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

abraham's children

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.

August 28, 2018 -The Curse…and the Blessing, by Faith -Galatians 3:10-14, Romans 4:13,2 Corinthians 5:21

sola fide

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14 (ESV).

“Through Christ death has lost her sting. Christ is the death of death.”– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535

One of the primary teachings of the Protestant Reformation is sola fide, or Faith Alone. This is important to remember because even today we as Christians are tempted to think we can earn brownie points and follow the rules to justify ourselves.  Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians because there were teachers called Judaizers who were trying to convince the Galatian church that they could only truly follow Jesus if they also kept the Jewish Law.  They were leading people away from the sound doctrine of salvation by Faith Alone into setting extra conditions for salvation- the unsound doctrine of Jesus…AND.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Paul is underscoring the reality that we as fallen creatures do not have the power to break the curse of sin and death based on what we do or don’t do. We are powerless to save ourselves, or to will ourselves to life, no matter what we do.  We are lifeless like the dry bones that God told Ezekiel to prophesy to. (Ezekiel 37) The dry bones could do nothing to come alive of their own accord.  The Word of God- Jesus- is the only power that can break the curse of sin and death and bring us to life out of the deadness of our trespasses and sins.

Jesus took our place as the curse, hanged on a tree. He was made to be the curse so that through faith in Him we can become children of God- the spiritual descendents and inheritors of the blessing of salvation that was promised in God’s covenant to Abraham.

“By faith Christ changes places with us. He gets our sins, we get His holiness.”– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535

Abraham was never justified by keeping the Law. The Law didn’t even show up until centuries after Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was a one way deal.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. Romans 4:13 (ESV)

Jesus has become both the curse- hanged on the tree carrying all of humanity’s sins- and the blessing of Abraham. Jesus is the promised offspring of Abraham, from the covenant God made before the covenant with Moses and the handing down of the Jewish Law.  God’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus. We become children of God’s promise through faith- through trusting Jesus.  Not Jesus…AND, but through faith in Him alone.

“Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil from ourselves to Christ; and Christ’s righteousness and blessing from Christ to ourselves.”– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535

March 13, 2018 Falling and Standing…and Snakes- Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-15, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

moses bronze serpent.jpg

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:13-15 (NIV)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NIV)

Temptation and snakes are themes that run throughout the Bible. The serpent tempted Eve, and we know how that story goes.  Humankind has a sort of uneasy relationship with the reptilian world, but a sort of love-hate relationship with temptation.  We know we shouldn’t give in to certain things…but we do, whether it is something as trivial as scarfing down that hot fudge sundae we know we really don’t need, or constantly whining and complaining and being surly and unkind, or even something devastating  such as succumbing to desire for someone other than our spouse, or murdering someone. Even worse, we don’t actually have to do the deed to sin. We just have to want to do it in our minds and hearts, and that is sin. God sees our hearts and knows our motives no matter what our outward behavior might suggest.  All of us are guilty and law-breakers according to God’s Law.

Temptation is everywhere and no one is immune. All sins are disobedience to God. The only differences are that some sins are more tempting than others, and some sins have deeper temporal consequences depending on the damage that gets done to others and in the greater society.  What may be a temptation for one person is not a temptation at all for someone else, but we are all tempted and vulnerable to various and sundry forms of sin.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are an excellent place for us to start to examine our hearts and see our sins revealed to us and put out in the open.

Temptation and sin are written into the human condition, snakes or no snakes. The apostle Paul makes it clear that we cannot live according to God’s will in our own power.  If we think we can live perfectly, upholding all Ten Commandments, all the time, we will fall flat on our faces.  We do fall flat on our faces, all the time.

We can only be made whole and healed of our sinful nature by looking to Jesus and confessing our sins. As the Israelites were bitten by the snakes- the bites that maimed and killed them were the consequences of their sins- God tells Moses to set up a bronze serpent.  Symbolically he is hanging up what has been made sin for them- so they may see their sins and have faith in God to look up, to confess their sins, and be healed of them. It was a free gift of mercy, a vision of Jesus.  It was God making a way for His people to be forgiven and healed of sin by faith even though they had earned the consequence of death by sinning against Him.

Jesus has been lifted up upon the Cross for us to look up to Him, to ask His forgiveness and be healed, to be forgiven, and to be made new. We look up knowing that He is our source of life.

Do we believe that Jesus has taken on our sins, no matter how bad we might think they are?

Do we believe He gives us what we need to resist temptation and live in a way that honors Him?

Do we trust that He purifies our hearts and motives and that He will make us more like Him?

Do we believe that on Calvary He became our sin, and in doing so, He put sin and death to death forever?

We can only stand and be justified (made good) before God because of Jesus. We can’t make ourselves good no matter how hard we try. Apart from Him we fall. The good news is that no matter how many times we fall, or how many times we overestimate our own abilities, because of Jesus we stand.  Because He was lifted up, because He put our sin to death, we stand in Him.

February 9, 2018 God is Not Silent- Psalm 50:1-6, James 2:12-14

new jerusalem

The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. 

From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people:

“Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice. Psalm 50:1-6 (NIV)

God will not be silent. Why do we think He is silent at times?  Do we lose sight of Him in the darkness of all the evil that threatens to prevail in this world?  Does His voice get drowned out in the vapid soundbites and machinery of modern life?

Judgment is always a squirmy topic, especially if we examine our hearts fully and truthfully. Even though we fall short and fail regularly, God’s judgment is always in our favor. For Jesus’ sake He has mercy on us and forgives us and redeems us. That isn’t to say that His judgment is always fair.  In the name of fairness we are all law-breakers and have earned the penalty of eternal death.

Our hearts cry out when we see the injustice of this world. Things happen that should not be allowed to happen- war, famine, death, decay, sorrow, loss- the list is long.  It’s easy to get angry and become disillusioned and wonder where God is in all of it.

Jesus came to earth as the one perfect sacrifice for all, but He also came to show us how to live, and to empower us to be His instruments here on earth.

If we aren’t hearing God, is it because our voices are silent? Do we affirm the goodness of God with our speech and conduct?

If we aren’t seeing God, is it because we aren’t reflecting Him in our actions?

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)

Jesus is the New Covenant. We as Jesus followers are the consecrated people He lives in and through. There is a popular “new age” saying out there that states one should “Be the change you want to see.” We should strive to follow Jesus’ example. We should want to live in a way that makes God known in the world.

Mercy and judgment may seem to be mutually exclusive. However, by God’s mercy in Christ we are not judged according to what we have earned, but we are given grace instead.

Are we merciful and gracious to others? Are we becoming the change we want to see?

God is speaking. Are we listening?

September 1, 2017 – Vindication- Psalm 26:1-8

Vindication

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

 O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26:1-8 (NRSV)

On the surface this looks like the Psalmist is praying a pretty arrogant prayer, but his focus is not on us or our good deeds. His focus is on God’s love and our response to it.

What integrity do we have in and of ourselves? Absolutely none.

What ability do we have to be steadfast or loving of our own accord? Again, absolutely none.

Apart from the intrinsic value we have as children of God, and assuming that transplant organs are not sold for a dollar value, what exactly are the materials that comprise our physical bodies worth? About $5.

How many human beings are hypocrites? 100%.

How many human beings do evil and are wicked? 100%.

The Psalmist does speak of his integrity, his trust, his steadfastness, his faithfulness, and his innocence, but all the while his focus is on vindication, which can only come from God.  If we have any integrity, trust, steadfastness, faithfulness or innocence, these are not inherent to ourselves, but given to us as gifts from God.

 Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines vindication as: the state of being vindicated; specifically :  justification against denial or censure.

Without that vindication, if not for God choosing to justify us, we are the worthless, the hypocrites, the evildoers, and the wicked. End of story, perhaps.

We live the paradox of being saint and sinner (simul justus et peccator– the teacher and theologian RC Sproul, while not a Lutheran, explains Luther’s concept very well here) so we are all of these terrible things…but we’re also not.

The Psalmist is affirming in this prayer and song (for a Psalm is a prayer originally meant to be sung) how God envisions us, and he is giving us the definition of who God created us to be.

We trust in Jesus’ integrity, Jesus’ trustworthiness, Jesus’ steadfastness, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ worth- all the things that we do not have save by His grace.

Because Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for many, we are made into saints- even as we are still sinners.  He is continually calling us to Him, and turning our hearts more and more toward Him.

Do we desire what God desires, and freely gives, to us?  Do we have (in Christ) the confidence to join the Psalmist in his prayer?

March 17, 2017 – Light and Dark, Saint and Sinner – 1 John 1:5-10

saintsinner

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;   but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.   If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  1 John 1:5-10 (NRSV)

While we as Jesus followers walk this earth we are Simul Iustus et Peccator – as Martin Luther put it in Latin. We are justified (Iustus) in Christ, but sinners (Peccator) at the same time (Simul) because we are still human, and we are still living in the “here now, but not yet.”

We live with one foot in the tangible earthly kingdom and one foot in the Kingdom of God. Paradox is not easy but it is part of our journey on this earth.

Time and time again in Scripture God is portrayed as being light, without darkness. Yet in our lives we see darkness all the time, all around us. We live in the darkness, and sometimes it’s hard for us to find a way out of the darkness.  When we live through illness or strained relationships or other difficulties it can be hard to see the light.

In our thought lives and actions we often have to choose to embrace the light and let the darkness go.  This is why we need to make time for prayer, for study, and for encouraging other believers.  We should seek to “put on our Baptism as daily wear.”  The gift of confession should be seen not as something scary or shameful, or even formal, but as a sanctuary, a blessing and a release.  In Christ we have the privilege to come to Him and let that darkness go, and let Him fill us with the light of the Holy Spirit.

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The good news of this teaching is that in knowing we are sinners and our only justification is in Christ alone, is that we are reminded of our reliance on God. We can’t walk in the light apart from Him. We look to Him – the true Light- to keep us from walking in the darkness.

Jesus is indeed the Light of the world, the Light that no darkness can overcome.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:5 (NRSV)

And that is the Good News that a dark world needs to hear.