March 29, 2019-Sitting in Jesus’ Glory or Taking Up Our Cross? Mark 10:35-45, Luke 9:23

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And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45 (ESV)

Many people believe that God works on a quid pro quo system which means, “If I do this, then you will do that.”  Examples of this mindset are.  “If I do great works of penance for all the sins I committed, then God will forgive me,” or “If I give ‘beyond the tithe’ to Christian ministries, then God will bless me with wealth and health and so on.”

We learn from Jesus and from the apostle Paul that God does not work on the quid pro quo system. We cannot earn our place in God’s economy. No one can follow Jesus unless the Father draws him- John 6:44. God doesn’t need anything we have.  He is the Giver.  Anything we have to give should be given in service to our neighbors, with thanks to God who gives us everything.

James and John are asking the wrong question of Jesus. Jesus’ mission has nothing to do with two guys arguing over which one is more special. They don’t realize that Jesus is the only one qualified to drink the cup that was prepared for Him. Jesus is the only acceptable and holy sacrifice to pay the ransom for fallen humanity.  James and John did not understand that the greatest in God’s kingdom are those who serve and glorify God and not themselves.

Jesus came to save sinners (Mark 2:13-17) and to rescue the lost- lost people like us who are powerless to save ourselves no matter how many good works we do.

Following Jesus has nothing to do with our own glory. It has everything to do with God’s glory. We can’t earn, deserve or bargain for God’s love. Faith in Jesus alone- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what is required.  We respond to this gift in humble service, from a grateful and joyful heart.

Jesus is the one who paid our ransom. Jesus is the one who covers us with His righteousness, so that when God looks at us in judgment He does not see our sins.  All He sees is Jesus.  It is in Jesus’ strength and because of His love that we can dare to follow Him.  He is with us even through the valley of the shadow. He has taken the cup of death for us, that we may live.

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)

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

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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.

 

September 10, 2018 – The Author and Perfecter of our Faith- Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 23

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By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 (ESV)

“By faith,” the writer of Hebrews repeats several times in this passage. Faith by its very nature must have an object.  Faith in faith makes no sense.  Faith in fallible people will always disappoint. Even though the writer mentions some of the heroic tales such as the crossing of the Red Sea, and notable characters of the Bible, such as Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel, these stars of these epic stories were imperfect sinners just like the rest of us. Faith in Jesus- the founder and perfecter of our faith- is the only faith with a valid object, the only faith that will not disappoint.

It is amazing to contemplate what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His people.

One must marvel at the faith of the people of God over the millennia, but we also must realize that faith is a gift of God. The witnesses before us were only able to accomplish the “races set before them” because the ability to do so was given to them by God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

We learn in the 23rd Psalm that Jesus is God with us- Emmanuel.  As much as we wish He would at times, He does not give us a pass from all the suffering of this world.  We carry our cross just as He had to. He does not carry us over the valley of the shadow of death.  We still have to walk through it, but we walk through it with Jesus beside us.

What comfort and what power there is in Jesus. We are powerless and helpless in and of ourselves no matter what we might want to think.

No matter what this world might throw at us, we have faith in Jesus- the real deal, the One True God, and we know we can endure anything because He lives in and through us, and in Him we have all we need.

August 21, 2008- Shadow, Refuge, Light and Jesus, Lord of All -Psalm 36:7-9, Acts 7:9-16

Cross

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:7-9 (ESV)

And the patriarchs, (i.e. Joseph’s brothers) jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)  (See also Genesis 37 and Genesis 45:1-15.)

God, the fountain of life, the light of the world, God our refuge, is for us. Even though situations can appear hopeless, God makes a way for His people.

Joseph seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was his father’s favorite child, much to the disdain of his older brothers.  His brothers became so angry with and jealous of Joseph and his favored position that they decided to take his clothes and sell him into slavery.

One might think that it would be difficult to see the hand of God in being sold into slavery and to being made to suffer humiliation and even time in prison (Genesis 39) during that enslavement.  Yet God preserved Joseph so that he would be able to provide a way for his family to survive a terrible famine.

Sometimes we might wonder what God is doing with us in our particular time and place.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Walking by faith- trusting God- doesn’t always make sense. We have no idea most of the time what God has in mind when we find ourselves in situations we would never want to be in.

It’s hard to say, “Trust God,” when someone is in the middle of suffering. It’s hardest of all when we have to look up and trust God through impossibilities, through adversities, and through our tears. Sometimes we wonder what use we can be to ourselves or others when we are disabled, or broke, or too scattered and busy. Other times we wonder if God really cares about us or our lives.  As we study the Bible, time after time we see all the ways that God makes a way for His people.  We can trust He will make a way for us as well, even when we can’t see it or we don’t understand.

We look to Jesus, whose thoughts were of us as His earthly life bled away on the Cross. What did God do with such a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses too – Luke 9:23– as we follow Him.  Because He died and rose from the dead, we share both in His death as well as His resurrection life.  He walks with us through it all- even as He walked with His forefather Joseph through the impossible and the unfair and the seemingly hopeless.

Walking by faith, trusting God, seems like a very silly thing to do if we subscribe to the wisdom of this world. Confessing our sins to God daily, putting on our baptism and accepting His free grace and forgiveness, bringing our prayers to God, forgiving others, serving others, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.  Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  He works in and through – and sometimes in spite of- the crosses we are called to bear even though we don’t see how most of the time.  We may never see the good that God works in and through us in our lifetimes.  Even so, because of God’s good gift of faith, we can hope beyond our temporary circumstances. We look up, we trust God, and we know that we are covered under His wings.

August 10, 2018- Something, Nothing, the Law of Love, and the Cross- Galatians 6:1-10, 1 John 4:19

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Brothers (and sisters,) if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

It’s easy to look around and point fingers and see others’ flaws. It’s easy to catch other people doing the wrong things, but it’s not so easy to examine our own behaviors and motivations before confronting someone else for his or her faults.  We ourselves fall into temptation and error without much provocation or assistance. All too often we can get self-righteous and instead of gently restoring a fellow believer in love, we become the pots who call the kettles black.  Correction is best given out carefully and gently, with humility, and with the aim of lifting the other person up.

In some ways it almost seems as if Paul is contradicting himself here. In most of Paul’s letters he continually underscores our utter dependence on Jesus and (Paul, the former legalistic Pharisee,) downplays the importance of our works. We know that there is nothing we can do to score brownie points with God.  Our good works come as a result of what Jesus has already done for us.  Our obedience to the law of love (and yes, the command to love others is not the Gospel but is actually part of the Law) flows from Jesus loving us first.

We were created by God to do good works as we learn in Ephesians 2:10.  Those good works are for the benefit of our neighbors here and now, not so much for God, as God does not need anything from us.  The people around us, the world around us, however, could really use our good works.

Our lives will be more in step with the will of God both individually and collectively here and now as we do good works and help each other instead of being surly and arbitrary and fighting good order. When we pray the way Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through us to bring about God’s will, even here and now.

We know that as we live with fellow believers that we are both saints and sinners. We live a paradox in that even though Jesus is the sole source of our being, our sustenance and every provision, our life still requires suffering and hard work and cooperation with other people. In this world we still are under the curse of the Fall and its slavery to sin and toil.  Life takes the grace to forgive- and to give sacrificially- that can only come from Jesus.

If we are going to live our lives the way that God would have us live (and none of us even comes close to doing a good job of this) we can only rely on Jesus. We can only love others because He loved us first (1 John 4:19.)  We can only gently correct and forgive others because we are dependent upon the grace of God ourselves.

When we think we’re something and we are convinced that we’re all that, it’s time to turn away from ourselves, look to Jesus, and turn to the Cross. Jesus is the one who gives us what we need to bring about His will. He gives us the endurance and the strength to do the good works He planned for us in advance.

August 9, 2018- The Strength of Jesus for the “Three Score and Ten”-Psalm 34:1-8, Romans 15:1-6, Psalm 139:16

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I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:1-8 (ESV)

(The apostle Paul writes:) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 15:1-6 (ESV)

There is a distinct irony in the apostle Paul’s teaching here, especially in referring to the persecuted church as, “We who are strong.” Who is Paul kidding here?

He is speaking of the strength that we who believe have in Christ. In  2 Corinthians 12:1-10 we learn of the struggle that Paul endured with the thorn in his flesh.  He doesn’t come right out and say exactly what that thorn was, but we can infer that it was some sort of painful physical infirmity.  Those of us who live with chronic pain can certainly identify with Paul’s struggle.

(The apostle Paul writes:) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

Human beings are vulnerable in many ways. Even the most robust and physically sturdy among us are only a slight electrical charge- the one that tells our hearts to beat- away from sudden death.  Our physical bodies are vulnerable to disease and injury.  Our mental and spiritual states are tenuous as well.  In this life all of us are only a missed heartbeat or a rogue driver away from the end of worldly existence, and no amount of money, influence or anything else can change the reality of our physical mortality. We might think we can delay the inevitable, but we learn from Scripture: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV.)

Human strength and the promises of health or longevity via modern science are fleeting at best. Try as we might, we don’t see too many people who live beyond the “three score and ten” of Psalm 90:10.

The omniscient God of the universe knows exactly how long each of us is set to live on this earth. He has equipped each of us to meet the challenges that we will face, and He gives us what we need to endure this life.

When we realize that we have no real strength or power in and of ourselves, we are free to abide in and trust the mercy and the strength of God. We look to God knowing our own fragility and powerlessness. We can trust Him to meet our own needs and also to provide for the needs of others.

In Jesus’ strength– not our own- we can lift each other up. In Jesus’ strength we can endure the unendurable for ourselves and we can help bear the burden for others. In Jesus’ strength we have hope, renewal and peace now, even in this wretched, paradoxical place of “not yet.”