August 28, 2018 -The Curse…and the Blessing, by Faith -Galatians 3:10-14, Romans 4:13,2 Corinthians 5:21

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For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14 (ESV).

“Through Christ death has lost her sting. Christ is the death of death.”– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535

One of the primary teachings of the Protestant Reformation is sola fide, or Faith Alone. This is important to remember because even today we as Christians are tempted to think we can earn brownie points and follow the rules to justify ourselves.  Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians because there were teachers called Judaizers who were trying to convince the Galatian church that they could only truly follow Jesus if they also kept the Jewish Law.  They were leading people away from the sound doctrine of salvation by Faith Alone into setting extra conditions for salvation- the unsound doctrine of Jesus…AND.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Paul is underscoring the reality that we as fallen creatures do not have the power to break the curse of sin and death based on what we do or don’t do. We are powerless to save ourselves, or to will ourselves to life, no matter what we do.  We are lifeless like the dry bones that God told Ezekiel to prophesy to. (Ezekiel 37) The dry bones could do nothing to come alive of their own accord.  The Word of God- Jesus- is the only power that can break the curse of sin and death and bring us to life out of the deadness of our trespasses and sins.

Jesus took our place as the curse, hanged on a tree. He was made to be the curse so that through faith in Him we can become children of God- the spiritual descendents and inheritors of the blessing of salvation that was promised in God’s covenant to Abraham.

“By faith Christ changes places with us. He gets our sins, we get His holiness.”– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535

Abraham was never justified by keeping the Law. The Law didn’t even show up until centuries after Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was a one way deal.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. Romans 4:13 (ESV)

Jesus has become both the curse- hanged on the tree carrying all of humanity’s sins- and the blessing of Abraham. Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham, from the covenant God made before the covenant with Moses and the handing down of the Jewish Law.  God’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus. We become children of God’s promise through faith- through trusting Jesus.  Not Jesus…AND, but through faith in Him alone.

“Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil from ourselves to Christ; and Christ’s righteousness and blessing from Christ to ourselves.”– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535

August 22, 2018- Traveling With the Bread of Life- Mark 8:4-21

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Now they (Jesus’ disciples) had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he (Jesus) cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:4-21 (ESV)

The disciples may have forgotten their bread, but they also forgot they were traveling with the Bread of Life.

The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:9 that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If we start thinking to ourselves, “we need Jesus AND…” (which every single one of us is tempted to do,) that is a problem. The false gospel the Judaizers were trying to spread of “Jesus AND… circumcision and obeying the Mosaic Law” was a serious problem in the Galatian church. The apostle Paul suggests that the Judaizers shouldn’t stop at circumcision, but remove the whole member as well, (Galatians 5:12) to get his point across. Nobody is saved by law-keeping.

We can’t earn salvation or curry favor with God based on what we do. We are sinful creatures saved, redeemed and justified by the grace of God in Christ alone- or not at all. Nothing can add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to save us from our sins. He saves us alone. It is a gift of grace. He is enough.

Nothing we can do, say, buy or possess is going to be of any use to us beyond this world. We can possess everything and master everything this world has to offer. We can be immersed in a worldly buffet that features every kind of food our hearts desire. But without Jesus, when the end of our days comes, we will be destitute, starving and hopeless. The apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Ephesians that apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Thankfully trespasses, sins and death are not the end of the story for us who trust Jesus.

When Jesus speaks of the baskets of broken pieces, many scholars believe He was referring to twelve baskets to feed the twelve tribes of Israel and seven baskets to feed the Gentile nations. Jesus’ multiplying the bread to feed the five thousand, and then the four thousand was an illustration to the disciples that He has come to give Himself as sustenance for the entire world.

How often do we focus on our worry about bread for the belly and all our cares about all the mess of everyday life? We get ourselves mired in anxiety over bread that only sustains us for today, and we get worked up over cares that don’t matter two cents in the context of forever. Like the disciples in this text, we don’t realize that we are in the presence of Jesus, the very Bread of Life. He is holding us, sustaining us, giving us the gifts of faith and grace and repentance and salvation. We can trust him, rest in Him, and know that He is walking with us.

We are traveling with the Bread of Life. Even when we don’t always see His hand holding us up, even when we forget that Jesus feeds us with His own Body- the everlasting Bread from heaven, Jesus is with us- in this world and the next.

August 21, 2008- Shadow, Refuge, Light and Jesus, Lord of All -Psalm 36:7-9, Acts 7:9-16

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How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)

And the patriarchs, (i.e. Joseph’s brothers) jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)  (See also Genesis 37 and Genesis 45:1-15.)

God, the fountain of life, the light of the world, God our refuge, is for us. Even though situations can appear hopeless, God makes a way for His people.

Joseph seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was his father’s favorite child, much to the disdain of his older brothers.  His brothers became so angry with and jealous of Joseph and his favored position that they decided to take his clothes and sell him into slavery.

One might think that it would be difficult to see the hand of God in being sold into slavery and to being made to suffer humiliation and even time in prison (Genesis 39) during that enslavement.  Yet God preserved Joseph so that he would be able to provide a way for his family to survive a terrible famine.

Sometimes we might wonder what God is doing with us in our particular time and place.

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

Walking by faith- trusting God- doesn’t always make sense. We have no idea most of the time what God has in mind when we find ourselves in situations we would never want to be in.

It’s hard to say, “Trust God,” when someone is in the middle of suffering. It’s hardest of all when we have to look up and trust God through impossibilities, through adversities, and through our tears. Sometimes we wonder what use we can be to ourselves or others when we are disabled, or broke, or too scattered and busy. Other times we wonder if God really cares about us or our lives.  As we study the Bible, time after time we see all the ways that God makes a way for His people.  We can trust He will make a way for us as well, even when we can’t see it or we don’t understand.

We look to Jesus, whose thoughts were of us as His earthly life bled away on the Cross. What did God do with such a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses too – Luke 9:23– as we follow Him.  Because He died and rose from the dead, we share both in His death as well as His resurrection life.  He walks with us through it all- even as He walked with His forefather Joseph through the impossible and the unfair and the seemingly hopeless.

Walking by faith, trusting God, seems like a very silly thing to do if we subscribe to the wisdom of this world. Confessing our sins to God daily, putting on our baptism and accepting His free grace and forgiveness, bringing our prayers to God, forgiving others, serving others, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.  Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  He works in and through – and sometimes in spite of- the crosses we are called to bear even though we don’t see how most of the time.  We may never see the good that God works in and through us in our lifetimes.  Even so, because of God’s good gift of faith, we can hope beyond our temporary circumstances. We look up, we trust God, and we know that we are covered under His wings.

August 18, 2018 – Be Wise About What is Good- Romans 16:17-20

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Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.

 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:9-14 (ESV)

 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:17-20 (ESV)

Unfortunately human history is a timeline filled with fallen, fallible people getting it wrong. Dogs bark because that’s what dogs do. Cats meow because that’s what cats do. People sin because people are sinners. It’s what we do.

No sooner than Moses had turned his back and returned to Mount Sinai to hear from God after he came to the people of Israel with the tablets of the Law, the people turned away from God and bowed down to a golden calf they had made. (Exodus 32)

We have been given all kinds of warnings against breaking God’s Law, but we still do it. We can’t help ourselves.

Even David, who wrote Psalm 34, wasn’t able to do as he instructed, and David was a man after God’s own heart.

Christians are no exception to the sinner rule. While we are also saints because of the offense of the Cross- that Jesus died for our sins and took the punishment we deserve- our sinful nature is evident in everything we do and that we don’t do.

The apostle Paul warns the people in Rome about believing bad teaching and wrong ideas just as he warns the Galatians and the Corinthians. There are people who teach doctrines that are contrary to what we learn in the Bible, and often these are teachings that lead people either to serving their own interests (prosperity “gospel”) or to lining the pockets of their “teachers.”  Sometimes bad teaching can be made to sound logical or good, but it does not point us to Jesus. We are warned because there are many things in the world that can lead us away from the truth.

There is no such thing as a perfect church. We are at best a collection of fallible and imperfect sinners.  If we rely on any one particular person or doctrine, we are going to encounter errors.  There will be disagreements and conflicts. We are not going to “do it right.”

God has given us holy Scripture so that we can hear and read His Word and know the truth. The more that we read, study, know and talk about the Bible the better equipped we are to see what is the real deal and what isn’t.

We are called to discernment- to test the spirits-  and to hold on to the good news of Jesus, as the apostle John teaches us:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”- 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

We are called to ask questions and to find answers.  We can do this knowing that even though we are never going to get it right in this world, we have the written Scripture God has given us. We have each other, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are invited to confess our sins, to be forgiven, and to live in the sweet assurance that in our baptism we have been named, we have been claimed and we belong to God because Jesus died for us.

August 16, 2018 There is a God- and He Ain’t You….or Me!-Exodus 20:1-6, Ephesians 2:1-3

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“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)

The first lesson in the Catechism is on the First Commandment:

Thou shalt have no other gods.

What does this mean?–Answer. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Martin Luther,  Small Catechism

There is a God- and He ain’t you….or me.

This simple truth seems so painfully obvious, but the First Commandment shows us the sin of the Fall, the root of all sin.

We want to be God.  We want to be the center of our own universe.  We want things to go our way, according to our will.  We don’t want to pray that hardest petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”  We don’t trust God. We aren’t able to.

Intellectually we get it- sort of- that God is the Creator, but every one of us has that screaming toddler inside who wants his or her own way.  We want to trust ourselves, but we aren’t fit to be trusted.  Left to our own devices we are still those toddlers who would throw tantrums in the middle of Kroger’s and demand M&Ms and ice cream for every meal.  When we try to live by “my will be done,” it doesn’t end well.

Historically the church has referred to our inability to obey God as “original sin,” which the apostle Paul discusses here:  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh, and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

Paul does not mince words here.  We aren’t “kinda good.”  We are no good through and through.  The theologian John Calvin would describe our state before God (apart from Jesus) as the total depravity of man. 

God demands we put Him first, yet we are constantly distracted and chasing after everything but God.

Apart from Jesus, apart from being covered by Him in baptism, apart from being covered by Him because He died to save us from sin, we are completely incapable of putting God first or obeying any of His laws.  We are not able to be perfectly good like God requires. We aren’t even “sorta good.”

Thank you, Lord for the faith you give us as a free gift, the faith in Jesus that saves, the faith that counts us righteous in your sight for Jesus’ sake.  Forgive us for all the times we fall and forget to trust You alone.

August 14, 2018 Grow in the Grace and Knowledge of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ-2 Peter 3:14-18

I am the way

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  2 Peter 3:14-18 (ESV)

We are traveling through the Sunday sermon series on Galatians, where the apostle Paul spells out what the good news of the Gospel is and what it isn’t. We learn through today’s text that the apostle Peter had similar conundrums with the people to whom he was teaching and writing.  They were hearing all kinds of silly things and they were getting confused by what some people were teaching. People are really good at getting the Gospel message wrong, especially in adding conditions to it.

Peter is leading us back to hold fast to the basic premises of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. This is the Gospel in its impossible, blessed, life-saving simplicity.

When we get away from the clear teaching of Scripture we depart from the Gospel. On one side of the road we can get into strict legalism in which we try to earn our way to God by keeping the Law and by having all sorts of regulations imposed upon us.  On the other we can fall into antinomianism (anti = against, nomian=law) and pretend there is no law at all and we just do whatever we want.  Both errors are dangerous because they lead us away from the truth.  Legalism takes our love of others away and makes us self-righteous, which never works out well.  No law at all leads to no discipline, no boundaries and nothing but self-indulgence, which also does not work out well.  Legalism and antinomianism are ditches on the opposite sides of the same road, but both errors lead us to take our focus off of Jesus and the saving Gospel truth and put our focus squarely on ourselves.

The best way for us to stay in the truth is to keep studying the Bible. What does the Bible say about our life in Christ?  What does the Bible say about this or that teaching? Peter exhorts us: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is important for us as Christians to pay attention to what we believe.  Jesus is always at the center of everything.  Our life is found in Him. The more that we read, study, pray and know the truth set out in Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the better equipped we are to hold fast to the truth when people try to teach us things in the name of God that aren’t the Gospel.

August 10, 2018- Something, Nothing, the Law of Love, and the Cross- Galatians 6:1-10, 1 John 4:19

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Brothers (and sisters,) if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

It’s easy to look around and point fingers and see others’ flaws. It’s easy to catch other people doing the wrong things, but it’s not so easy to examine our own behaviors and motivations before confronting someone else for his or her faults.  We ourselves fall into temptation and error without much provocation or assistance. All too often we can get self-righteous and instead of gently restoring a fellow believer in love, we become the pots who call the kettles black.  Correction is best given out carefully and gently, with humility, and with the aim of lifting the other person up.

In some ways it almost seems as if Paul is contradicting himself here. In most of Paul’s letters he continually underscores our utter dependence on Jesus and (Paul, the former legalistic Pharisee,) downplays the importance of our works. We know that there is nothing we can do to score brownie points with God.  Our good works come as a result of what Jesus has already done for us.  Our obedience to the law of love (and yes, the command to love others is not the Gospel but is actually part of the Law) flows from Jesus loving us first.

We were created by God to do good works as we learn in Ephesians 2:10.  Those good works are for the benefit of our neighbors here and now, not so much for God, as God does not need anything from us.  The people around us, the world around us, however, could really use our good works.

Our lives will be more in step with the will of God both individually and collectively here and now as we do good works and help each other instead of being surly and arbitrary and fighting good order. When we pray the way Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through us to bring about God’s will, even here and now.

We know that as we live with fellow believers that we are both saints and sinners. We live a paradox in that even though Jesus is the sole source of our being, our sustenance and every provision, our life still requires suffering and hard work and cooperation with other people. In this world we still are under the curse of the Fall and its slavery to sin and toil.  Life takes the grace to forgive- and to give sacrificially- that can only come from Jesus.

If we are going to live our lives the way that God would have us live (and none of us even comes close to doing a good job of this) we can only rely on Jesus. We can only love others because He loved us first (1 John 4:19.)  We can only gently correct and forgive others because we are dependent upon the grace of God ourselves.

When we think we’re something and we are convinced that we’re all that, it’s time to turn away from ourselves, look to Jesus, and turn to the Cross. Jesus is the one who gives us what we need to bring about His will. He gives us the endurance and the strength to do the good works He planned for us in advance.