July 12, 2019- The One True Faith, Christ Alone- The Apostle’s Creed, Galatians 1:1-10

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Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:1-10 (ESV)

The Apostle’s Creed has historically been a sort of “Cliff’s Notes,” or a basic faith statement of orthodox (small o) Christianity. It is derived from Scripture, and we as Christians learn the Creed so that we know what and in whom we believe. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches the three articles of the Creed- the first article being of God, the Creator, the second article on Jesus Christ, the Son, our Salvation, and the third article on the Holy Spirit, our Sanctification (the process of being purified and made holy.) So in the Creed we learn in short form the roles of the Persons of the Trinity as well as the simple Gospel.
God created us and the whole world and everything in it. Jesus redeemed us, took on our sins and suffered the death penalty (that we earned) for us. The Holy Spirit keeps us in faith and transforms our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.

Today, Christian believers need to be more discerning than ever. There are endless Bible studies, videos, teachings and other information out there that claim to be “Christian” but upon scrutiny don’t line up with the Gospel given to the apostles. Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians was meant to warn and safeguard them against false teachings that were being brought into the community- teachings that could keep people from hearing the real saving message of the Gospel. Paul had a problem with people coming into the early Christian communities and telling Gentile believers that the only way they could have salvation in Jesus is if they obeyed the Jewish laws (that the Jews weren’t able to do either) and if they observed Jewish rites such as circumcision.
False teachers were teaching a false gospel of “Jesus….and.”
With this in mind, we learn from Paul that he was an apostle of Jesus. He did not declare himself an apostle, nor did any human being decide Paul was going to be an apostle. God in Christ made Paul an apostle and gave him a very specific message- one that could be verified by the Scriptures and by the teaching of the other apostles.
Paul begins his letter by praying for the people of the church in Galatia. He prays for grace and peace, and for deliverance from the evil of the current age. He attributes all the glory to God. He gives God all the credit for his message- not to himself. He vehemently denies that there are things that people can do to earn favor with God.
It is easy for us to get distracted by the world that surrounds us. It is easy to hear all the messages from the media and from those around us- do this, don’t do that, here’s the way to happiness, 15 ways to financial freedom, etc. and so on. The idea of our “best life now” sells books and admissions to seminars, but the concept of a perfect life here on earth isn’t found in God’s Word. God’s Word teaches the theology of the cross. We are baptized into the death of Christ and we rise again with Him. This life of now, but not yet necessarily involves suffering, sacrifice and loss. We still suffer the human condition of the curse of the Fall (Genesis 3) until either we die or Christ returns.
Sometimes we think that we can judge from appearances who is living a moral life and who isn’t. We can succumb to the rather prideful thought that we can justify ourselves by following the rules. We want to feel as if we can contribute something to our creation, salvation and sanctification, when in fact it is God doing the acting in all three of these realms as reflected in the three articles that we profess when we say the Creed.
In Paul’s day the Judaizers (some early converts from Judaism to Christianity) taught a gospel of “Jesus…and,” as in Jesus AND the requirement of circumcision, or Jesus AND observing the Jewish dietary laws and feast days. The true Gospel message of Christ alone, Faith alone, Grace alone was getting lost in the rules and rituals.
Modern day Christians have gotten caught up in false gospels too. Nobody is telling people they have to get circumcised or forgo bacon to be a Christian today. Today’s popular false gospels sound Christian, but their influence in the church is both subtle and damaging, because the peripheral messages take the emphasis off of Jesus and the cross.
Prosperity Gospel- a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following steps such as sowing “seed offerings” (i.e contributing money to people, churches or causes) will bring a person financial and material prosperity.
Self-Help Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following certain behavior modification techniques will eliminate bad behaviors (keep us from sinning.)

Social Justice Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and going out and doing projects for the less fortunate, or to save the environment, or championing various and sundry political and social causes.

The apostle Paul stresses that the real Gospel is not Jesus…and. We are powerless to come to faith or to save ourselves no matter what we do. All of the popular false gospels put undo emphasis on specific good things that Christians do, rather than the new creations we are in Christ. It is good and necessary for Christians to engage in stewardship and to give of our time, treasure and talents for the benefit of the church. It is good and necessary for Christians to be mindful of our behavior and how our behavior affects our lives and witness. It is also good and necessary for Christians to care for the rights of others and for the world around us.
The important thing about good works that are truly good is that they are always a result of God acting on, in and through us. We can’t earn our salvation, but we are called to respond to the Good News.
We have the gifts of the Apostle’s Creed, Paul’s letters to the churches, and the entire counsel of Scripture to keep us centered on the real Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. Paul didn’t write and preach because it made him popular. Rather, his writing and preaching always pointed to, and came from Jesus.

June 20, 2019- The Absolute Truth- John 18:33-38, John 14:6

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So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, (the apostle Thomas) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” may or may not have been asked in a sarcastic or snarky tone.  Pilate was a product of a largely permissive culture that embraced multiple gods and belief systems- similar to our culture today.  Our culture also has a real problem with absolutes.

How many times have we heard in the media or from others, “You have your truth, I have mine.”   The implication in that statement is that truth is subjective,  but for truth to be true, it must remain absolute.

Either Jesus is the King of the Jews, the inheritor of the throne of David, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God in human flesh, the Savior of the world, or He is not who He says He is.

There is no middle ground with Jesus, no gray area.  As Jesus tells Thomas- who is sometimes reviled as being “Doubting Thomas-” No one comes to the Father except through Me. 

Thomas was actually wise to ask Jesus questions and to demand proofs of Him.  Faith must have a valid object.  We have faith that the highway bridge over the river is going to hold up because it is built with steel and concrete and it was engineered by people who understand what it takes to build a bridge that will stand up to weather and time and tons of vehicles driving over it.  Faith would be sorely misplaced if one were to have faith that it’s possible to float a car across a river on a pool float.

God has given us the inspired Word of Scripture so that we can be like Thomas and find the proofs of Jesus’ truth.  There is nothing wrong with having an informed faith.

So what is truth? The truth is found in Jesus, and in the faith in Him passed down to us in the Scriptures.  The Apostle’s Creed is a synopsis of the Christian faith which is derived from the Scriptures:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

November 6, 2018 – We Believe! The First Article, of Creation- Genesis 1:1-5, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Isaiah 40:28, John 1:1-5

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The Apostle’s Creed is one of the major ecumenical creeds of Christianity.  Lutherans recognize all three of the ecumenical creeds- the Apostle’s Creed (most commonly used,) the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

The Creeds are all summaries of orthodox Christian faith, derived from the Bible. They help us to understand and define what we believe about God.

The First Article: (of Creation)

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

The belief in God the Creator is found throughout the Bible from the very beginning of Scripture.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:1-5 (ESV)

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”- Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28 (ESV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

For those who would argue the Creeds are not Biblical, we discover that every concept in the Creed is supported by Scripture. In the opening chapter of the Bible- Genesis 1- we learn that God created heaven and earth.

God the Father is not only one of the Persons of the Trinity, but with the Son and the Holy Spirit He is beyond time. With the Son and the Holy Spirit He is the Author of all things. He created the universe and all things in it. Though we cannot fully understand the concept, God is Three in One- all three Persons are and were present in creation.

All good gifts come from the hand of God. We do not believe creation just showed up by random chance but that creation is purposefully designed by God for His good purpose.

We believe that the First Article gifts of creation are good. The earth and sky and material things are given to us by God.

Martin Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism:

Of Creation.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?–Answer.

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

May 10, 2018 – Jesus Ascended to Heaven, and So Will We! Luke 24:44-53, John 14:25-27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:44-53 (ESV)

We almost have to wonder why Jesus, after His resurrection, didn’t just stick around. After all, he did rise from the dead. If he just stuck around we wouldn’t have to have faith, we could just look at Him and see.  Imagine if Jesus were bodily present with us today- if we could invite Him to dinner, or see Him on TV, or subscribe to His podcast.  Hanging out with Jesus, asking Him direct questions, getting the facts straight from Him, would be amazing.  But it was necessary, for Him to prepare a place for us in eternity, for Jesus to return to His Father. His bodily presence on this earth couldn’t last forever.

The death and resurrection of Jesus, we get. The ascension, when Jesus returns to God the Father, we don’t understand so easily, even though Jesus’ bodily ascension to heaven is part of the declaration of faith we affirm in the Apostle’s Creed: He (Jesus) ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

 We can’t escape speaking of the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) when we discuss the ascension of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the more difficult concepts within Christianity. We really find it difficult to understand that God is One, (the I AM God) but is three Persons in One.

It may be helpful to think of the Persons of the Trinity as how God comes to us, even though this is not a complete and full understanding. God, the Father, creator, the eternal, beyond time and space- comes to us physically in the person of Jesus Christ.  God the Holy Spirit is the breath of God who is part of, in through and with creation.  Of course all three are One, and this is really hard to wrap our heads around.

John 14 in its entirety is Jesus’ full explanation of why He has to return to God the Father.

(Jesus said): “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  John 14:25-27.

Jesus ascending to the Father is a wonderful point of hope for us. By faith we know that we too will ascend to heaven on the last day, as the apostle Paul explains:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)

It is encouraging to know these two things as we live in this paradox of now, but not yet: Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Until that day when the trumpet sounds, we have been given the gift of God the Holy Spirit available and interceding for us as our Helper.  The ascension of Jesus points us to the place He is preparing for us.  This is a great encouragement and hope indeed!