November 30, 2018 The Lord’s End-Times Timing, Promise and Hope – 2 Peter 3

Cross

(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

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 (ESV)

Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule.  Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life.  He will return again.  He will remake the heavens and the earth.  There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom.  The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end.  Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.

This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade.  Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy.  On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.

Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone.  Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.

Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self.  One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about.  In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God.  We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.

In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world.  We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ.  We sin constantly, every day.  Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ.  We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in.  We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ.  Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world.  He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.

We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death.  Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence.  We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone.  Our hope is in Jesus.

October 31, 2018 – Here We Stand- Romans 10:10-17

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For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Romans 10:10-17 (ESV)

The Reformation was a movement born in response to a number of errors within the Church. The Church had gotten away from the teachings of Scripture and was being corrupted by man-made superstitions as well as by good old fashioned profiteering.  The issue that lit the spark of the Reformation was the sale of indulgences, or documents given out by the Pope, that granted people forgiveness of sins and/or entry into heaven upon receiving a monetary gift.  The doctrine of indulgences was closely tied to the (non Scriptural) teaching on purgatory that was widely taught and accepted at that time, and in the Roman Catholic church even today.  People in Luther’s time believed that they could release their loved ones from purgatory and into heaven by the purchase of indulgences.

St Peter's Basilica

The sale of indulgences in Luther’s day largely financed the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  Bishops and priests who could send cash to the Vatican for this building were often rewarded with appointments, land and special favors.  One of the most notorious of the indulgence hawkers was a priest named Johann Tetzel, who was known for his sales pitch:

As soon as the gold in the coffer rings / The rescued soul to heaven springs!- Johann Tetzel

tetzel

Martin Luther was offended by such teachings as they are contrary to the Scriptural foundations of Christ Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone that are taught all through the Bible. Luther spoke out against the sale of indulgences in his 95 Theses:

  1. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  2. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone. – from Luther’s 95 Theses

When Luther and other Reformers discovered the saving truth of the Gospel as presented to us in the Bible, he and they could not help but to stand up for the truth. They could not keep this Good News under wraps any more.

It is God in Christ who does the saving, and redeeming. We cannot earn or deserve God’s favor.  We can’t buy our way to heaven, and we can’t pay the way for our friends and relatives. The proclamation of this truth wasn’t popular among the industry that had built itself around the sales of relics and indulgences.  Just as the apostle Paul found himself in a great deal of controversy and peril for interfering in the livelihood of the idol-makers (Acts 19:23-41) of Ephesus, Luther was controversial and despised.  At times he had a price on his head and had to go into hiding.  Luther was considered an enemy of the church for bringing the truth clearly written in Scripture to everyone, and encouraging people to have and to read Scripture in their native languages. He was accused of being a heretic for suggesting that salvation is a free gift of God rather than something bought or earned or controlled by the powers that be in the hierarchy of the Church.

It wasn’t popular for Luther and others to stand against the power and influence of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Many reformers ended up dead for making their stand.

Today we remember that standing up for Jesus and teaching the truth is not always easy. We thank God for the faithful witness of Martin Luther and the Reformation movement that continues even into today.  We pray that we will have courage to be the “beautiful feet”- bringing the Good News to the world, so that the Holy Spirit would bring others to faith as they hear God’s Word taught. (Romans 10:17)

We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ and the Holy Spirit are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness?  Why not accept His gifts with joy and thanksgiving? – Martin Luther from his Commentary on Galatians

October 30, 2018 The Gospel of the Reformation- Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 11:8-12, Galatians 3:7-9

God provides the lamb

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:8-12 (ESV)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 (ESV)

The message of the Reformation is the rediscovery of the Gospel. The Good News of God’s Word was finally printed in native languages so that people could read and discover what Scripture really says. The lies and deceptions that were going on in the name of God, such as the sales of relics and indulgences and other profiteering and vice throughout the church were exposed. Even with the reforms of the 16th century and beyond, the church is still a collection of sinners, and reformation is an ongoing process.

In the pages of Scripture- foretold by the prophets and made real in the person of Jesus, God’s people are no longer bound by the curse of the garden, or enslaved by the futility of law-keeping as a way to assuage the wrath of God and “earn” salvation. We learn that by faith in Jesus the Law that was handed down to Moses is fulfilled. In Christ we are brought back into the unilateral covenant God made with Abraham. Abraham was not a sinless man by any stretch but he was saved and justified by the gift of faith in God.

God gave Abraham a promise, that through Isaac, the child of promise, that he would have countless descendants. It was not a gift with a condition attached.  There was no quid pro quo.  God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, unconditional, from the top down.  God provided Abraham’s faith, even the faith Abraham needed to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. (See Genesis 22:1-18) God also provided the lamb for the sacrifice, sparing Isaac.

God provides the Lamb for us as well. Not because we earn or deserve it, but completely by grace.

Because Jesus became the sacrifice that covers our sins, we are set free of the impossible task of earning God’s love or of buying brownie points to heaven. By faith in Jesus we become the offspring promised to Abraham.

Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone. It’s that easy and that complicated.  We are named and claimed in our baptism, covered and made clean in the Blood of Christ.

This is the simple Gospel of the Reformation: We who are born dead in trespasses and sins, by faith, by the grace of Christ alone have been and are being made right with God. Saved. Redeemed. Loved. Forever. Descendents of Abraham and children of God, marked with the Cross of Christ forever in our Baptism.  Nothing earned, nothing deserved.  All because of Jesus!

 

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

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.

July 25, 2018-The Curse of the Law and the Faith of Abraham – Galatians 3:1-14,1 John 1:8-10

(The apostle Paul writes:) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

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 3:1-14 (ESV)

Christ alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. These statements are the very heart of Lutheran theology. We can’t save ourselves by behaving ourselves (which is a very good thing) or by earning brownie points.

This being said, all of creation is under the curse of the Law. Apart from Jesus taking the punishment for us who were born under the curse, we might as well simply eat, drink and be merry, because all of this world’s creation is destined for death.

If we look at the 10 Commandments in light of the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism, we can see just how impossible law-keeping is. Even if we look only at Jesus’ two Big Commandments: Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we fall woefully short.

We may not worship golden calves, but do we honor the sovereignty of God by putting Him first at all times? Do we consistently love our neighbors as ourselves? Even if we really try?

The bad news is that as good and right as God’s Law is, we can’t follow it perfectly, and to fail at following any part of the Law perfectly means we have broken all of the Law. (James 2:8-13)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Law can’t save us. It can only point us to trust the One Who already did.

Jesus broke the curse. In baptism we are made clean and brought into the family of God. In Holy Communion we are given the healing Body and Blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins.  We don’t earn forgiveness or salvation.

Jesus became the “cursed one,” Who hung on a tree and took the penalty of sinful humanity.

There is no other way to life. “It is Christ or nothing,” as C.S. Lewis so aptly described the Christian faith. The faith of Abraham was the simple act of trusting God-  and knowing God makes a way. That gift of faith extends to us as well.

This is the good news. Jesus has done it all.