March 2, 2019- Jesus in All His Glory- The Transfiguration- Luke 9:28-36

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Now about eight days after these sayings he (Jesus) took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

The Transfiguration gives us a sort of preview as to what our post-resurrection life will look like. We see Jesus revealed in His glory and we see Him as the one foretold by Moses and Elijah and the other prophets.

Witnessing this event gave the disciples no choice but to make the connection as to the truth of who Jesus claimed to be.  They no longer had the option to question the veracity of Jesus’ claim to divinity. Jesus clearly was neither Moses nor Elijah, but the greater one they had both prophesied of.  They could not write Jesus off as a nice guy or a moral teacher.  All three Persons of the Trinity manifest here- the voice of God the Father, the dazzling appearance of the Son in the flesh, the breath in the cloud of the Holy Spirit.

As we as Jesus’ people prepare for the somber, penitent season of Lent, it is good to remember who Jesus really is.

Jesus is greater than the prophets, and is the one of whom Moses and Elijah spoke of.

Jesus is God in human flesh, fully God and fully man.

Jesus came down from heaven to take on and become our sin and to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins in our place.

Martin Luther, in his Explanatory Notes on the Gospels makes it very clear what the Transfiguration accomplished:

Very much is contained in this history.

First, The resurrection of the dead and the future glory and brightness of our bodies are shown. For this was something very remarkable, that Christ was transfigured while yet in the mortal body, which was subject to suffering. What then shall it be, when mortality shall have been swallowed up, and nothing shall remain but immortality and glory?

Secondly, There is added the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who prove by their appearing that they had never really died, and that there is yet another life, besides the earthly life, from which they were transferred.

Thirdly, This appearance teaches us also that we should despise death, and look upon it merely as an emigration or a sleep. In short, this appearance proves that this life is nothing at all in comparison with the future life.

Fourthly, This appearance proves that sin is overcome. For it necessarily follows as an incontrovertible conclusion, that, where death is overcome, there sin is also overcome.

But he permitted those three mentioned apostles especially to see this appearance, in order to guard them against the coming offense of his cross and crucifixion. Yet he accomplished little thereby, for they all were offended with him. Yet this appearance had its advantage after the resurrection, and served to strengthen their faith in Christ, that he was the Son of the living God, and that his kingdom must be regarded in a spiritual sense.

The whole holy Trinity appears here to strengthen the believers; namely, Christ in his transfigured form, the Father in the voice, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.

Moses and Elijah appear in order to testify that Jesus Christ is truly the promised Messiah, according to the law (i.e. Moses,) and the prophets, (i.e. Elijah.) Compare Romans 3:21-22, and on the meaning of this transfiguration 2 Corinthians 3:7.

 

Oh, death, where is thy sting? May we keep our eyes and hearts on this glorious vision of Jesus.

 

February 15, 2019- Jesus is God, The Only Way to Life- John 5:19-29

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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.

May 10, 2018 – Jesus Ascended to Heaven, and So Will We! Luke 24:44-53, John 14:25-27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:44-53 (ESV)

We almost have to wonder why Jesus, after His resurrection, didn’t just stick around. After all, he did rise from the dead. If he just stuck around we wouldn’t have to have faith, we could just look at Him and see.  Imagine if Jesus were bodily present with us today- if we could invite Him to dinner, or see Him on TV, or subscribe to His podcast.  Hanging out with Jesus, asking Him direct questions, getting the facts straight from Him, would be amazing.  But it was necessary, for Him to prepare a place for us in eternity, for Jesus to return to His Father. His bodily presence on this earth couldn’t last forever.

The death and resurrection of Jesus, we get. The ascension, when Jesus returns to God the Father, we don’t understand so easily, even though Jesus’ bodily ascension to heaven is part of the declaration of faith we affirm in the Apostle’s Creed: He (Jesus) ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

 We can’t escape speaking of the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) when we discuss the ascension of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the more difficult concepts within Christianity. We really find it difficult to understand that God is One, (the I AM God) but is three Persons in One.

It may be helpful to think of the Persons of the Trinity as how God comes to us, even though this is not a complete and full understanding. God, the Father, creator, the eternal, beyond time and space- comes to us physically in the person of Jesus Christ.  God the Holy Spirit is the breath of God who is part of, in through and with creation.  Of course all three are One, and this is really hard to wrap our heads around.

John 14 in its entirety is Jesus’ full explanation of why He has to return to God the Father.

(Jesus said): “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  John 14:25-27.

Jesus ascending to the Father is a wonderful point of hope for us. By faith we know that we too will ascend to heaven on the last day, as the apostle Paul explains:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)

It is encouraging to know these two things as we live in this paradox of now, but not yet: Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Until that day when the trumpet sounds, we have been given the gift of God the Holy Spirit available and interceding for us as our Helper.  The ascension of Jesus points us to the place He is preparing for us.  This is a great encouragement and hope indeed!

December 21, 2017 – The Word Was God, The Word Is God, God is With Us…John 1:1-14

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-14 (NIV)

John’s Gospel is the most mystical and cryptic of the four Gospels. The writer of John does not focus on the human genealogy of Jesus, but on His spiritual heritage.

Through Him all things were made.

Think about that one for a second. Ponder on it for awhile.

One of the most difficult concepts for non-Christians (and to a degree, for Jesus followers as well) to grasp is that of God as Three-in-One, or the Trinity. One God- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit- Who is One, but also Three, distinct Persons is not an easy concept to take hold of and run with.

Jesus in the manger as a helpless newborn is at the same time God, Creator of the universe, Who is beyond our concepts of time and space. He was before time and space, and He will be when both time and space have passed away.  Even so, He cared enough for us, His weak and fallible creatures to become one of us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 Even better He invites us and takes us in – if only we believe Him- to become children of God.

Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 Rejoice, rejoice, oh Israel, to you shall come Emmanuel!

 

November 13, 2017 – The Threefold Cord, and Strength in Numbers- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Matthew 18:20

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Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NRSV)  

 (Jesus said) : “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

Welcoming others carries an element of being willing to help carry another’s load- and to forgive others’ faults. That’s not always easy, and sometimes we resist that call to help because we are already so bogged down by our own baggage and burdens. We also resist forgiveness because we feel as if we are “punishing” someone by holding a grudge.  The mentality is, “So and so did _____, so he or she ‘deserves it’.”  Sadly, the fact is that there is nothing heavier to carry than a grudge, and the reality is forgiving others significantly lightens our own load.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has a good point in the value of standing together with others. We are stronger together.  A threefold cord is referring to a braid or braided rope- when multiple strands are woven together their strength is multiplied.  The Ecclesiastes reference can also be taken as a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity- God as Three in One.

There is strength in numbers.

It is easy for us as Americans to get patriotism and theology confused. While there is nothing essentially wrong with being a patriotic American, one’s patriotism should not conflict with or be confused with our primary identity as followers of Jesus.  Being a good American isn’t necessarily the same as being a good Christian and vice versa.

As Americans we prize individualism and independence. To a degree both individualism and independence are positive traits, but when a healthy self-reliance turns into a know-it-all attitude, or independence turns to isolation, we make ourselves vulnerable. When predators hunt, they pick off the ones who are isolated from the herd. Those who have no connection to the rest of the community are more vulnerable to evil, to error, and to despair.  Solitude at times for meditation, study and prayer, can be restorative for many of us, but even the most introverted among us still need to connect with the greater community and have dialogue with others.

In some American churches the idea persists that following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of thing rather than a community endeavor. However, God’s plan that humans were meant to be in relationship with each other and to be active participants in the world begins clear back in the creation accounts in Genesis. (See Genesis 2:18-25 )

Relationships with others are not easy, as we learn in Scripture. The first murder didn’t take long- from the creation account of Genesis 2, to Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4.  Jesus warned us of wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24 which we see and hear evidence of every day.

Throughout the history of the church (meaning Christian churches in general) there has been much infighting, prejudice, injustices, hypocrisy and other un-Christlike behavior. No one tradition has been immune to the fact that Jesus followers are both saints and sinners at the same time.  Forgiveness is one of the major precepts that Jesus taught, and forgiveness is necessary first and foremost in the church.  We are forgiven, so it follows that we are called to forgive, and to see others through Jesus’ eyes.

The church is not a genealogical society, (because there is only one race: human,) and it is not a museum. The church is a living body, prone to mistakes and prone to weakness, but it is strengthened when its members stand together- keeping Christ at the center of all- even through disagreements and mistakes. God looks at the motive of our hearts more intently than He checks to see if our theology and doctrine is 100% correct.  Blindly following a tradition without questioning its purpose or validity, or going off to follow One Guy In Charge, even if it is one’s self (or any person who isn’t Jesus) was never God’s plan.

How can we truly welcome others to our own church as well as to the greater community of Jesus followers? God calls us to relationship, but as we learn from Scripture and from life, relationships are hard work. In relationships we will feel pain. Relationships can get messy and complicated. We will be offended. We will offend. Yet by the grace of God, we are forgiven, and likewise called to forgive as Jesus forgives us.