October 16, 2019 – Be? or Do? James 2:14-26, Ephesians 2:1-10

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What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (see Joshua 2)  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. – James 2:14-26 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.   For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Lutherans don’t usually make a habit of quoting the Book of James, because on the surface it may appear that James advocates the concept that we can earn salvation through the things we do much as a worker earns a wage or we exchange money for items we buy.  There is no exchange.  God has already acted on us. Our wages have been paid in full, through the merit of Christ.   However, faith (knowing who we ARE in Christ) always results in action.  As we believe, so we respond. What we do is a result of our faith, a response to the work of God within us.

We believe that faith is a gift of God.  Jesus teaches us in John 6:44- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus gave the church (meaning all believers) its marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All of the other activities the church gets involved in are secondary to making disciples. Yes, it follows that we as Christians would seek to help our neighbors with their physical needs.  Yes, it follows that we would strive to be good stewards of the environment and that we would care for animals, land and water, which are good gifts from God.

But if we simply focus on doing we can forget from whom comes our being. If we neglect to preach and teach the Bad News- that all of humanity is born dead in trespasses and sins and that we cannot save ourselves, followed by the Good News that Jesus took our penalty and paid the price we all owe when He died on the cross, and that we who belong to Him will live forever with Him, then our good works have no lasting value. This world is temporary.

Without Jesus, there is no point. We can and should encourage people to do good things for each other.  We should be good stewards of our world which is a gift to us from God.  But a message and a life that is not focused on the cross of Christ is no life at all.

The cross of Christ is central to who we ARE. What we do for others springs from the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn favor or repay God for what He has first given us.

Without Jesus, serving others is a chore, an endless to-do list that wears on the body and burns the conscience.  We are not capable of doing enough to earn our own way.  But in the light of His mercy, serving others becomes a delight.  In the light of His mercy as we serve, we are being served.

 

February 14, 2019 – Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, Comes to Heal- John 5:1-18

Bethesda pool

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath.  So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”  Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:1-18 (ESV)

Jesus met up with a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda (the name Bethesda means house of mercy) and asked him if he wanted to be healed.  For years the man watched as others had been dipped into the pool ahead of him, yet he lingered there, hoping that today might finally be his day for healing.

God’s timing is not always our timing. Our prayers are not always answered in the way or in the time in which we expect. Jesus is always at work in us and in the world, whether we see or recognize Him or not.  God doesn’t turn a blind eye to us, nor does He take a break. (Matthew 12:1-14) The Sabbath was put in place for our benefit, so that we would have an opportunity to rest and step back from ordinary work, to worship God and study His Word, as Martin Luther explains:

But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment,(meaning the Third Commandment) note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of holy days), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.

Secondly, and most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and pray. – Martin Luther, on the Third Commandment, from the Large Catechism

How fitting it was then, that Jesus would heal a person on the Sabbath, during the time set aside for us to be served by God. How sad that the authorities were not able to recognize God Himself- here on earth with us, healing a man from his suffering.

The Son of Man- Jesus- is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and the Author of all healing.

It’s not about whether or not we want to be healed or made whole.  Apart from faith in Christ alone, which in and of itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit, we can’t even realize we want or need healing or wholeness.  The reality that human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (as the apostle Paul spells out for us in Ephesians 2:1-10) means exactly that- not wounded, not injured, but dead, save for life in Christ.

The fact that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath in defiance of the religious authorities made Him a marked man. It made the religious authorities even more incensed because even as they observed the letter of the Law, the spirit and the purpose of the Law remained far beyond them.

God Himself came down to serve humanity, including healing people on the Sabbath, the day of rest that God put in place for man.

We learn in Isaiah 53:1-5 of Jesus, the suffering Servant, the Man of sorrows, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. His suffering and death bought our eventual freedom from the curse of death.  As He went from place to place teaching and healing, He was mocked. He was called a blasphemer for telling the truth about  Himself.

Jesus brings the House of Mercy to us. We are powerless to help ourselves, but by the gift of faith in Christ alone. We wait for Him in confidence, knowing that by His wounds, we too are healed.

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

sola fide

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