God Came Down… Luke 2: 2:1-7, Isaiah 53:1-5, Romans 5:15-18

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Kids and teens love action movies. This being said, one of the catechism students at church had just seen “Avengers-Endgame,“ and was fascinated with the details of the movie.  During the lesson, which was on what the Small Catechism has to say about salvation, he kept on saying, “But, yeah, God came down, POW, and that was it!”

The way that God came down was much different that the superhero movie plot in which the * insert good guy (s) here* come(s) down in a blaze of glory to rescue the world from the big baddies who are trying to annihilate it.

God came down, alright, but not in a blaze of glory. There was no POW heard ‘round the world as it would be in the movies of the Marvel universe. God came down to this earth in such a way that it is impossible to believe without having faith. He was born- a helpless baby- to a poor virgin girl in an obscure part of the world, with only shepherds and farm animals to greet Him.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)

As far as the superheroes in the movies with their superpowers and super weapons and space craft, Jesus had none of those things. In fact, the only way that people in Jesus’ day knew Jesus was God in human flesh when He walked on earth was that God the Holy Spirit revealed that knowledge to them.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

 

 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

God came down, but not to blast away intergalactic baddies with a laser gun. God came down to earth in human flesh to be Emmanuel, God with us. God came down to earth to take the punishment that humanity, buried in our endless sea of trespasses and sins, earned and deserved.  God came down to earth to die on the cross, so that we may live with Him forever.

(The apostle Paul teaches: ) But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:15-18 (ESV)

Yes, God came down. He came down to be one of us, to die for us, and to raise us all to eternal life.

 

April 24, 2019- Born Again to a Living Hope- 1 Peter 1:3-12

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:3-12 (ESV)

In Christ we are born again to a living hope. One of the many amazing things about the grace of God is that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from Him. In and of ourselves we are nothing but dead in trespasses and sins, as the apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:1-3.

In the Garden of Eden our first parents discovered the sin of pride – of wanting to be God- and they learned the consequences of disobeying God. (Genesis 3)  Ever since the Fall, human beings have been mortal and doomed to suffer and to die as the consequence of this original sin.

Jesus shakes up that paradigm. If natural law were the last say, none of us could save ourselves by our own merit.  All of us earn and deserve eternal death and hell, and that is exactly what our fate would be if we were left to the consequences of our actions.

Yet God has mercy on us. Out of His desire to save us, He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. Our death sentence, our consignment to eternal punishment, was revoked at the moment when Jesus cried from the Cross- “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Paid in full. Set free. The curse of the Garden, set over all of creation, was broken.  Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was given to suffer and die and take the penalty FOR US.

The apostles’ testimony was given to us so that we would know the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection from those who witnessed it first, so that we who did not see can believe. We have been given, by the gift of faith, the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Salvation and life are God’s gifts to us. We add nothing to the salvation equation except for our unbelief, rebelliousness, imperfections, and of course, the dirty rags of our sins.  Just as we love our own children even though we are always cleaning up after them and providing for them, God loves us and provides for us in spite of our inability to repay Him in any way. The reality is that the faith we need to even acknowledge God is itself a gift from Him.

The Sacraments- instituted by Jesus and given as gifts to us- are for everyone. We are given baptism, in which the Word of God and the water bestow the gift of faith, the gift of being named and claimed as God’s own child, is given for all ages and stages.  The effectiveness of baptism is not reliant on a person’s ability to understand or to ask for the gift.  We are given the gift of the Lord’s Supper, the very Body and Blood of Jesus in with, over and under the elements of bread and wine. In the simple gift of bread and wine we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We receive the very real presence of Jesus, in which we are given comfort and our faith in Him is strengthened.

Our trials today may seem overwhelming. Even though we hold each other up, because we are the hands and feet of Christ here on earth, we grow weary.  Many of us have health concerns that tax our ability to do even the most basic of tasks.  Some of us live in chronic pain and/or with debilitating diseases.  Many of us know financial poverty far better than we would like to. Others of us live with the grief of losing loved ones- spouses, parents or even children.  The trials and pains of this world are not the end of our story.  We are being tested by fire so that our faith is refined, and we are all the more willing to turn to Jesus and cling to Him, our Risen Lord.

April 19, 2019 Good Friday- The Punishment that Brought Us Peace-John 19:17-30, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53:1-5, Matthew 27:51-54

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So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture – Psalm 22:14-15), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:17-30 (ESV)

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)

The Lord of Life, tried and hastily convicted by a kangaroo court, at night, is now consigned to a cruel and ignominious death nailed to a Roman cross in a place called Golgotha, a place of a skull.

The penalty for sin- the sin of the Garden and all the sins that humanity has built upon and multiplied ever since- is death. This was death that Jesus had neither earned nor deserved. Our sins and our inability to save ourselves from the penalty of death put Him there.

Jesus’ captors took the opportunity to divide up his clothes, even rolling the dice to see who would get his one-piece tunic so they wouldn’t have to tear it up. The prophetic psalm of lament (Psalm 22) that David had written centuries before the Romans and their exquisitely cruel method of death by crucifixion came into being springs to brutal reality as Jesus was scourged, mocked, and left suffering, panting and thirsting on the cross.

He was offered sour wine, which could not have been worth much to assuage anyone’s thirst. After being offered this offensive drink, His suffering was finished. The punishment that brought our peace, the blood sacrifice required to redeem us from eternal death and hell, at that moment was fulfilled.

At the moment Jesus surrendered His spirit, the curtain of the temple that separates the Holy of Holies, the place of God, from common sinful humanity was torn. The new High Priest has made a new covenant in His blood, not the sacrifices of lambs and goats and bulls that could only foreshadow His true and once and for all atonement. The dead who had died in the promise of Christ by faith were raised from their graves.  Even the centurion assigned to witness the crucifixions on that day declared, “This truly was the Son of God.”

Today we take a somber look at Jesus’ death. We thank God that by His wounds, we are healed.  By His suffering and death, we have peace.  We dare not overlook so great a salvation.

By the grace of God, in Christ, it is finished. He has had the final say over death and the grave.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.


But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

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.

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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

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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

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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.

August 22, 2018- Traveling With the Bread of Life- Mark 8:4-21

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Now they (Jesus’ disciples) had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he (Jesus) cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:4-21 (ESV)

The disciples may have forgotten their bread, but they also forgot they were traveling with the Bread of Life.

The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:9 that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If we start thinking to ourselves, “we need Jesus AND…” (which every single one of us is tempted to do,) that is a problem. The false gospel the Judaizers were trying to spread of “Jesus AND… circumcision and obeying the Mosaic Law” was a serious problem in the Galatian church. The apostle Paul suggests that the Judaizers shouldn’t stop at circumcision, but remove the whole member as well, (Galatians 5:12) to get his point across. Nobody is saved by law-keeping.

We can’t earn salvation or curry favor with God based on what we do. We are sinful creatures saved, redeemed and justified by the grace of God in Christ alone- or not at all. Nothing can add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to save us from our sins. He saves us alone. It is a gift of grace. He is enough.

Nothing we can do, say, buy or possess is going to be of any use to us beyond this world. We can possess everything and master everything this world has to offer. We can be immersed in a worldly buffet that features every kind of food our hearts desire. But without Jesus, when the end of our days comes, we will be destitute, starving and hopeless. The apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Ephesians that apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Thankfully trespasses, sins and death are not the end of the story for us who trust Jesus.

When Jesus speaks of the baskets of broken pieces, many scholars believe He was referring to twelve baskets to feed the twelve tribes of Israel and seven baskets to feed the Gentile nations. Jesus’ multiplying the bread to feed the five thousand, and then the four thousand was an illustration to the disciples that He has come to give Himself as sustenance for the entire world.

How often do we focus on our worry about bread for the belly and all our cares about all the mess of everyday life? We get ourselves mired in anxiety over bread that only sustains us for today, and we get worked up over cares that don’t matter two cents in the context of forever. Like the disciples in this text, we don’t realize that we are in the presence of Jesus, the very Bread of Life. He is holding us, sustaining us, giving us the gifts of faith and grace and repentance and salvation. We can trust him, rest in Him, and know that He is walking with us.

We are traveling with the Bread of Life. Even when we don’t always see His hand holding us up, even when we forget that Jesus feeds us with His own Body- the everlasting Bread from heaven, Jesus is with us- in this world and the next.