March 4, 2019 – What God Plans for Good-John 11:45-57, Genesis 50:19-21, Romans 8:28

suffering-jesus

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?”  Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 (ESV)

The Romans did succeed in destroying Herod’s Temple in AD 70, and it has never been rebuilt. The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the Temple.  The Jewish people, even today, are scattered throughout the world.  So it could be said that the religious rulers weren’t entirely correct.  The Romans did take over “their” place, though they did not succeed in destroying God’s people. We remember that the true descendants of Abraham are God’s children by faith, not by genetic lineage.

Caiaphas’ words were prophetic, though not in the ways he may have meant them. One man did die for the sins of all people, and for the unity of God’s people.

The evil that the chief priests and the Pharisees had plotted against Jesus was actually according to God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God can see beyond what looks rational to us. His plans defy our logic. Some things that can appear to be a grievous evil or injustice may end up being used to good purpose.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Even though his father was led to believe Joseph was killed by wild animals, Joseph was preserved by God for the sake of his family and ultimately for the sake of the bloodline of Jesus- even though along the way he endured slavery and prison.  When his brothers came to Egypt needing help, Joseph forgave them. The trials they had sold Joseph into into ultimately put Joseph in a position to save his family.  We read in Genesis 50:19-21 of Joseph’s gracious forgiveness and good treatment of his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

At this point in the story it would be difficult for Jesus’ followers to see anything good in the intent of the chief priests or the Pharisees, but God had plans to bring good out of their evil plotting.

Jesus knew of the chief priests and Pharisees’ plans to put Him to death. He knew that He came to live on earth as a man precisely so He could become the perfect, holy sacrifice to redeem His people.

As the Jewish nation was preparing for Passover, unbeknownst to them, the true Passover Lamb was being brought to the slaughter.

The curse of death was brought about by the sin of Adam, the sin of one man that each of us inherits. But through the new Adam, Jesus, the curse of death is broken.  One man – one perfect and holy man, whose blood was shed to redeem all of God’s children….

As we approach the season of Lent and consider our own mortality, we consider Jesus as the Lamb of God, who willingly gave His life so that we can live forever with Him. What one group of men meant for evil, God planned for our good.

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

LightofWorld

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)

October 19, 2018 “Sin Boldly?” Matthew 5:17-20, John 14:1-7, Romans 3:21-31

martin-luther

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe in and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”- Martin Luther

Martin Luther is known for the quote, “Sin Boldly.” It is a bit taken out of its original context.  Properly understood, Luther is simply underscoring the Scriptural truth that Jesus forgives us our sins, and that our righteousness before God is through faith in Jesus.  Jesus has already paid the price of death that we have earned. By faith, Jesus forgives our sins and failures.  So our focus should be on believing in Jesus rather than living a legalistic and fearful life.

(Jesus taught: ) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

The Ten Commandments are not the “ten suggestions” or the “ten good ideas.” God put His Commandments in place for our protection and benefit. The penalty for law-breaking (even one teeny tiny bit of it) is still death. There is only one person who ever lived (Jesus) who was able to obey the Law 100% perfectly.  Through faith in Jesus we have life with God forever. Apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins.  There is no other way to life and salvation except for faith in Jesus.

(Jesus said : )“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

The scribes and Pharisees were very careful to (attempt to) obey the letter of the Mosaic Law, which includes the Ten Commandments and a whole lot more (see the entire book of Leviticus…) but they ended up setting themselves up as legalistic, self-righteous hypocrites.  In Jesus’ day the Pharisees made great displays of religiousness and piety that were just outward displays.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:21-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul knew better than most – having been a Pharisee himself- what the Law required, and how utterly impossible it is for people to keep it. Paul knew he was condemned under the law. Paul also knew that Jesus came to keep the Law perfectly, and that He was the sacrifice to cover the sins and iniquities of not just Paul, but of the entire world.

We are not able to make ourselves perfect for God. No matter how hard we attempt to obey the rules we can’t do it. Ironically we often make ourselves even worse when we think that we can earn our way to God by what we do or don’t do.

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit 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.”- Martin Luther from the Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed.

Faith in Jesus is the New Covenant. Not faith in our own law-keeping abilities, but faith in knowing that Jesus has already done for us what we cannot do.

So why should we take the Commandments seriously? First of all, even though we break them with regularity, they are still God’s standard and will for humans to follow.  They help us to keep order in society.  We know that even though we aren’t the greatest at law-keeping, that the Law is good and right.

The Commandments show us how we sin, and through that knowledge, and in our confessions, we see our desperate need for Jesus. We come to Jesus in our brokenness and need and knowledge of how we fall short, not like the Pharisee who thinks he has done everything right, but as the tax collector who cries, “forgive me Lord, as I am a sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14)

We can’t save ourselves. We can’t live in a way that pleases God.  But we are made right in God’s sight by faith- faith that believes that Jesus has taken the punishment that we deserve in our place (Isaiah 53) and that when God looks at us He sees Jesus.  Jesus has paid the price for us.  By faith, we trust Jesus, and live.

October 9, 2018 -The Third Commandment – and a Summary of the First Table of the Law- Exodus 20:8-11, Mark 2:23-28, Matthew 22:36-38

holy sabbath

 

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. – from Luther’s Small Catechism

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV)

The Third Commandment can seem a bit out of place in the Law, as it was originally directed at the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday) of the Jews. Unfortunately by Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had turned Sabbath rest and observance into a laundry list of do’s and don’ts that had very little to do with learning God’s Word or spiritual rest and edification. Sabbath observance had become an outward display of faux piety rather than a day of the week consecrated to God.

One Sabbath he (Jesus) was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28 (ESV)

However, the observance of Sabbath rest and of hearing God’s Word taught and the Gospel preached are still very much in effect for Christians. The day we observe is not as important as the spirit of this Law, that we intentionally put aside time to regenerate our physical bodies as well as to devote time to regular worship together with other Christians and to study God’s Word.

For the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the only one which we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody. But God’s Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according to God’s Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled. – Martin Luther, from the Explanation of the Third Commandment, from Luther’s Large Catechism

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV)

The First Table of the Law is the first three Commandments- how we as creatures are supposed to relate to and to love our Creator God. The remaining seven Commandments govern how we are supposed to relate to our fellow humans.

The First Commandment teaches us that God is God alone- that there are no other gods beside Him.

The Second Commandment teaches us that God’s name is given to us for holy things such as prayer, praise and worship and not for cursing or misuse.

The Third Commandment teaches us that God made Sabbath rest for humans- so that we will take time to rest our bodies, worship Him, and study His Word.

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.

 

 

September 19, 2017- The Holy Name of God- Exodus 3:4-6, Exodus 20:7, Matthew 15:16, Matthew 23:27, Psalm 51:10-12

moses burning bush

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he (Moses) said, “Here I am.”  Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6 (NRSV)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 15:16 (NRSV)

God is holy. We are given the privilege of calling on His Name for prayer and praise and worship, because His Name is a holy name. Are we rightly offended when we catch others (and even ourselves?) in a fit of anger or frustration using God’s name to swear?

It’s important for us as Jesus followers to understand and submit to the sovereignty of God, even as we know that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. We need to be reminded of the humanity of Jesus and the humanity of the apostles and others in the early church, because we need to know that they were human like we are, with the same frailties.  They had the same temptations that we have.  But even as we realize that Jesus hurt and loved, and cried and laughed just as we do, because He is fully human, unlike Jesus, we are not divine.

Who do we say Jesus is? Not just by our words or our church attendance or our financial giving, but by the thoughts of our hearts and by our actions? The heart of the Second Commandment is, “OK, we know who God is, and we know that He is holy.” Since we claim to follow Him, do our lives reflect His holiness– do we shine the Light of Christ? That doesn’t mean false piety, or prudery, or a perceived moral superiority masquerading as righteousness, but a real and true love and reverence of God.

(Jesus said): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. Matthew 23:27 (NRSV)

The scribes and Pharisees knew the Jewish Law in and out- the letter of the Law.  But they missed the heart of the Law.  On the outside it looked like they honored the Name of God, but their motives and actions proved differently.  Each of is a hypocrite in his or her own way, because we are sinners, but in Christ we have the opportunity to confess our sins to Him and call upon the Holy Spirit to put a clean heart in us, and to give us the right motives. (Psalm 51:10-12)

How many atrocities and persecutions have people tried to perpetrate while hiding behind the Name of God? How does God feel about that?

What does it mean to honor the Name of God?