February 15, 2019- Jesus is God, The Only Way to Life- John 5:19-29

only way

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:19-29 (ESV)

There is no mistaking Jesus for a mere prophet, or simply as a good teacher. Jesus is God Himself as he clearly attests here and at other points in the Gospels.  The Son and the Father, and the Holy Spirit are one.  Rejecting Jesus- or any of the Persons of the Trinity- is saying no to God.

It can be difficult for some to accept, but the truth is that there is only one way to God. There is salvation in one name alone, and that is in the name of Jesus.

When the apostle Thomas asked Jesus the way to the Father’s House, Jesus answered that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:1-7)

How is it that we can “do good” and come out of the curse of death to the resurrection of life? Jesus says:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

The wisdom of the world says that all paths lead to God, or that a good God would not pass judgment on His creation. We learn otherwise in the Bible.  There will be judgment, and we cannot stand up to God’s standard of perfection apart from Jesus. We are saved by faith in Jesus- in trusting that we are justified by His death on the cross to save us from our sins.

We are called to hear God’s Word, speak God’s Word and teach God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works faith in Jesus for others through us when we hear, study, and teach His Word.  Through His means of grace- hearing the Gospel, being washed in the waters of Baptism, and in taking and eating the elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion, we are brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

January 24, 2019- God Says, “Vengeance is Mine,” Romans 12:17-21

forgive your enemy

 

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

Popular wisdom dictates that revenge is a dish best tasted cold. Often when we are still angry or indignant over being wronged, we can only see our need for personal justice rather than the complete picture. Many regrettable actions have been committed in the heat of anger- actions that result from pure rage, or from a lack of information, or both. It does sting when someone else wounds us, regardless of whether or not the damage was intentionally inflicted.  Our instinct is to lash out and strike back, but we are specifically called not to do so.

God takes the dispensing of revenge to a different level. We aren’t called just to wait until the heat of anger cools before we strike back, but we are commanded to refrain from striking back at all. Revenge is a dish we don’t partake of hot or cold, but leave for Him to serve.  It is not our place to mete out our own retribution, but to forgive and love our enemies even as Christ forgives and loves us.  God will see that justice is done, whether by God’s means here on earth (i.e. civil punishment when one commits a crime) or ultimately at the final judgment on the Last Day. Our hope and our prayer for our enemies is not their destruction, but that God would bring them to repentance and faith and salvation in Christ with us.

This teaching does not mean that we are never to stand up for ourselves or for others, (nor does it negate the necessity for civil justice here on earth,) but to trust God in both His judgment and His mercy.

As God’s people we are called to seek out the good of others- to serve others, to be peaceful and productive and to glorify God in our vocations.

The ministry of Christians here on this earth should be one of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus died and shed His blood to wash away and forgive our sins so that we may not be consigned to eternal judgment, but to eternal life.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Third Petition is notoriously difficult to pray and mean it, because in this petition we pray for the ability to set aside our anger and our thirst for retribution and to open our hearts and minds to God’s will. Thy will vs. my will is a constant battle for everyone. We also pray in the Fifth Petition, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Why do we forgive? Because Jesus forgave us. In Him we have been given the grace to forgive others.

forgive

In faith we can set aside our need for revenge and trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God. If God is truly in control and has our ultimate good in mind, can we trust Him even when others do us harm? Do we trust Him enough to show mercy and grace to others as He has shown to us?

Thankfully in Christ we can go to Him and be forgiven for the times we fail to show mercy or for when we take justice into our own hands. We pray for the grace to forgive others the way Jesus has forgiven us, and to be merciful to others as He has been to us.

December 21, 2018- The Lion of Judah, a Refiner’s Fire, and God With Us- Malachi 3:1-5, John 1:1-18

light-of-the-world-keble-original

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1-5 (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.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:1-18 (ESV)

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy ask the Beavers if Aslan, the lion, the king, is “safe.”  Mr. Beaver replies to them:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

One of the names of Jesus in the Bible is: The Lion of Judah. There is no such thing as a safe lion, just as there is no such thing as a safe God. Jesus is God, and God is omnipotent, meaning He holds all power in the universe.

The prophet Malachi tells us of a terrible day of reckoning, when the Messiah will come to earth as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. We learn from Scripture that the world as we know it is going to be completely destroyed and completely remade (2 Peter 3:1-13.) This grand scale of destruction and rebuilding that Jesus will preside over on the End of Days may seem incongruent with our vision of Jesus as a fragile baby born to a peasant girl and laid in a feed trough- but Jesus is not a “safe” lion. Evil will, and must be, rooted out and destroyed. He is, however, merciful, gracious and good.

The above passage of judgment from the prophet Malachi is disturbing. Because all humans are naturally dead in trespasses and sins, in and of ourselves, we cannot escape the fire. We are all guilty of everything that Malachi names off- sorcery, adultery, bearing false witness, oppressing others and not fearing God. We deserve to be consumed by the fire. We deserve the full punishment and wrath of God. If the message from God stopped with Malachi’s warning, there would be no hope for any of us.

The good news is that God’s message does not stop with Malachi’s warning. That day of judgment is indeed coming, but the price has already been paid for those who belong to Christ. He has sacrificed Himself and poured out His blood on the Cross so that we do not have to endure the eternal flame. He transforms us and walks with us so that we can make our way through this world of “not yet.” In Him we have the confidence that no matter what trials we encounter along the way that we are citizens of His kingdom that has no end.

Jesus, God Himself, came into the world not displaying His terrible and limitless power, but as the Light, as a helpless child, a teacher, a healer. Jesus came to us as one of us, not just to be a teacher and a healer but ultimately to take the punishment we deserve, and to sacrifice Himself so that our sins would be wiped away in His blood.

A “safe” lion would not have the power to defeat the darkness.

We are celebrating the Light coming into the world- not a “safe” Lion, but Almighty God, powerful and good. A Light no darkness can overcome. In Jesus, we see God in the flesh, God with us.

Trust the Mercy of God- Psalm 28, Hebrews 10:30-31

art board carpentry carved

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.

 Blessed be the Lord!  For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield: in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.  Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28 (ESV)

The Psalms are a great gift to us, as is all of Scripture, but in the Psalms we experience the full spectrum of human pathos and experience. As the psalmists pour out their prayers and praise as well as their petitions, pain and laments to God, they underscore that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

Every one of the great cloud of witnesses before us have also had to experience the same heartaches, disappointments, suffering and pain as we do. As we pray the Psalms we can find comfort and strength, knowing that as so many who have come before us also know, the Psalms keep directing us back to Jesus, our Source of life and hope.

Sometimes when we read passages in the Psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for justice against the wicked, it seems cruel and almost contradictory. After all, if God wants to, He can do a much more thorough job of revenge than we ever could.  Admittedly, the imagery of a vengeful God taking action against obnoxious or evil people can make us feel better for a minute.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”(Deuteronomy 32:35-36) And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31 (ESV)

God knows the whole story. In Jesus we are vindicated.  We can trust that He will handle our situations, and He will handle those who oppose us or who have done us wrong.  Jesus teaches us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

All of us are on both sides of the psalmist’s petition. We are both the “wicked” and the “anointed.”  As we read the psalmist’s prayer that God would repay the wicked, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that we need to forgive those who do us wrong as Jesus forgives us for all the things we do wrong.

Perhaps Jesus’ mercy toward us may also extend toward those who are doing evil things now? We are not the only ones pleading for forgiveness and mercy.

As we pray the Psalms, we should always follow their direction to point us to Jesus no matter if we are mourning, praising, or lamenting. We are free to let God handle impossible people and impossible situations. He knows our hearts and minds and circumstances better than we do. He created us, He carries us, and He redeems us. God has the universe and all things in His control.

May 14, 2018 – Another Will Take His Office, God Will Decide- Acts 1:15-26

lady justice

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man – Judas Iscariot- acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; (Psalm 69:24-28) and “‘Let another take his office.’ (Psalm 109:6-8)

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Acts 1:15-26 (ESV)

The Christian church has debated the fate of Judas Iscariot for centuries. Judas was once numbered among the twelve apostles.  He walked with Jesus, lived with Jesus, and shared meals with Jesus.  Even so, Judas, who had been one of the inner circle and who was considered an apostle, ultimately betrayed Jesus.  The remaining eleven had to choose another who had walked closely with Jesus to take Judas’ place.  Their decision was left up to God as they cast lots (Proverbs 16:33) to choose Judas’ successor, Matthias.

The behaviors and the ultimate fate of Judas lead us to an ongoing discussion of predestination versus human free will. If we are predestined to an ignominious fate, that we have no place in choosing, then are we denied mercy forever, even though we were only doing what we were created for?  Could Jeffery Dahmer or Charles Manson have chosen different paths?

How do we know who that child on the playground will become? Is that child a future Mother Teresa or a future Adolf Hitler in the making?  If God is omniscient, then He has to know every decision we make before we make it. He must have a purpose in letting the weeds grow up along with the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-30)  God is the one who judges the injustices others may perpetrate on us. We are called to live peaceably and serve others as Jesus did, regardless if we are put in places that might have a lot of weeds.

The Psalmists made chilling warnings about Judas and to anyone else (namely everyone…) who betrays Jesus. In Psalm 69:24-25, burning anger and desolation are the betrayers’ due.  Psalm 109:8 calls for another to take the office of the betrayer.  All of us are sinners as well as saints, and we are completely reliant on Jesus to keep us faithful and walking with Him.  Only He can deliver us from the snares and traps of sin, unbelief and being distracted by the world.

None of us, even including the apostles, are or were perfect witnesses for Jesus. We aren’t able to witness to Him perfectly, and what witness we can and do give is solely by the grace and power of God.

God does not allow us to be omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. It is not given to us to know God’s plan for anyone.

As far as Judas, or Jeffery Dahmer, or Hitler,- or even the people society sees as being “good,” such as Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, God alone is their Judge. God alone knows what is in anyone’s mind or heart.  All we can do is pray the prayer Jesus taught us- that His will be done, and that our hearts and minds might be aligned with His.

May 11, 2018 – The Perfect Man- Psalm 1

jesus psalm1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)

The Psalms are prayers and songs- some of praise and worship, and others of supplication and mourning. Still others, such as Psalm 22, are prophetic and speak of the humanity as well as particular details of the passion of Christ. All of the Psalms point us to Jesus in one way or another.

Psalm 1 is a description of Jesus- the person who lives perfectly according to God’s Law. We, of course, cannot do that.

Even though we are not capable of living as Jesus lived, we can still look to His example as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Because we belong to Jesus, we are not counted among the wicked in the judgment. Because Jesus was that man who delighted in God’s law and lived perfectly sin-free in our place; the God-man who died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we are judged as though we lived with HIS perfection instead of our own wickedness and sins.

Thanks be to God that when the judgment comes we who believe in Him and trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins will be judged on the merits of Jesus and considered to be His saints.

March 14, 2018 Spreading the Light- Mercy vs. Judgment John 8:12-20, James 2:12-14

prayer-sinner

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (NIV)

The writer of the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus being the light (light of the world, light of life, etc.) in thirteen specific references. The concept of Jesus being the light obviously was a point the Holy Spirit wanted the writer of John to get across.

The Pharisees did not want to acknowledge who Jesus was because they were not able to see Him as He is. They were looking for a mighty warrior who would restore the physical kingdom of Israel. They were thinking in terms of an earthly king.  Their vision was limited.

Sometimes we get caught up in what we think we want to see in Jesus that we lose sight of the real Jesus.  Sometimes we get so preoccupied with our own fears and our own darkness that we don’t- or can’t- look up and see the real light.  We all experience those dark nights of the soul where God seems far away.

Even though we struggle and often we have a hard time with the challenge between doubt and faith, at our Baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We belong to God even when our feelings or our behavior might indicate otherwise. We are called and made able- not by our own will, but by God’s will- to not only see the light of Christ but to reflect and radiate that light.

Do our lives testify to the light and to the reality of Jesus? Do others see His light shining in and through us?

We can get so mired down in the laws God gives us for our own good that we see them as chains that bind us, or as hammers to hit others over the head with, instead of boundaries given out of love and designed to protect us.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees at numerous points where they used the Law as a hammer, to bring down judgment on others rather than to use the Law to bring people to repentance and to show us our constant need for Jesus.

Do we look at other people and say, “At least I don’t do that sin!” It’s tempting to do when we see what we perceive to be truly scandalous behavior, but sins of the heart and sins committed in the dark outside the public eye are still grieving to God.  We are all guilty under the Law.

It is better for us to look at ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner, of whom I am chief?” (to borrow from the apostle Paul-1 Timothy 1:15 .)

The Holy Spirit is always there for us to call upon- in those dark times when we can’t see, in those times that we struggle with doubt, and in those times that we forget that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 (NIV)

Lord, may we be vessels of your light and comfort to those around us, and may we remember that it is only by your grace that we are forgiven and made your own.