July 12, 2019- The One True Faith, Christ Alone- The Apostle’s Creed, Galatians 1:1-10

apostle's creed
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:1-10 (ESV)

The Apostle’s Creed has historically been a sort of “Cliff’s Notes,” or a basic faith statement of orthodox (small o) Christianity. It is derived from Scripture, and we as Christians learn the Creed so that we know what and in whom we believe. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches the three articles of the Creed- the first article being of God, the Creator, the second article on Jesus Christ, the Son, our Salvation, and the third article on the Holy Spirit, our Sanctification (the process of being purified and made holy.) So in the Creed we learn in short form the roles of the Persons of the Trinity as well as the simple Gospel.
God created us and the whole world and everything in it. Jesus redeemed us, took on our sins and suffered the death penalty (that we earned) for us. The Holy Spirit keeps us in faith and transforms our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.

Today, Christian believers need to be more discerning than ever. There are endless Bible studies, videos, teachings and other information out there that claim to be “Christian” but upon scrutiny don’t line up with the Gospel given to the apostles. Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians was meant to warn and safeguard them against false teachings that were being brought into the community- teachings that could keep people from hearing the real saving message of the Gospel. Paul had a problem with people coming into the early Christian communities and telling Gentile believers that the only way they could have salvation in Jesus is if they obeyed the Jewish laws (that the Jews weren’t able to do either) and if they observed Jewish rites such as circumcision.
False teachers were teaching a false gospel of “Jesus….and.”
With this in mind, we learn from Paul that he was an apostle of Jesus. He did not declare himself an apostle, nor did any human being decide Paul was going to be an apostle. God in Christ made Paul an apostle and gave him a very specific message- one that could be verified by the Scriptures and by the teaching of the other apostles.
Paul begins his letter by praying for the people of the church in Galatia. He prays for grace and peace, and for deliverance from the evil of the current age. He attributes all the glory to God. He gives God all the credit for his message- not to himself. He vehemently denies that there are things that people can do to earn favor with God.
It is easy for us to get distracted by the world that surrounds us. It is easy to hear all the messages from the media and from those around us- do this, don’t do that, here’s the way to happiness, 15 ways to financial freedom, etc. and so on. The idea of our “best life now” sells books and admissions to seminars, but the concept of a perfect life here on earth isn’t found in God’s Word. God’s Word teaches the theology of the cross. We are baptized into the death of Christ and we rise again with Him. This life of now, but not yet necessarily involves suffering, sacrifice and loss. We still suffer the human condition of the curse of the Fall (Genesis 3) until either we die or Christ returns.
Sometimes we think that we can judge from appearances who is living a moral life and who isn’t. We can succumb to the rather prideful thought that we can justify ourselves by following the rules. We want to feel as if we can contribute something to our creation, salvation and sanctification, when in fact it is God doing the acting in all three of these realms as reflected in the three articles that we profess when we say the Creed.
In Paul’s day the Judaizers (some early converts from Judaism to Christianity) taught a gospel of “Jesus…and,” as in Jesus AND the requirement of circumcision, or Jesus AND observing the Jewish dietary laws and feast days. The true Gospel message of Christ alone, Faith alone, Grace alone was getting lost in the rules and rituals.
Modern day Christians have gotten caught up in false gospels too. Nobody is telling people they have to get circumcised or forgo bacon to be a Christian today. Today’s popular false gospels sound Christian, but their influence in the church is both subtle and damaging, because the peripheral messages take the emphasis off of Jesus and the cross.
Prosperity Gospel- a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following steps such as sowing “seed offerings” (i.e contributing money to people, churches or causes) will bring a person financial and material prosperity.
Self-Help Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following certain behavior modification techniques will eliminate bad behaviors (keep us from sinning.)

Social Justice Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and going out and doing projects for the less fortunate, or to save the environment, or championing various and sundry political and social causes.

The apostle Paul stresses that the real Gospel is not Jesus…and. We are powerless to come to faith or to save ourselves no matter what we do. All of the popular false gospels put undo emphasis on specific good things that Christians do, rather than the new creations we are in Christ. It is good and necessary for Christians to engage in stewardship and to give of our time, treasure and talents for the benefit of the church. It is good and necessary for Christians to be mindful of our behavior and how our behavior affects our lives and witness. It is also good and necessary for Christians to care for the rights of others and for the world around us.
The important thing about good works that are truly good is that they are always a result of God acting on, in and through us. We can’t earn our salvation, but we are called to respond to the Good News.
We have the gifts of the Apostle’s Creed, Paul’s letters to the churches, and the entire counsel of Scripture to keep us centered on the real Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. Paul didn’t write and preach because it made him popular. Rather, his writing and preaching always pointed to, and came from Jesus.

February 20, 2019- Jesus and the Words of Eternal Life- John 6:52-71, Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus and Peter

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. John 6:52-71 (ESV)

Many of Jesus’ early followers wanted to make Him a bread king- a genie who would grant everyone all the food they could eat, riches and bodily healing. The theology of glory is appealing, and it persists to this day. The airwaves are full of prosperity preachers hawking miracles in exchange for your “gifts and tithes.” Unfortunately, the real Jesus, God Himself, the Lord revealed in Holy Scripture, is nowhere in the false teaching of prosperity promises.

Jesus is not going to bring any of us a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, or a night on the town. He will bring us people who will benefit from our vocations- people to serve, love, comfort and encourage.  We will bear burdens and we will suffer for Jesus’ sake, even though there will be great joy even in the sadness and suffering.

The big problem with the theology of glory and the attempts of the people to crown Jesus the bread king is that Jesus did not come to fill bellies and grant temporary wishes. Following Jesus means setting our own desires aside.  Following Jesus means putting other peoples’ good ahead of our own.  Following Jesus can lead to persecution, suffering, and in certain circumstances, even martyrdom in this life.

Jesus came to give us real, lasting life. He invites us and brings us into life beyond this world. Even so, He did not come to give us an easy life on this earth.

Jesus gives us the theology of the cross. We must follow Him to His death if we are going to follow Him to His resurrection. That is a hard truth for us to come to terms with at times.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

The apostle Peter doesn’t always get it- at one point Jesus even said to him, “get behind me, Satan,” (Matthew 16:23) but Peter gets it here: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus has chosen us- through the preaching of the Word, through the waters of our baptism, and He feeds us with His own Body and Blood in the meal of Holy Communion. He isn’t going to make our earthly life easy, but as we learn in Psalm 23, He walks through this life with us.  He will not leave us. Through faith in Christ, by the grace of God, we belong to Jesus.  We are invited, called, and set free to follow Him.

 

 

January 31, 2019- A Faithful Witness, Circumstances, and Theology of the Cross – 2 Timothy 3

timothy

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.  But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3 (ESV)

Timothy was a protégé of the apostle Paul. Here Paul warns Timothy that following Jesus is not all sunshine and roses.  Contrary to most religious teachings that are popular today, Paul underscores the reality that Christians will face hardship and persecution in this world.  We shouldn’t be surprised when we look around and see all the terrible happenings in the news.  We shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen to us. Yes, we should intercede in prayer for those who suffer.  Yes we should pray at all times and in all of our circumstances. We should not allow the pain that is a part of this world to steal our joy. We should not entertain the same standards as the world does. We do have hope in the clear teaching of Scripture that no matter what this world and this life throws at us, Jesus is with us, in, through and with the suffering and that in Him we have comfort and peace and eternal life.

False teaching that showcases “your best life now” is a heartbreaking lie that only makes despair over the human condition worse. The theology of glory is the theology of the infomercial- just buy into Jesus and your life will be super! It’s the same theory that powers the Sham-Wow guy’s pitch, that if you only have this or that product it will change your life!  The “prosperity gospel”- that Jesus will make you healthy and wealthy here and now- is not Scriptural nor is it truthful.  The First Commandment teaches us that God is God and we are not. We are not to worship at the altar of ourselves or glorify material things. God’s priority for us is for life with Him forever, not necessarily for health and wealth here and now.  He does give us all good things, but He does not always take the cup of suffering away.

We learn the theology of the Cross from Scripture. As we are born into Jesus’ life and resurrection, we are also born into His suffering.  We were created to love and be loved by God, to do the good works He set aside for us to do.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The more that we cling to Jesus- in our prayers, in our praise, in serving others in our vocations and in diligent study of God’s Word to us in Scripture, the more we grow in faith. Even as the world around us grows darker, we are called to be light.  The light of Christ shines in and through us even as the world works against us and makes fun of us.  In our weakness we are strong in Christ. By faith, He enables us to stand.

 

October 17, 2017- Charlatans, Hucksters and Thieves- 2 Timothy 4:2-4

want to hear

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NRSV) 

Urban legend has it that P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Whether this quote can actually be credited to Barnum or not, sadly it is true that human beings can be gullible.  We like quick fixes and instant gratification. We like to look good and appear to be free of any problems or struggles.

In the early 1500s there was a Franciscan friar named Johann Tetzel who was exceedingly well known for selling indulgences, which were special “get out of purgatory free” notes, to anyone who had the cash to spring their dead relatives out of purgatory, or to purchase their own speed pass to heaven.

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”- Johann Tetzel

Tetzel worked for the archbishop of Mainz. The archbishop- Tetzel’s boss- had gotten to his position by culling expensive favors from friends in high places. He needed money to repay his debts, as well as money to send to the Pope in Rome for the expensive construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.  What better way to raise money than to appeal to the fears of the masses, who had never heard the real message of the Gospel?  The saddest thing about these shady deals- selling indulgences and saint’s bones and other supposed relics- is that the Pope was all for it.  The Pope was behind the charlatans and hucksters, and the money they brought in.  Keeping the average person ignorant and failing to teach the true Christian message ensured a ready-made clientele for the indulgence and relic trade.

Tetzel and those like him were instrumental in firing up the ire of those who wanted reformation and restoration in the Church- most notably Martin Luther, who detested the sale of indulgences and who was determined to stop the fleecing of the flock.

The sale of indulgences capitalized on the man-made myth of purgatory, which is a concept in which we have to contribute to good works and/or do penance to “clean us up” completely so we can get into heaven. The good news of Scripture is that our salvation and life are in found in the Three Solas- or three “Onlys:”- Christ alone, Faith alone, and Scripture alone- and we can’t earn or deserve our way into heaven. But human beings are stubborn and sometimes we don’t get- or don’t want to believe- the right messages. We have modern equivalents to Johann Tetzel and his fellow religious snake oil salesmen today in televangelists and charlatans who try to sell a prosperity Gospel.  Who hasn’t tuned in to early morning televangelism and heard phrases such as, “Just buy this prayer cloth and God will send you a miracle!” or “Send us ‘seed money’ for your financial breakthrough!”?

God isn’t a vending machine. He answers prayer in His own way and time, and buying prayer cloths or giving money to a fly by night televangelist isn’t going to influence God in the least. There is only one way to salvation, life and peace, which is the way of the Cross. The way that Jesus took for us, the way that only Jesus was qualified to take.

The real message of the Gospel is radical. It brings us to the Cross. It takes us to the heart of Jesus. It leaves no room for profiteering or personal graft.  We give to God and others in response to all that God has already freely given us, and we trust that He provides for our every need.