in us. Such faith is produced and preserved in us by preaching why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him...."
Martin Luther, Selections from His Writings, Edited and with an introduction by John Dillen-berger: Anchor Books Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1961, pp. 67-68.
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When Three Worlds Meet
From: The Personality We Have Missed
by Jacob Tanner
Originally published by Augsburg Publishing House, Mpls., MN
It was a dramatic scene that took place that day in the house of Simon the Pharisee.1 Simon had invited Jesus to dinner. He wanted a better chance to take His measure and a dinner conversation offered a promising opportunity. Jesus might be a prophet, but Simon was skeptical. It seems that he looked for proof that Jesus was not a prophet. Jesus accepted the invitation, though He knew He would be snubbed. When Simon, with great show of friendliness, gave the other guests the kiss of welcome on the cheek, provided for the washing of their dusty feet and poured drops of perfumed oil on their head, he frigidly passed Jesus by. We can hardly believe that Jesus did not mind, for then He would not be human. But He did not permit either snubbing or other insults to fill Him with resentment and disqualify Him from carrying out His mission of witnessing to the truth and of revealing the Father.
During the meal an uninvited guest came in. She caused a sensation. Every brow became furrowed, and Simon and his guests became tense. Everybody but Jesus.
Noiselessly she moved across the floor to where Jesus was reclining at the table. Bending over His feet, she let her silent tears fall on them and, loosening her hair, wiped them dry and clean and kissed them again and again. Then she poured out perfumed ointment and spread it over the feet.
A deathly silence filled the room. The whole scene was a scandal, an insult to the host as well as to his guests. It would have been bad enough that a woman would flout all social decency and intrude into a men's party. But to have a prostitute do it! And then to see Jesus not only permitting such a woman to touch Him, but accepting with pleasure her scandalous intimacy! If she had as much as touched any of the Pharisees, he would have had to get up from the table and purify himself before he could finish the meal.
One thing became clear to Simon. Jesus was not a prophet, else He would know that the woman was a prostitute. It was absolutely unthinkable to him that Jesus knowingly would permit such a woman to touch Him.
Three worlds met at that dinner party. The cold, selfrighteous world of the Pharisee where a fallen sinner was as welcome as Beelzebub himself.2 Then the world of Jesus with grace and saving love and forgiveness and purity and a new life. And then the world of the fallen woman where the merciless tyranny of the lusts and the contempt of the surroundings barred and bolted the door to a different life. Simon knew only his own world, and that only on the surface. Of the worlds of love and mercy and of the broken lives he knew nothing, and he looked at them with cold contempt.
It was a raw situation, but Jesus had the understanding, the love, the courage, and the delicacy needed.
Do you see this woman, He asked Simon. Can you not read spiritual signs? For the first time in her life she has had a glimpse of the world of mercy and love and come to believe that there are forgiveness and a new life even for her. It changed her, Simon. That is why she is here. She had to express the gratitude and love that fill her heart almost to bursting. Surely, by coming here she has broken your social etiquette, but can you not understand, Simon, that there are things more important than your precious rules and regulations?
Turning to the woman He had the courage to do a thing unheard-of in the theology of the Pharisees. With infinite tenderness He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
Simon was shocked. Who can forgive sins but God? Does this man claim to be God? And then to tell such a woman that her sins were forgiven! It was outrageous.
But Jesus is not through. He adds insult to injury. "Your faith has saved you; go in peace," is His parting encouragement to the woman.
It finished Simon. In his teaching, salvation was by good works, not by faith. Yes, he was through with this man.
But Jesus, by love and forgiveness of sins, had led a lost sinner back to her Father's house.
(1) Luke 7:36-50. (2) Matt. 12:24.
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Christ Crucified. . . but Risen!
Excerpts from chapter 20 of the book,
The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ
by James S. Stewart
Let us look at two pictures. One is an upper room in Jerusalem on the night after Calvary and a little group of men cowering behind bolted and barricaded doors. Fear is on every face. But even more markedly than fear dejection is written there, hopeless, final, irretrievable dejection. Dazed and stunned and bewildered they sit in silence, too heartbroken to speak, too benumbed in soul to pray. Everything is at an end. Fate has beaten them. There is nothing left to live for. 'That is the one picture - utter, abject defeat.
Here is the other. A few weeks later. The same group of men. But not skulking behind closed doors now! They are out in the streets. They are men aflame with superhuman confidence. Their words ring like iron. They have a message to which the world can but listen. They are absolutely fearless and overwhelmingly happy. They are planning the conquest of the earth.
Look first at the one picture and then at the other-there the misery of blasted hopes, here the valor of the saints; there a fumbling, futile remnant, here the nucleus of a marching, militant Church-and only the briefest span of time between. How had this startling, almost incredible change in these men's lives occurred? Can we explain it? Yes. Between the two pictures something had happened - Christ was risen.
Never did an enterprise look more utterly ruined than when Jesus of Nazareth was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. "He was crucified, dead, and buried," says our Apostles' Creed; and the very words seem burdened with an awful finality. If the disciples thought about the future at all, they saw themselves creeping back shamefacedly to the homes they had once left so eagerly at Jesus' bidding, and they heard in fancy the jeers and taunts of the village street as they so ingloriously returned. "I go a fishing," said Simon Peter, but he knew all too well that, even if he took up again the old life where he had laid it down, it could never content him now; his experience of Jesus had come in between, and that had spoiled him for anything else forever. Not only was Christ dead; Christianity was dead. And against its tomb a great stone of despair had been rolled.
Yet it may have been that in one heart here and another there some dim thought may have hovered that what they had witnessed at Calvary was not and could not be the end. . . . Standing in the shadow of the cross where the cleanest, noblest soul who ever walked this earth hangs dying, we hear an inward voice telling us that that cannot be the end. It was not the end. In the great, simple words of the Creed -"The third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." . . .
It is obvious that an event like this must have had consequences, not only for the disciples or even for the Church, but for the whole world. What did the resurrection of Jesus mean?
It meant, first, God's vindication of his Son. When the disciples went out preaching and proclaiming their risen Lord, they used significantly the passive, not the active, voice to describe the event; they said regularly, not "he rose," but "he was raised," for with deep spiritual insight they saw that what had happened had been nothing less than God in action, God's right arm made bare on behalf of his beloved Son (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; Rom. 6:4,9; I Cor. 15:15). That one who had died a felon's death should nevertheless be Messiah was an idea not only shocking but actually blasphemous to orthodox Jewish minds, and many devout people who had secret hopes about Jesus must have considered that the cross finished his pretensions. But here in the Resurrection was God's sudden, unexpected attestation of the very highest and most daring hopes that had ever been cherished about Jesus, God's own seal set convincingly to Jesus' messianic claim, God's final vindication of his Son.
It meant, further, the vindication of righteousness. Daringly and gallantly Jesus had staked everything he had and was upon the absolute validity of goodness and truth and love. These were the things whose supremacy he had always preached; for these he had consecrated his own life up to the last limit of self-consecration, and for his belief in these he was ready at last to die. Had the sinless Jesus remained in the tomb, the conclusion would have been irresistible that this world is a moral chaos and goodness a poor mirage and honor a mischievous delusion. But on the resurrection morning it was just as if the whole nature of things by one mighty act had endorsed and countersigned the noble, unselfish way of living. We know now that the universe itself is on the side of the man who fights the good fight. Jesus rose, and righteousness was vindicated.
The Resurrection meant also the assurance of immortality. Pagans, watching Christ's men at work in the world, were struck by many things, but by nothing more forcibly than the Christians' contempt of death; and it was the risen Christ who had robbed the king of terrors of his power. "And if I go and prepare a place for you," he had said, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself" (John 14:2, 3); and if death meant that, what room was there for fear? The Master's conquest of death involved theirs. "Because I live, ye shall live also." (John 14:19) Easter morning brought immortality to light; and the Christians seeing death lying broken, could say with the psalmist - "God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet" (Ps. 47:5).
Finally, the Resurrection meant a Christ alive forevermore. Even when the forty wonderful days succeeding the first Easter were over and Jesus' visible presence was withdrawn, the disciples knew they had not lost him. Every day his own word was being verified in their experience - "Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end" (Matt. 28:20). Through all the vicissitudes of their active service it was no fading memory that sustained them, but a living presence and a daily comradeship; and when, like their master before them, they saw death coming to meet them violently, it was his hands that held them up. Nor was their experience unique. Hosts of men and women since the disciples' day have walked and talked with Christ. This is no miracle. For if Christ is risen indeed, which means if he is living now, what is more natural than that his own friends should sometimes meet him face to face? Such fellowship is a direct consequence of the Resurrection. . . .
The late Dr. Dale, the great preacher of Birmingham, described how one day, while he was writing an Easter sermon, the fact of the Resurrection broke in upon him as it had never done before.
"Christ is alive," I said to myself: "alive!" and then I paused: - "alive!" and then I paused again; "alive! Can that really be true? living as really as I myself am?" I got up and walked about repeating, "Christ is living! Christ is living!" At first it seemed strange and hardly true, but at last it came upon me as a burst of sudden glory.
Yes, Christ is alive. To thousands upon thousands at the present hour this is no mere theory or vague, uncertain rumor, but proved, inviolable experience; and if they are facing life victoriously now where once they were defeated, it is because they have found the same risen Lord who walked among the flowers of the garden on the morning of the first Easter day.
James S. Stewart. The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, Set up, Printed, and Bound by the Parthenon Press, Nashville, TN
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