February 26, 2019- Children of Abraham- John 8:39-59, Romans 9:6-8

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They (the Jews) answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:39-59 (ESV)

It is curious that the Jews who challenged Jesus called themselves “children of Abraham.” Genetically the Jews could claim Abraham’s lineage, so they weren’t technically wrong. Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, could also claim genetic descent from Abraham, but Abraham’s inheritance was given to the child of God’s promise, Isaac, the child of Sarah, the child born of faith.  The apostle Paul explains the real meaning being a child of Abraham:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Romans 9:6-8 (ESV)

It didn’t matter that the Jews who rejected Jesus were genetic offspring of Abraham. The true children of Abraham- the children of the promise- are those who believe Jesus, regardless of their genetic ancestry.

Jesus is GOOD NEWS for all people, regardless of our personal history or ethnic heritage. We are made His own by the promise, by faith, like Abraham, that we believe Him and know that He is who He says He is.

Whoever is of God hears the words of God.- Jesus

May we always be listening and willing to hear, study and speak the words of God. These are the words that lead us to saving faith in the Lord Jesus.

February 25, 2019 – The Light and Life of the World- John 8:12-20, Psalm 118:19-24

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Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”  Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”  They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (ESV)

The Pharisees had a hard time wrapping their minds around Jesus. They were so concerned with the finer points of the Law that they missed the purpose for the Law and the Scriptures.  They were so busy navel gazing and worrying about tithing their mint and spice that they missed the very one who they claimed to be waiting for.

Jesus and His Father (two Persons of the Trinity) both testify to who Jesus is, and the Pharisees couldn’t stand the fact that when Jesus says that He and His Father are one that Jesus is claiming to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God. To the Pharisees, Jesus was a blasphemer of the highest order.  The thought that the lowly son of a carpenter that many of them may have known when He was younger, was claiming to be God was purely offensive to them.

As offensive as some may find Jesus, the cross, and the cosmic truth that there is nothing we can do to dig ourselves out of the situation we inherited from our first parents, the fact remains, He is the light of the world. He is the only way to salvation.  Nothing came into being apart from Him. Apart from Him there is no light, no life and no truth.

We can be a bit harsh on the Pharisees, but sometimes we miss Jesus too. We fail to see Him in our unforgiveness and hardness of heart.  We fail to see Him in the suffering of our neighbors.  We fail to see Him beyond the brokenness of our world.

Jesus did not come with glitter and gold and fanfare. Jesus did not come surrounded by conquering armies.  He came as a simple human to all outward appearances, but also as God clothed in human flesh.  Save by the gift of faith, we cannot see Jesus just as the Pharisees could not see who He really is.  The Father must draw us to Jesus.  We pray for the eyes to see Him, a mind to know Him, and a heart to love Him.

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:19-24 (ESV)

November 9, 2018- We Believe: The Third Article: Of Sanctification – The Holy Spirit and Eternal Life -John 14:15-16, 25-26, John 6:44, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53

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I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic* church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

*catholic in this context does not refer specifically to the Roman Catholic Church, but to the universal Christian Church, aka- all believers in Jesus.

(Jesus said) : “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you”… “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.” John 14:15-16, 25-26 (ESV)

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to believers as a Helper. He intercedes on our behalf, reminding us of what we have been taught when we hear God’s Word.  Faith in Jesus comes through hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) and through the means of grace given to us in baptism and in Holy Communion.  It is the Holy Spirit, through hearing the Word, and through the sacraments, that works this faith in us.  It is by faith that we believe Jesus has paid the price, that He suffered and died for us, and so we are forgiven for our sins.

We also believe in a universal Christian Church- including believers from many different times, traditions and cultures. We believe that everyone who is drawn by the Father to Jesus, not by anything we can do, but only through faith, which is a gift from God, will be saved and will become part of the greater “communion of saints.”

(Jesus said) : “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44 (ESV)

Bodily resurrection is possibly one of the most difficult concepts for us to understand.  Many of us believe that one dies, goes to heaven and then we become ethereal spirits without physical bodies.  However, at the last day, or the eschaton, we will be raised with Christ, our bodies will be restored, and we will have life as real people with actual physical bodies- only those bodies will no longer be subject to the ravages of aging, injury or disease.

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (ESV)

Martin Luther explains the Third Article in the Small Catechism:

Of Sanctification.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?–Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

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!