September 16, 2019 – Peace and Joy in Christ- Philippians 4:4-8, Galatians 2:20

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Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)

The apostle Paul didn’t have a lot of worldly stability in his life, to put it mildly.  On the surface he didn’t have a whole lot to rejoice about. Being stoned (with rocks,) beaten, flogged, starved, shipwrecked and put in prison isn’t exactly what most people would call a good time.

Most of the time, Paul had nothing as far as material wealth.  He had little if any assurance of physical safety, but in Christ, Paul had everything.

The human condition is such that there is no permanent home in these imperfect bodies and in this flawed and broken world.  If we put our trust in our health, or our family and friends, or in our abilities, or in our wealth, we are trusting in things that cannot last and are temporary at best.  Only Jesus offers us the peace of knowing that in Him we have life forever, life without end.

No matter what this life throws at us, this life is not all there is.

As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

We have peace because we know to whom we belong.

July 15, 2019- No One is Beyond the Grace of God in Christ- Galatians 1:11-24

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(The apostle Paul writes:) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)

Today people would be rightfully skeptical if someone were to claim a special revelation of God such as Paul had.  There is a view that many in the Christian church hold (including most Lutherans) that the extraordinary gifts and divine revelation ended with the apostles, the last being John of Patmos who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.  This is a view called cessationism.

Lutheran Christians generally believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that since there are no living apostles to whom Jesus directly revealed Himself, there are no direct revelations being given to people living today.  Today we are instructed to seek God where He promises to be found- in Scripture,  at the Lord’s Table, at the baptismal font, and in the preaching and teaching of His Word- which includes not a few of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches.

The reason why Paul’s message is still such a big deal is primarily because it was taught to Paul by Jesus Himself.  

God took someone who was completely opposed to Him and transformed him into someone who endured unimaginable hardships, suffering and ridicule for the sake of Jesus’ holy name.  It is rare that a person will risk imprisonment, torture, starvation, suffering and ultimately death, for a message that is a lie.  It would have been so much easier for Paul to go back with the other Pharisees and back to his old life, but for Christ, he could not do that.  For Christ, but only through Christ- Paul was willing to sacrifice everything.

Paul was profoundly changed.  From death to life.  From despair and damnation to the wonder and hope and salvation of Christ.

Paul didn’t ask for it.  He didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer, or wear a hair shirt, or promise to feed a thousand orphans.  God was doing the acting.  Jesus came to Paul, not the other way around.  The act of redemption and salvation is and will always be through the merit of Christ alone.

We may not have been given the charismatic gifts and highly visual miracles that the apostles were given, but faith comes to us the same way.

In the water of baptism, Jesus comes to us.  In His Body and Blood that we share at the Communion table, Jesus makes Himself part of us.  In the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the Holy Spirit works faith within us.  The Good News is that no one is beyond the grace of God.

It doesn’t matter if we have a shady background or a tortured past.  Jesus redeemed the apostle Paul, who was formerly a murderer of believers.

“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

 

 

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.

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.