November 13, 2019- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified- 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

crucifixion2

And I, (the apostle Paul speaking) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The apostle Paul was not after the world’s wisdom, or the vastness of the cosmos or the wealth of human knowledge, but the stark and lonely truth of the God-man, humiliated and bleeding, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross.

Paul was a learned man, a Pharisee, who was carefully catechized and taught the Scriptures from his earliest memories.  He knew all the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law, the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms.  He had the intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, yet his essential message- also known as the folly of Gentiles, and a stumbling block for Jews-is the crucified Christ.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the sticky points of theology and miss the whole point of it all.  John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the great forerunner of Jesus got it clear as he exclaimed:  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28-30)

This is not to say that Christians should neglect the study of the Bible or of the Catechism, because God speaks to us through His Word and faith is imparted to us by hearing (Romans 10:17.)  It is a beautiful pursuit to study and learn God’s Word.  He strengthens our faith and gives us food for the journey as we study and internalize His Word. Yet study should always begin and end at the foot of the cross. Everything that we do, everything that we learn,  everything that we internalize, is a gift from God to us- gifts that we find at the foot of the cross.

We don’t bring people to faith…including ourselves. God gives us faith, and we respond to His gifts. He transforms us.

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

We don’t persuade others to believe in God by putting together clean logical arguments or by citing historical evidence.  While there are valid intellectual arguments for the truth claims and the veracity of Christian teaching and history, the primary focus must always be Christ, and Him crucified, the One Who took the punishment we earn and deserve and Who gives us the gifts of repentance and faith and salvation.

Our faith rests in the power of God rather than in our own wisdom or designs.

 

 

 

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

Image result for liturgical worship

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.