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.

January 22, 2019 – Grafted In, by Faith, the Gift of God- Romans 10:13-24

ancient-olive-tree

 

Now I (the apostle Paul) am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?  If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Romans 10:13-24 (NIV)

God gave the apostle Paul a rather difficult mission field. Jesus sent him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Gentiles=everyone who isn’t a Jew.)  Paul was formerly the Pharisee, Saul- a persecutor and murderer of Christians, a person who tried to save himself by obeying the Law. After he was converted to Christian faith by Jesus on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-19) Paul wanted his hearers to understand that one’s heritage and genetic lineage are not the things that reconcile a person to God.  God grafts us into His family, into the covenant of faith, the covenant of Abraham.

The Jewish people for the most part, rejected Paul and the message Jesus had given him. Paul had made it clear to the Gentiles that had come to faith, that they were accepted by God on the basis of their faith. Paul also made it clear that God did not necessarily exclude those from whom the faith had first been given.

It is an interesting paradox of theology that while Jesus died to save every person from their sins regardless of their ancestry, not everyone will accept the gift that He has given.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Lutherans accept the paradox. We believe Jesus indeed died to redeem everyone- to take away the sins of the world.

He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 (NIV)

We also believe that there are some that for whatever reason, will not accept the free gift of salvation. God alone knows who and why.  As Christians we are instructed to tell others about Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit works through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17.)  God alone judges the living- those who have faith- and the dead, who have not come to saving faith in Jesus.

We don’t inherit faith like we inherit our genes. Just because a person’s parents or grandparents are of a particular ethnicity or were members of such and such church does not automatically make faith a child’s birthright. Being born into a non-Christian family does not exclude a person from coming to saving faith in Christ, as many people who have no familial tradition of belief do come to faith when the Word is spoken and taught.  God’s means of grace are exactly that- God’s. We are called to see people as God does, without regard to their ancestry or history.  We are adopted into His family by grace, by faith in Jesus, just like everyone else who believes in Him. The Good News is for everyone.

In baptism we become children of God, but it takes us a lifetime for God to transform us into the people He created us to become. Children learn the dogma (statements of belief) of the faith from parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers.  We can lead horses to water as it were by bringing our children to the font, by providing the information (catechesis) and by our examples, but the Holy Spirit opens the heart to hear what is taught and He creates faith.

Paul was telling the Gentiles that no one is more or less special in God’s eyes by means of their ancestry or background. It may seem more natural for those of Jewish descent to believe, and this is Paul’s hope, but he doesn’t want the Gentiles to feel as if they have a special privilege because they were adopted into God’s family and non-believing Jewish people were left out. Faith is what justifies us, regardless of our heritage, and faith is a gift from God. God is the one doing the acting.

In our baptism we are reminded that it is in Christ alone that we remain in faith, that we are forgiven, and that we are made children of God.

Thank God for His gift of faith. May He give us the grace and the passion to live in response to it.

January 18, 2019 – For Us, Jesus – Romans 8:18-39

jesus light

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:18-39 (ESV)

When we come forward to the Communion table and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we receive it as what Jesus said it is: this IS My Body, given FOR YOU, and this IS My Blood, shed FOR YOU. In, through, under and with the bread and wine, Jesus IS.  He is given FOR US, for the forgiveness and remission of our sins. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is not a symbol or a “memorial meal.”  It is tangible, edible proof that Jesus gave Himself for us. We are part of His body.  We share in the suffering of His Cross as well as we share in the resurrection in the world to come.

Paul does not give us any illusions about suffering for Jesus’ sake. Paul endured stoning, shipwreck, starvation, imprisonment, and ultimately beheading, all for teaching and spreading the Gospel. By God’s grace not only did Paul endure, but God gave us much of the New Testament through him. His faith and his focus stayed squarely on Christ alone no matter what trial or suffering he endured. This was truly a gift of God’s grace, and it is gift that God gives to us as well.  God’s gifts are given at the font, as well as in, with, through and under the bread and wine, and poured out on us every time we read, study or hear His Word.

Most of us 21st century American Christians will not face the persecution that Paul faced. Yet in many parts of the world, – in China, for example, and in the Muslim world- a person can be executed for preaching the truth of the Gospel, or for even possessing a Bible.  It is a blessing for us that we face minimal restrictions in professing our faith, but we should caution against becoming so distracted by all the material things around us that we forget the Giver. We should remember in times of blessing and in hardship that God is in it all and HE will get us through. He will not abandon us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Even when it’s hard for us to see it, He does hold us in the palm of His hand. The Holy Spirit is constantly interceding for us in the places where we cannot find words.  He may not deliver us from pain or trials or suffering, at least not in the ways we would like, but He too had to drink the cup.  He chose to drink the ultimate cup of suffering- FOR US.  FOR US, He became the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.  He has mercy on us, and He will see us through to the place where pain, suffering and death are no more.

 

 

 

December 28, 2018- The Gift of Joy…or the Pursuit of Stuff? Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 29:19

shepherds

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on our own personal comfort, and therefore on the pursuit of stuff. Who wouldn’t want a lovely adjustable bed or an instant cosmetic fix for facial imperfections? Those who deal with late night insomnia and have a subscription to cable have no doubt been inundated with the endless procession of infomercials that extol the virtues of just about every product under the sun.  The late night infomercial announcers sing the praises of stuff you never knew existed, and stuff you never knew you needed….until now!  For example, why bend over to wash your feet when you can use:easy feet

The problem with the pursuit of stuff is that there is never enough stuff, or the right stuff.  Material things in and of themselves are morally neutral- God made the world and everything in it, and gave humanity stewardship of it. (Genesis 1:26-28) Stuff isn’t good or bad.  Our use of stuff can be considered good or evil, and as we are saints and sinners at the same time, our use of stuff is generally a mixed bag.  Sometimes we are good stewards of God’s gifts, and other times we are not. Our dilemma begins when we esteem the created thing more than the Creator.  We are all guilty of breaking the First Commandment.

The First Commandment:

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism

None of us can claim to perfectly fear, love and trust God above all things. All of us fall short in this regard, whether it is by making idols of our relationships, or our wealth, or our position in the community, or by simply not believing that God is in charge of everything.

Yet Jesus came to set us free from our sins. While we were still sinners and lost, He broke the curse of Eden so we would not have to endure death and hell. Jesus came to this earth as a human, yet as God at the same time, to live the perfect life we cannot live and to be the perfect sacrifice we cannot be. In Him we are given true joy. We who are named, claimed and marked with the Cross of Christ forever, in our baptism, by the faith that He has given us, have been set free to live joyfully.

Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is generated internally. Happiness is fleeting and is largely dependent on our circumstances and our feelings. Joy is given- it comes from outside of ourselves. Joy is not dependent upon ourselves or our feelings. Joy is a gift of serenity and peace, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-23)  We are given joy in the Lord regardless of our circumstances, because in faith we trust that He is with us forever, and we share in eternal life with Him.

The Prince of Peace is with us.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are reminded that our salvation and our joy come from Christ alone. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this as Isaiah said.  God’s will be done.  His joy is given to us, from outside of us.  It is a gift, unearned, undeserved and freely given.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:19 (ESV)

November 30, 2018 The Lord’s End-Times Timing, Promise and Hope – 2 Peter 3

Cross

(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3 (ESV)

Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule.  Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life.  He will return again.  He will remake the heavens and the earth.  There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom.  The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end.  Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.

This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade.  Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy.  On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.

Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone.  Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.

Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self.  One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about.  In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God.  We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.

In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world.  We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ.  We sin constantly, every day.  Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ.  We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in.  We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ.  Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world.  He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.

We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death.  Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence.  We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone.  Our hope is in Jesus.

September 13, 2018 -Praise God, He Hears Us, the Curtain is Open- Psalm 116:1-9, Mark 15:33-39, Hebrews 9:24

temple curtain

I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.

Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling; 

I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9 (ESV)

 

Do we see God as a merciful God? Some of us have come from religious traditions in which catechesis (teaching about the faith) focuses on God’s anger and wrath. If we only get one side of the Law-Gospel equation we might be scared into a degree of behavior modification, (or into a life of guilt and anxiety) but teaching the Law without balancing it with the Gospel makes it difficult for us to call on God in times of trouble, especially when we really screw up and need Him most. Feeling our inadequacy and guilt and sin should serve to convince us of our utter inability to make ourselves “good” and bring us to the Good News that Jesus died to save us from our sins. In Jesus the curtain of the temple separating God from man was taken away.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 (ESV)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)

The Psalmist reminds us that by faith Jesus set us free to call out to God in all situations- in our despair, in thanks, in good times and in trouble. We have nothing to prove to Him.  There is nothing we can earn or deserve from Him. When we cry out to God, He answers us for Jesus’ sake.  He sees Jesus and not all of our sins that have been covered by His blood.

When we are thankful- praise God. When we are troubled in our hearts, trust God for resolution and comfort. Jesus took away the curtain that keeps us from coming to the presence of God.  Trust Him.