October 19, 2018 “Sin Boldly?” Matthew 5:17-20, John 14:1-7, Romans 3:21-31

martin-luther

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe in and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”- Martin Luther

Martin Luther is known for the quote, “Sin Boldly.” It is a bit taken out of its original context.  Properly understood, Luther is simply underscoring the Scriptural truth that Jesus forgives us our sins, and that our righteousness before God is through faith in Jesus.  Jesus has already paid the price of death that we have earned. By faith, Jesus forgives our sins and failures.  So our focus should be on believing in Jesus rather than living a legalistic and fearful life.

(Jesus taught: ) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

The Ten Commandments are not the “ten suggestions” or the “ten good ideas.” God put His Commandments in place for our protection and benefit. The penalty for law-breaking (even one teeny tiny bit of it) is still death. There is only one person who ever lived (Jesus) who was able to obey the Law 100% perfectly.  Through faith in Jesus we have life with God forever. Apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins.  There is no other way to life and salvation except for faith in Jesus.

(Jesus said : )“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

The scribes and Pharisees were very careful to (attempt to) obey the letter of the Mosaic Law, which includes the Ten Commandments and a whole lot more (see the entire book of Leviticus…) but they ended up setting themselves up as legalistic, self-righteous hypocrites.  In Jesus’ day the Pharisees made great displays of religiousness and piety that were just outward displays.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:21-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul knew better than most – having been a Pharisee himself- what the Law required, and how utterly impossible it is for people to keep it. Paul knew he was condemned under the law. Paul also knew that Jesus came to keep the Law perfectly, and that He was the sacrifice to cover the sins and iniquities of not just Paul, but of the entire world.

We are not able to make ourselves perfect for God. No matter how hard we attempt to obey the rules we can’t do it. Ironically we often make ourselves even worse when we think that we can earn our way to God by what we do or don’t do.

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”- Martin Luther from the Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed.

Faith in Jesus is the New Covenant. Not faith in our own law-keeping abilities, but faith in knowing that Jesus has already done for us what we cannot do.

So why should we take the Commandments seriously? First of all, even though we break them with regularity, they are still God’s standard and will for humans to follow.  They help us to keep order in society.  We know that even though we aren’t the greatest at law-keeping, that the Law is good and right.

The Commandments show us how we sin, and through that knowledge, and in our confessions, we see our desperate need for Jesus. We come to Jesus in our brokenness and need and knowledge of how we fall short, not like the Pharisee who thinks he has done everything right, but as the tax collector who cries, “forgive me Lord, as I am a sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14)

We can’t save ourselves. We can’t live in a way that pleases God.  But we are made right in God’s sight by faith- faith that believes that Jesus has taken the punishment that we deserve in our place (Isaiah 53) and that when God looks at us He sees Jesus.  Jesus has paid the price for us.  By faith, we trust Jesus, and live.

October 15, 2018 – Freedom for the Captives, Comfort for the Mourning, and a Crown of Beauty for Ashes- Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:16-21

Jesus reading IsaiahThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

 

He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

Jesus caused a scandal in the synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine the incredulity we would experience if a sibling, a cousin or a classmate became a celebrity. Out in the world celebrity might be one thing, but being at home with people who knew that celebrity as the kid who always ended up pinned down getting wet willys, or was the nerd who got routinely pounded with a dodge ball, it’s a different perspective.  Are the kids from 4th grade who fried ants with a magnifying glass at recess together going to take a classmate seriously as an adult?

Perhaps Jesus was just “one of the boys” when he was growing up. Maybe the Savior of the world was once the class wisenheimer? We really don’t know much about Jesus as a child, other than the incident when He was twelve and was left behind teaching at the temple.

No matter what the people in Nazareth thought about Jesus’ claim to divinity, or what they remembered about Him, Jesus, as unlikely and humble and human as He was, speaks back the Word of God given to Isaiah about Him 700 years earlier. He speaks not just to his relatives and friends he grew up with in Nazareth, but He still speaks to us today.

Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom from bondage to sin, death and the torments of Satan. Jesus comes to us with good news of healing and restoration. He opens our eyes to see Him and his incredible love and compassion for us.

Jesus came to exchange our ashes (perhaps the condition of being dead in trespasses and sins?) and desolation and sorrow for His crown of beauty and joy. “Unholy” becomes “made holy” when Jesus in His grace and mercy, speaks His forgiveness. He brings us poor beggars salvation, peace and joy that we cannot earn or deserve.

This world of not yet, with its paradoxes and contradictions and disappointments is not the end of the story. In our baptism we are forever marked with the Cross. In Jesus’ blood our sins are covered, gone, removed. We share in Jesus’ death, especially as we suffer and are called to sacrifice on this earth, but we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.

He has come to be the death of death, the bringer of healing and of life forever. Jesus is the comfort for all mourning.  He is the beautiful joy beyond our understanding.  He takes away the curse once and for all.  He exchanges all of our ugliness and baggage for freedom, healing and peace, and this all by the gift of faith for those who will believe.

Good news indeed!

October 10, 2018 – Wisdom, God’s Will, and the Lord’s Prayer – Proverbs 19:20-21, Matthew 6:5-13, Luke 11:11-13

prayer for guidance

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.  Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:20-21 (ESV)

(Jesus said:) And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:5-13 (ESV)

What do wisdom and prayer have in common? We learn from the inspired writer of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord (meaning respect, reverence and awe) is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of God is insight. If we want to be wise, we should seek God in the study of His Word, and in prayer.

Jesus teaches us to pray. It’s important to take a look at how Jesus teaches us to pray. Prayer is not meant to be a display of piety or any kind of a show to impress other people.  It is conversation with God in which we come to Him with everything He already knows about us. In prayer we give thanks. We praise. We joyfully affirm who God is.  We also bring to Him our sadness, our mourning, and even our anger. We intercede for those around us- for our friends, our family and even our enemies. We lay bare our vulnerabilities to the Author of Life- confessing that in and of ourselves we are dead in trespasses and sins. We affirm that by faith in Christ alone we have forgiveness, absolution and eternal life.  We trust Him for what we need, and we ask Him for what we think we want.

Why should we bother to pray if God already knows our heart and our needs?

We pray from that fear of the Lord, because in prayer we are acting out of faith.  We believe that God is omnipotent, that He is holy, and that His goodness and His plan will prevail.  We may not have our petitionary prayers answered in the way we ask, but getting our wants fulfilled isn’t the primary purpose of prayer.

If one looks at petitionary prayer from the standpoint of a child asking a parent for what the child wants, it makes a little more sense. A good parent knows what his or her child needs and will do his or her best to provide for a child’s needs.  Sometimes what a child wants is not congruent with what a child needs- ice cream and bacon for every meal sounds great to a child on the surface, right now, but a parent knows bacon and ice cream for every meal isn’t a healthy choice long term.

God knows when the things we want may not be in line for His plan for us. He does know our needs, and He does provide for them.  We may never understand why we must bear the crosses of sorrow, loss and pain. We know that Jesus endured all manner of suffering while He lived on earth, up to and including a brutal death by crucifixion. We aren’t going to “get out of life alive.”  Life on earth isn’t permanent. We don’t know why we are called to the way of the Cross, but we know that to live in Christ, we are called to die to ourselves and to the world.  We may not find understanding as we pray, and we may not like the answers we get- or don’t get. Yet we pray, and we trust. God is getting us ready for the not-yet world to come.

(Jesus teaches) :What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13 (ESV)

We pray because Jesus tells us to pray- not in the anticipation that God will become a celestial Santa Claus Who rains down all kinds of material stuff just because we ask for it, rather, we come to Him in faith. We trust that God is God even when we don’t understand.

We ask Him for daily bread because we trust that God is the One Who gives us provision every day, even when we don’t know where it’s going to come from.  We trust that God will forgive our sins and that they are washed away forever in Jesus’ blood. We trust God for the grace to pass the undeserved and unearned forgiveness He gives us along to those around us, who also don’t deserve it and can’t earn it. We trust that Jesus walks with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He has conquered the grave and so will we. We trust that Jesus keeps us from the evil one. We trust that He has rescued us from sin and despair and unbelief.

We believe the promise we receive in the water and the Word- that we are named and claimed and made to be children of God.  And so, we pray.

October 9, 2018 -The Third Commandment – and a Summary of the First Table of the Law- Exodus 20:8-11, Mark 2:23-28, Matthew 22:36-38

holy sabbath

 

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. – from Luther’s Small Catechism

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV)

The Third Commandment can seem a bit out of place in the Law, as it was originally directed at the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday) of the Jews. Unfortunately by Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had turned Sabbath rest and observance into a laundry list of do’s and don’ts that had very little to do with learning God’s Word or spiritual rest and edification. Sabbath observance had become an outward display of faux piety rather than a day of the week consecrated to God.

One Sabbath he (Jesus) was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28 (ESV)

However, the observance of Sabbath rest and of hearing God’s Word taught and the Gospel preached are still very much in effect for Christians. The day we observe is not as important as the spirit of this Law, that we intentionally put aside time to regenerate our physical bodies as well as to devote time to regular worship together with other Christians and to study God’s Word.

For the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the only one which we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody. But God’s Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according to God’s Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled. – Martin Luther, from the Explanation of the Third Commandment, from Luther’s Large Catechism

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV)

The First Table of the Law is the first three Commandments- how we as creatures are supposed to relate to and to love our Creator God. The remaining seven Commandments govern how we are supposed to relate to our fellow humans.

The First Commandment teaches us that God is God alone- that there are no other gods beside Him.

The Second Commandment teaches us that God’s name is given to us for holy things such as prayer, praise and worship and not for cursing or misuse.

The Third Commandment teaches us that God made Sabbath rest for humans- so that we will take time to rest our bodies, worship Him, and study His Word.

The Second Commandment- The Name of God- Exodus 20:7, 1 Kings 18:20-40, Proverbs 9:10

names of God

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”- Exodus 20:7

The Second Commandment.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.

What does this mean?–Answer:

We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. – Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

Those of us who are prone to the use of expletives are very convicted upon contemplating the Second Commandment.  God has an identity.  God is real, in fact so real that He is beyond time.  He is the I AM.  We are commanded to reserve the use of His name for praise, prayer, supplication and thanksgiving- and not for empty mocking or cursing.

In the First Commandment we learn that God is a jealous God Who does not take rivals lightly.  Through Elijah God proved the false god Ba’al to be exactly that: false.  We learn in 1 Kings 18:20-40 that God not only brought the fire down from heaven, but He also destroyed the 450 prophets of Ba’al.   There is power in God’s Name.  There is no power in the names of idols- whether we call them Ba’al, Molech, Mammon, or by the names of the idols we create. There is also no real power in the names or in the earthly authority of governments, corporations or ourselves.  The power we think we have in our own authority – and in that of worldly authorities- is given by God.  Our earthly existence is as tenuous and temporary as that minute electrical signal that triggers our heartbeats. God holds all the power.

In these days we are tempted to follow the lead of the culture around us, to take the use of the Name of God lightly, or to doubt in God’s power or sovereignty.

When we call upon the Name of God we are calling upon the power of the Omnipotent Source of all power.  We are commanded to remember that, and we are privileged to have been given that connection to our all-powerful God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

September 26, 2018 – Fishing, Foolishness and the Good News – Matthew 4:18-22, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and Isaiah 55:6-11

fish in a net

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV)

Some people enjoy recreational fishing. Those of us who live in areas close to rivers and small ponds tend to fish by angling (using bait and a hook) rather than fishing with nets, which is what Simon Peter and Andrew were doing. Net fishing is more commonly seen today in industrial fishing in the Great Lakes or in the ocean.

We don’t “fish for men” on Jesus’ behalf using the angling method. Who would want a hook through the lip? Bait should not be involved in fishing for men, and there certainly should not be a hook. All of us have encountered the marketing ploy known as “bait and switch.” A store advertises a special on a popular product only for one to discover that the special price is for the least desirable variety of the product advertised, or for the smallest size, and that the upgrade to the product everyone wants is available for a higher price. The special gets people in the door, only for them to find that if they want what they came for, they will pay more for it, or settle for a different product. Ultimately the idea of bait and switch is to get consumers to pay more money for a product they may never have intended to buy. Even though the consumer may fall for the bait and switch tactic from time to time, it is not an effective method to grow disciples for Christ. Faith comes by hearing the Word. People need to hear the Gospel.

Net fishing is different from angling as it is a less damaging and more passive process on behalf of the fish. The fish in the net do nothing to be caught other than they are in the right place at the right time. They haven’t been tempted in by a bait or dragged in by the lip on a hook.

The net that Christians use to “fish for men” is the Gospel- the life-saving safety net. Not every fish is going to find its way into the net, but God gets the fish God will get. We are supposed keep on putting our nets out there- whether they come back with fish in them or not.

We who follow Jesus are given an awkward and a counter cultural message. We are commanded to tell the world the whole truth- that all humans are sinners condemned to death, save for an undeserved salvation in the death of Christ- a salvation that we are given by faith as a free gift, a gift that defies rationality. The apostle Paul teaches us:

For the word of the cross is folly 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,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV)

We are not promised that everyone we share the Good News of Jesus with will come and follow Him too. There are people who will laugh at us and call us silly and say we believe in fairy tales, and worse. There are people who will abuse our hospitality and take advantage of the good works we do because we serve Jesus. We are still commanded to love our neighbors, to tell, to preach, to share, and to pray for those around us, that they would hear the Gospel and that the Holy Spirit would bring them to faith.

We are not called to scratch itching ears with promises of prosperity or wealth or popularity. We are not called to give out flashy gimmicks or provide entertainment. The theology of the Cross is not a bait and switch. Christians will share in the Cross of Christ as well as in the resurrection and the life to come. We are called to share in the witness of the apostles and of the great champions of the faith, teaching Christ and Him crucified for the redemption of our sins.

Who can tell if by sharing our faith today that God might work through our witness to reach someone years from now? We can only trust God and know that His Word does what it says it does.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)

September 25, 2018- Jesus is the Bread of Life, and God Does the Choosing

Jesus bread of lifeJesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:35-51 (ESV)

Who chooses God’s people? Many of us have probably experienced Christian traditions that teach such ideas as, “you have to ask Jesus into your heart,” or pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to become a Christian. These prayers aren’t exactly wrong, but the emphasis in these traditions is on us humans- on our decisions and our fickle emotions rather than on the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. The end result of such teaching is often doubt and despair. How can we know we are really children of God?  How many times can we pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” or stay awake nights wondering what we can do to be good enough for God, or wondering if Jesus really is in our hearts? Unless we know that our faith is a gift given by God to us, we will have that lingering sense of inadequacy that comes from knowing we can’t be good enough to earn our way into God’s favor and salvation.

It is truly Good News when Jesus reveals to us in John’s Gospel that He is the eternal Bread of Life.  It is the Father Who draws us to Jesus through the means of grace- through preaching of the Word (Romans 10:17,) through the waters of baptism, and in the Body and Blood given in Holy Communion.

When we look at the history in Scripture, we discover that all along that God does the calling, and the choosing. God created Adam and Eve from the dirt of the ground. (Genesis 1-2) God chose Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people to repent, even though Jonah didn’t want to. Jonah even tried to go the other way but failed miserably. God wanted Jonah to go, and God made sure Jonah went! (Jonah 1-4)  God chose David to be king of Israel over his older, taller and more formidable brothers. (1 Samuel 16:1-13) God chose the Pharisee Saul- a murderer of Christians- by knocking him off his high horse and transforming him into the apostle Paul who wrote a good deal of the New Testament. (Acts 9:1-18.)

The fact that God chooses His people is good news. Our salvation and status as children of God have nothing to do with our feelings or our behavior. God is the one doing the acting- specifically Jesus by His death for us on the Cross.  We are the ones being acted upon.

When a child is conceived the child had nothing to do with that process or with that decision. No person has come into being by asking their parents to make it happen! When a child is adopted it is still the parents making the choice, not the child. The same can be said for us when we become children of God.  God is the one putting the means of grace out there- by sending His people out preaching the Word, by bringing children (and adults) to the font for baptism, and bringing His people together at the table for Holy Communion.

We cannot make anyone a Christian anymore than we can turn someone into a car by having him or her sit in a garage.  However, we are called to preach His Word, whether through direct teaching or teaching indirectly through our vocations. As we serve God as parents, grandparents, friends and mentors, we will spread God’s Word.  God is the One Who does the work.  Even when we don’t see results, how are we to know the way the Holy Spirit will use our witness?

When we hear God’s Word preached we are reminded Who is the object of our faith: Jesus.  We remember that as we read Scripture and as we hear preaching and teaching on Scripture that God is speaking to us.

When we are reminded of our baptism- as we pray in the morning and evening (or even in the shower) and when we take hold of the promises God gives in baptism in times of trial, we can take tangible confidence in saying: We are baptized, named and claimed as Jesus’ own.

When we come together at the communion table, we share in the real Body and Blood of Jesus, Who died to save us from our sins.

God chooses us. Jesus finished the work of our salvation on the Cross.