December 11, 2018- The Majestic Name of the Lord- Psalm 8

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Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8 (ESV)

Sometimes praising God is the furthest thing from our minds.  When we are in pain or stuck in sadness usually our first response is not to look up to God and know that He is there. Yet even when our lives seem dark, the Light of the world is never far from us.

It is good to praise our majestic God, God Who is above all the sadness and suffering of this world.

It is good to remember in this season that can be dark and depressing for some, that the Light of the world is with us.

The same God whose majesty is reflected in the heavens is the same God who chose to live among us, the same God who came to us as a humble child born to a peasant girl and laid in a manger.

The same God who is beyond time chose to endure a brutal death on a Roman cross to take the punishment for our sins and save us from eternal death.

The majesty of God is both beyond us, and intimately, always with us.

Take comfort this season.  The God of creation is always near.

 

 

December 4, 2018 By Faith, Jesus was Born of Mary-Matthew 1:18-25

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Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) (which means, God with us).

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

We share a common ground with Mary. Like her, we are saints.  Like her, we are sinners.  Like her, we have our life and being and our salvation in Jesus, our Savior. Mary is indeed blessed among women, because God chose her for a very special as well as a very daunting mission.  She is not immaculate, nor is she the co-redemptrix with God. She is a human being like us.  She is a human being through whom God worked.

By faith she received the gift of Jesus as not only her Savior, but also her firstborn son. By faith, Jesus, became fully human, as well as fully God. He shares His humanity with us.  The only difference is that Jesus alone of all humans is free from the curse of sin.

We learn from Scripture that we, like Mary and all of the saints who have gone before us, are saved by faith- not by what we do or even by who we are, but by faith in God.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of countless generations. Mary acknowledges in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) that in Christ the promise of Abraham is fulfilled.

God has a history of working in and through His people. He even chose to do His greatest work- the bodily incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus- through human flesh.

We have to wonder about the faith of Joseph as well. Certainly he may have faced accusations from the family or the community that either Mary or both of them had engaged in immoral behavior. It’s understandable that it would take an angel of God to convince him of what in every other situation would be a biological impossibility- a virgin carrying a child.  God made a way for him to believe, and worked in him the faith necessary for him to trust God and trust that Mary’s child was indeed the Son of God.

In Christ we are given the gift of faith. We are given the gift of God’s faith at work in and through the saints, like Mary, whose faith in Jesus was her righteousness.

God provided the lamb for Abraham, and God provides the Lamb for us. In Jesus we have God-with-us. We cannot come to faith in and of our own reason or power. God works great and wonderful gifts in and through the faith He gives us.

What is Truth? John 18:33-38, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Matthew 10:34

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So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Pilate was not a Jew and had little to no understanding of Jewish laws and customs. He would not have known all the references in the Old Testament that speak of Jesus and of His kingdom. Pilate would not have been able to comprehend that as he was condemning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 55 he was also condemning the Lord of Life, the I AM God.

Pilate did understand the power of Caesar- of tangible, absolute, military authority. However, Roman society was very tolerant of just about every type of religious belief or observance as long as it was understood that in practical and temporal applications, Caesar was “lord of all.”  As far as religious belief went, the attitude was, “I have my truth, you have yours.” Pantheism (the worship of many gods) was the norm in Roman society.  There were gods for everything from fertility, to the oceans, to the harvest. People were thought to be strange if they didn’t indulge in worshiping a pantheon of gods.

We can identify to some degree with Roman society in that there is a smorgasbord of philosophical, religious and spiritual beliefs out there. As Americans we hold the freedom of religious exercise in high esteem if for no other reason than we don’t want to face persecution for our own beliefs.  Political correctness blurs the line even further when we are shamed or made to feel uneducated because we speak up for the truth even when it offends some people.  Truth is never made false simply because it is unpopular.

Christianity is not compatible with the postmodern concept of relativism or with the pantheistic, hedonistic, anything goes idiom of ancient Rome. The message of Christianity has never been the nebulous “find your own truth” philosophy that is so prevalent and pervasive today. Pilate had a philosophical conundrum with “the truthiness of truth,” but reality is that truth is objective.

Truth is not based on feelings. Truth is not based on expediency. Sometimes truth is painful. The way of the Cross is the way of the truth even though it seems silly to the rest of the world.  The apostle Paul teaches us: “For the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

As the church year ends, we certainly are aware of the things are wrong with this world, and we groan right along with the rest of creation as it endures the weight of the curse of the Fall. We are bogged down in the world of now, and the promise of not-yet seems far away.

Truth is concrete. It is not flexible or subjective.  The truth is there is a Lord of All.  The truth is that the way to life is found only in the Way, the Truth and the Life- Jesus- the One Who went to the Cross to die to save us from sin, death and the power of evil.

 

 

November 14, 2018 – Comfort, Suffering and Christ-Reliance- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV)

There are some troublesome trends in American Christianity that are not healthy for us to follow. The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is an example of a not-so-biblical teaching that gets spread around on blog posts and such.  We think that it is comforting to others when we repeat such nice-sounding platitudes, but we are simply putting the burden on the other person and the emphasis on “you” rather than sharing the blessed comfort that God has our circumstances in HIS control.  We like to believe that we are the ones who are in control, but we are not. We do encounter more than we can handle.  Apart from the grace and mercy of God we cannot handle anything.

A more accurate and ultimately more comforting phrase would be, “God can handle everything you have been given, because apart from Him you can’t.” We share in the good news and in the real comfort that God offers in and through our suffering, beyond the limits of our strength, and beyond our afflictions. Suffering is not a surprise. It is inevitable. Suffering is part of the human condition we inherited in the Fall. As believers in Jesus we are not going to be spared suffering, but we are given the hope that suffering will eventually end.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him.  We necessarily share in the Cross of Christ, but we who share in the suffering of the Cross also share in the triumph and eternal life of Christ.

The apostle Paul experienced just about every imaginable obstacle and type of persecution on his missionary journeys. Apart from the grace of God, Paul would not have been able to continue to believe or to persevere in his mission.

Our trust is in God who raises the dead, God who delivers the captives from bondage, God the I AM before and outside of time.

It is interesting that Paul asks the church at Corinth for their prayers. We trust God, yet we still pray for each other in thanks for the blessings God gives us.  Prayer is one of the evidences and the results of our faith, that springs from our confidence that God is the one in control not only of us and our circumstances, but of the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things.  Prayer is the way that God invites us to align our wills with His holy and good will, such as He teaches us to pray- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Paul is teaching us not to be self-reliant. Paul assures us that God handles those things- pretty much everything- that is beyond our ability to manage. Our culture teaches us to be independent and headstrong, but Jesus is teaching us through the apostle Paul that we need to be Christ-reliant. We need to pray together with other believers, trusting that God’s will is being, and will be done just as Jesus taught us to pray.  God is the master of our circumstances as well as He is the bringer of all comfort and peace.

November 13, 2018- Jesus at the End of All Things- Matthew 24:1-14, Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:1-14 (ESV)

Christians have speculated on the events surrounding Jesus’ return ever since His ascension almost 2,000 years ago. Most scholars agree that Jesus made a clear reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD here in verses 1 and 2.

There are thousands, perhaps millions of people over the course of history who have tried to guess the date of end of time. The study of the end times is called eschatology. Almost all religions have some version of eschatology- because humans are curious and want to know when the end of the world is going to take place. People set dates and concoct all kinds of doom and gloom scenarios. We see the documentaries on the Science Channel or Discovery Channel on Nostradamus, or on what astronomers have to say about the life and death of the universe. However, from a Christian perspective we have no way to know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return and the end of the world as we know it. Most of what Jesus has to say about the end of days is found in Matthew 24-25.

Unlike many other Christian sects, Lutherans generally don’t spend much time with speculative eschatology. We focus on what Jesus specifically tells us in the Bible about His return. We do know that the times and world around us are not improving, and contrary to common wisdom the world has been becoming more and more soaked in sin and its effects since the Fall. While creation was made very good, it awaits the final restoration and redemption (Romans 8:18-25.) Like it or not, as it is now, this world and everything in it is temporary and subject to the effects of entropy, decay and death. We live in the now, but not yet.

The important thing to remember is that even though we go through hardship and suffering in this life and Jesus warns us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, is that Jesus is with us through all the trials and temptations and He will see us through them, clear up until and beyond the great day of His return. We don’t know if it will be tomorrow or five thousand years from now. All we do know is that Jesus has told us to be ready for that day.

We who have faith in Jesus have been given an assignment of sorts that goes along with our vocations (vocation meaning the roles in life in which we find ourselves, i.e. employees, spouses, parents, children, etc.) As we go through our lives and anticipate Jesus’ return He gives us the Great Commission:

(Jesus said) “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.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

In JRR Tolkien’s beautiful trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he tells a story of a quest to return the One Ring (that was evil) to be destroyed in the mountain in which it was forged. For those familiar with the story, Frodo had a faithful companion, Sam, who was with him from the beginning of the quest until the moment in which the One Ring was returned to the fire in Mount Doom. Just before the end of that quest Frodo says to Sam, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – JRR Tolkien from The Return of the King.

While JRR Tolkien was a Christian and he makes many good references to redemptive themes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have even more hope than the people of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s fiction that Jesus will be with us at the end of all things.

May we have joy and be glad that Jesus is with us, now and at the end of all things- because in Him there is no end.

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 8, 2018 – The Second Article, What We Believe About Jesus-Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53:4-5, Revelation 21:1-4

Jesus the Savior

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. 

He descended into hell. (sheol*)

On the third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

*The English word “hell” here is misleading, for “hell” has changed its sense since the English form of the Creed was fixed. Originally, “hell” meant the place of the departed as such, corresponding to the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol. That is what it means here, where the Creed echoes Peter’s statement that Psalm 16:10, “thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades” (so RSV: AV has “hell”), was a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus rose (see Acts 2:27–31). But since the seventeenth century, “hell” has been used to signify only the state of final retribution for the godless, for which the New Testament name is Gehenna.- J. I. Packer, from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.

The Second Article of the Creed teaches us about our salvation by faith in Jesus. His conception and birth as well as His suffering and death for our redemption were clearly spoken of through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and -shall call his name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities, upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5 (ESV)

We affirm the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, who saw, walked and ate with Jesus after He was raised from the dead.

In Luke 24 we learn that Peter came to Jesus’ tomb only to realize He wasn’t there.  Jesus, by dying on the Cross and descending into the world of the dead, defeated death.  Jesus rose again and was seen by many witnesses- walking, talking, eating, just as He had done before His crucifixion.  On the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus was revealed to the disciples in the breaking of the bread.  Again Jesus was revealed to the disciples in the Upper Room as He ate with them.  Then, after He blessed the disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven.

As much as we may find the eschaton (i.e., the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world, as defined by the New Oxford Living Dictionary) to be a frightening concept, we believe that Jesus is returning to restore and remake heaven and earth. We are included in that new creation. Those who have faith in Jesus have nothing to fear, because He has promised we belong to Him and will be with Him in this new creation forever.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)

Martin Luther explains the Second Article of the Creed and what it reveals to us about Jesus in the Small Catechism:

Of Redemption.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

What does this mean?–Answer.

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.