September 11, 2019- The Unholy Trinity, the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Jesus Breaks the Curse

adam and eve2
Who or what stands against Christian people in this fallen world of “not yet?”

Sin
Death
The Accuser (Satan, the serpent)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)

“Did God really say?”

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” It can be said that God does not tempt us or cause us evil. We’re good enough at finding temptation and walking into evil all by ourselves. We may know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always choose what is good, and we don’t always reject evil.

The unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil are all against us and are all around us. The question behind the Fall of humanity, “Did God really say?,” echoes all around us.

Did God really say… I AM God, the Author and Creator of all things?
Did God really say…You will not bow down to the gods you make?
Did God really say…that He is the only One you will worship?
Did God really say…that you will honor your parents and those in authority over you?
Did God really say…that you will not murder or maliciously inflict harm on others?
Did God really say…that human beings were created male and female, and men and women are meant to be faithful to each other in marriage?
Did God really say…that you are not to steal money or possessions or anything that is your neighbor’s?
Did God really say…that you are not to falsely represent your neighbor or spread falsehoods?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s spouse, employees or livestock?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s inanimate material things?

God really did say all of those things. Most of us can agree that the Ten Commandments–See Exodus 20– are good and that we would all have a lot less trouble if we could just follow the rules.

The problem is we can’t just follow the rules, no matter how hard we try. Every human being alive today has inherited the curse of Adam- call it original sin, or to borrow from another Reformed theologian, John Calvin, the total depravity of man, but human beings are born sinners. We cannot fix ourselves.

To make the sin problem even more acute, we learn from Scripture (James 2:10) that if we break one tiny little part of the Law, in God’s eyes we broke all of the laws. Salvation by our own obedience requires perfection.  No human being is capable of perfection.

The apostle Paul makes us aware of our dilemma in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law makes us aware that we fall short and don’t live up to God’s standards. The unholy trinity of our own sin, the curse of death that we and the world around us are under, and the Accuser himself all stand against us and assail us with all sorts of suffering, temptations and trials.

It’s just not possible for us in our own strength and will to live the way that God wants. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

But God so loved the world, and fallen humanity, that He sent Jesus- the perfect God-Man- to break Adam’s curse, to suffer the penalty of death and become the perfect sacrifice for fallen humanity once and for all. The Law was not God’s final word to humanity.

Did God really say…?

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 33:14 (ESV)

 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6b (ESV)

 
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”- John 6:35 (ESV)

 
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17b (ESV)

 
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (ESV)

 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

 
Jesus has the final word. For we who believe in Him, there is no more death. We will pass from this life to eternal life with Him. The unholy trinity who would condemn us and lead us into unbelief does not have the upper hand. Jesus has broken Adam’s curse and Jesus paid the penalty of death for us.

August 30, 2019 – The Wisdom of Solomon, the Sin of Solomon-Exodus 20:1-6, 1 Kings 11:1-13, Romans 3:21-25, 1 John 1:8-9

Solomon

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)
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Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” 1 Kings 11:1-13 (ESV)
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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. Romans 3:21-25 (ESV)

The first of the Ten Commandments is the foundation on which the Law is based: God is God. It sounds simple and basic, but we as fallen humans keep going back to the temptation of the Garden. “Did God really say?,” the serpent inquired of Eve. (Genesis 3:1-7) Part of the tension and the paradox of this life is in truly acknowledging that God is God…but we still harbor the desire to be as God ourselves.
Jesus taught that the summary of the Law is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25-28) The rich young ruler Jesus was speaking to in Luke 10 would have heard this before if he were an observant Jew, as Jesus’ teaching came from the Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Solomon was the son of King David- the second son of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who David committed adultery with. Solomon wasn’t the oldest son of David, nor was he a likely candidate to inherit the throne from David.
Solomon did have faith in God. At the beginning of his reign he asked God for wisdom above the typical things that people in positions of power would ask for. He asked for wisdom above wealth or territory or the death of his enemies. God added wealth and long life, and military victory (including death to a number of his enemies) and renown to him also. (1 Kings 3:5-14)
Yet even a man as blessed by God as Solomon got comfortable as his life went on. He accommodated his foreign wives and joined in the worship of their false gods. He wasn’t completely faithful to God.
We read the account of Solomon and we think, “How could a guy like this, the wisest man who ever lived, mess up like that?”
Then we remember that no matter how wise or gifted or “good” we may appear, that:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 (ESV)
David was a sinner. Even though he had a heart for God, and he was truly blessed by God, he was also an adulterer and murderer. David did not love God and love his neighbor as himself all the time.
Sin was a fact of life for all of the “heroes” of the Bible, save Jesus Himself. Only Jesus out of all the humans who walked the earth obeyed God’s Law 100% perfectly all the time, and that was because only He was both God and man. All the rest of us human beings are born under the curse of Adam. All of us struggle with the ancient question, “Did God really say?” All of us entertain foreign gods that are far from God, whether it is out of our own selfishness, or our own obsessions, or our own negligence.
We can’t make ourselves right with God by anything we do or don’t do. Jesus makes us right with God by what He did to break the curse of Adam for us. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we have the ability and the desire to confess our sins and accept that Jesus has forgiven us and covers our sins.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
We pray that through faith in Jesus we would stay focused on the One True God, and not get sidetracked and obsessed with false gods that cannot bring life or hope. We pray that we would trust Jesus to keep us in His grace and love even when we sin and fall short of His standards.

August 27, 2019 To A More Excellent Way-1 Corinthians 12:12-31

thebodyofchrist-u

(The apostle Paul writes:) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (ESV) 
The apostle Paul advocated the value of the individual believer based upon the worth we are given as children of God in Christ. In a world where value is found in a person’s financial worth or in what a person can do, our value in the body of Christ comes from the fact that Jesus loved us enough to come to earth- to live with us, and to give Himself as a sacrifice for us, to pay the penalty for our sins that we cannot pay, and that we neither earn or deserve.

Just as we have social strata today – the wealthy vs. the poor, the educated vs. the unlearned, the privileged vs. the disadvantaged, and so on, there were definite social stations in Paul’s times. Many people were slaves and didn’t even own their own bodies. Women were considered little more than livestock. Yet in Christ, each believer is a valued child of God and an integral part of the Body of Christ, both in Paul’s day and today. When Jesus died on the cross His sacrifice was given for every person who ever lived, no matter how we would look at them or their contribution to society.

Each person has been created by God with certain gifts and abilities with which to serve each other. Some have much to offer in material gifts. Some are great encouragers. Others are artistically gifted or have musical talent. Still others serve in the background with organizational skills or an ability to do building maintenance. Some have a heart for meeting the needs of children.

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…

Paul reminds us that it is important to take special care of the weak- those who are elderly or infirm who may not appear to be “gifted” or to bring much to the community on the surface, but who bring us the great gift of the opportunity to serve and share with them.

There is a disturbing tendency in human nature (both in Paul’s day and today) to value people with a view to their “usefulness.”

How do we value the child with Down’s Syndrome who may have limited cognitive function and may never be able to live independently? Is he or she just as much a child of God, for whom Jesus died to save, as the child with the standard number of chromosomes?

How do we value the elderly man with dementia who can remember storming the beach at Normandy in 1944 as if it were happening now, but who is also bedridden, incontinent, and can’t remember his wife’s name? Is he just as much a loved child of God as the paramedic or the preschool teacher who bakes cookies and teaches Sunday School?

In today’s society we can see the devaluing of human life in many ways- through abortion on demand, where a perfectly healthy child can be killed and thrown away like just a piece of medical waste simply for being “inconvenient” or “unwanted.” In some countries and even in some places in the United States assisted suicide is permissible- and often encouraged as an option for the chronically ill and the dying.

What kind of value do we place on the most vulnerable among us- the unborn, the disabled, the dying?

How can we help someone in a crisis pregnancy choose life? How can we bring joy to the disabled? How can we comfort the dying? They too are those for whom Jesus bled and died.

The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. We are not called to be comfortable, but to bring comfort to others in the name of Christ. In this world there will be sorrow and suffering. We are called to endure sorrow and suffering because we have the great promise and hope of life in Christ. We are called to share the hope we have in Christ as we embrace those who are weak and hold them up. Some of us are strong in some areas but weak in others, but each of us is a part of the Body of Christ.

There is a place in the church for everyone- weak, strong, young, or old. Each of us brings unique gifts and strengths. We have life in Christ not because of anything we can do, earn or deserve, but because we have been named and claimed and marked with the cross of Christ in baptism. Our value and our worth is given to us as a gift of God. Each of us is made in the image of God. Every person is someone of value, someone for whom our Lord bled and died to save.

May we as Jesus’ church cherish and defend the weaker members of our body, and by the grace of God come to appreciate each other and all of our varied weaknesses as well as our gifts.

August 14, 2019 We Are Barabbas, By the Blood of the Lamb, Matthew 27:11-26, Exodus 12:23

jesusand pilate

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Matthew 27:11-26 (ESV)

We are Barabbas.  We are the guilty ones who deserved to be in Jesus’ place.  Even Pilate, who was not a guiltless man himself, could see Jesus’ innocence and the injustice of bringing Him to trial.  Pilate washed his hands of the responsibility of condemning Jesus (though one could argue that Jesus died for the sins of Pilate as well) as if to say he would not be party to the death of an innocent man.

We are Barabbas.  We identify with him.  We called to have him- Barabbas, the deservedly guilty scoundrel and murderer exonerated, and at the same time we called for the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, to be upon us.

Without realizing it, we played right into God’s hand.  The Great Exchange was made. The perfect Son of God was sent to be a ransom for the curse of Adam, to overturn sin, death and the power of Satan- not as a mighty warrior with an army and a sword, but as a suffering Servant, dying a ignominious death on a Roman cross.

The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, was sacrificed so Barabbas- and the rest of guilty humanity- could be reconciled to God and could inherit eternal life.

Even though the sins of humanity cry out through the ages: Crucify Him!, the broken and bleeding and suffering Jesus cries louder through unspeakable anguish and torment: It is finished!

For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. Exodus 12:23 (ESV)

In this everlasting Passover, the blood of the Lamb marks God’s children with the cross of Christ.  The Angel of Death must pass over those who are marked with His cross and covered by His blood. We are brought to this great salvation as a gift- by the grace of God and faith in Christ that are given to us in baptism, in the preaching and hearing of the Word, and in the sharing of the Body and Blood at the altar.

We have nothing to offer God but our sins.  Yet through faith in Jesus we are forgiven and our sins are washed away.

 

 

 

July 30, 2019-Lessons from Galatians, Our Identity in Christ

galatians

Today’s lesson is a little different study. This week’s Catechism lesson (8-4) features key concepts and food for thought from the book of Galatians.  With the new school year starting soon it’s great to remind young people (as well as older people!) that we belong to Christ, and we live as new creations in Him.

The apostle Paul warned the Galatians against teaching a different gospel or of adding to the Gospel message out of fear of what other people might think.  Salvation comes to ALL people, regardless of national ancestry, race, gender or ethnic traditions by faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone.  There is no such thing as “Jesus….AND.”  We are not made right with God through circumcision, or by keeping Jewish Law (which the Jews never could seem to do anyway,) but by the grace of God in which we are given faith in Christ. It’s all about God, and it’s all a free gift.  No ANDs.

Galatians 1:10- (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

What does it mean to be a person of integrity?

Galatians 2:20- (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Even though we are sinners who sin daily and sin much, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by the sins we have committed.  What does it mean to “put on Baptism as daily wear?”

Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)- So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

What does it mean that because we are baptized, our identity is in Christ, no matter what our place in life or our vocation (the things we do) happens to be?

Galatians 4:7 (NIV) -So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

What does it mean to be an heir of the kingdom of God?  Do we share in both the cross of Christ as well as in His resurrection?

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV) Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

As children of God, do we care more about living as someone who Jesus bled and died to redeem and save, or “going along to get along?”

Galatians 5:25-26 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What does it mean to stay true to our values and to trust the Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need in difficult situations? When is it better to stand and fight or to walk away from an awkward situation?

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

We may not see the rewards of being kind, helping others, and living as God’s children should.  However, this is the vocation God gives us as His people no matter how other people treat us.  There is a saying, “No matter who your boss is, you are really working for God.”  What does this mean as we navigate our way through life?

 

 

July 16, 2019 Crucified With Christ, Galatians 2:20-21

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I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Galatians 2:20-21 (ESV)
Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me? Did the Law ever die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it drives me crazy. Somebody else saved me from the Law, from sin and death unto eternal life. That Somebody is the Son of God, to whom be praise and glory forever.
Hence, Christ is no Moses, no tyrant, no lawgiver, but the Giver of grace, the Savior, full of mercy. In short, He is no less than infinite mercy and ineffable goodness, bountifully giving Himself for us. Visualize Christ in these His true colors. I do not say that it is easy. Even in the present diffusion of the Gospel light, I have much trouble to see Christ as Paul portrays Him. So deeply has the diseased opinion that Christ is a lawgiver sunk into my bones. You younger men are a good deal better off than we who are old. You have never become infected with the nefarious errors on which I suckled all my youth, until at the mention of the name of Christ I shivered with fear. You, I say, who are young may learn to know Christ in all His sweetness.
For Christ is Joy and Sweetness to a broken heart. Christ is a Lover of poor sinners, and such a Lover that He gave Himself for us. Now if this is true, and it is true, then are we never justified by our own righteousness.
Read the words “me” and “for me” with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. – Martin Luther, from his Commentary on Galatians
The Law can only show us how terribly we fall short of keeping it. While the Law is good and necessary and right, it cannot save us. It only condemns. It shows us how desperately we need a Good Shepherd, a Redeemer, a loving Savior.
The harsh reality of the Law should bring us all to the foot of the cross from where God’s mercy flows- from the hands and feet and side of Jesus.
The reason why the offense of the cross was so necessary is because our sins are so offensive. Daily, constantly, even unconsciously, we thumb our noses at a holy God. If we could simply straighten up and fly right of our own accord then there would have been no need for God in human flesh to die in our place. The only way for fallible and unholy humans, born under the curse, to be made holy, to be justified, was for a sacrifice to be given on our behalf to break the curse, to cover us, to redeem us.
Our remorse for our sins and our attempts at right living don’t touch the depth of our corruption. In our own efforts we might become “beautiful-looking” Pharisees, at least on the outside. But looks can be deceiving.
Jesus wasn’t fooled by that whitewash job: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness- Matthew 23:27 (ESV)

Only an act of God, from the inside out, can make us right with God. Only in being crucified with Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and constantly held in faith by the Holy Spirit, are we healed, justified, made whole, saved.
The Law condemns us. The Gospel is a free gift from God to us- nothing we have earned, nothing we deserve. Even the faith to believe the Gospel is a gift. Thank God for the faith we need to cling to Jesus and to know that because we have been crucified with Him, we live in Him as well.

 

July 15, 2019- No One is Beyond the Grace of God in Christ- Galatians 1:11-24

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(The apostle Paul writes:) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)

Today people would be rightfully skeptical if someone were to claim a special revelation of God such as Paul had.  There is a view that many in the Christian church hold (including most Lutherans) that the extraordinary gifts and divine revelation ended with the apostles, the last being John of Patmos who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.  This is a view called cessationism.

Lutheran Christians generally believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that since there are no living apostles to whom Jesus directly revealed Himself, there are no direct revelations being given to people living today.  Today we are instructed to seek God where He promises to be found- in Scripture,  at the Lord’s Table, at the baptismal font, and in the preaching and teaching of His Word- which includes not a few of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches.

The reason why Paul’s message is still such a big deal is primarily because it was taught to Paul by Jesus Himself.  

God took someone who was completely opposed to Him and transformed him into someone who endured unimaginable hardships, suffering and ridicule for the sake of Jesus’ holy name.  It is rare that a person will risk imprisonment, torture, starvation, suffering and ultimately death, for a message that is a lie.  It would have been so much easier for Paul to go back with the other Pharisees and back to his old life, but for Christ, he could not do that.  For Christ, but only through Christ- Paul was willing to sacrifice everything.

Paul was profoundly changed.  From death to life.  From despair and damnation to the wonder and hope and salvation of Christ.

Paul didn’t ask for it.  He didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer, or wear a hair shirt, or promise to feed a thousand orphans.  God was doing the acting.  Jesus came to Paul, not the other way around.  The act of redemption and salvation is and will always be through the merit of Christ alone.

We may not have been given the charismatic gifts and highly visual miracles that the apostles were given, but faith comes to us the same way.

In the water of baptism, Jesus comes to us.  In His Body and Blood that we share at the Communion table, Jesus makes Himself part of us.  In the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the Holy Spirit works faith within us.  The Good News is that no one is beyond the grace of God.

It doesn’t matter if we have a shady background or a tortured past.  Jesus redeemed the apostle Paul, who was formerly a murderer of believers.

“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”