Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

God Knew Your Name - Text: Isaiah 43:1

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text for this morning is Isaiah 43:1, “But now thus says the Lord,he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Isaiah 43:1 (ESV)). This is our text.

Dear Christian friends and particularly you the family and friends of the deceased. We have gathered here today to lay to rest someone you loved very dearly. For the past few years of her life her health has been on the decline. Certainly she has struggled having had a stroke and being laid up. At this time I believe we can truly believe the words we just hear in the reading from Acts, “And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” By faith in Jesus, your loved one is now perfect in the Lord’s presence. She has passed away and this is not an easy thing. Death is a traumatic experience; even for a Christian, death is not easy. We like to think we are prepared for the death of a loved one, especially a Christian loved one, but when it happens it still catches us off guard. Death is a time of mixed emotions. On the one hand we are sad, because we will miss our loved one and that is okay. On the other hand we give thanks because we know that our loved one is no longer suffering but is at peace and is with our Father in heaven and that is okay too.

I have to admit that I did not have the honor or privilege of personally knowing the deceased, although we did meet, briefly. From speaking with her son, I understand that she was very active in her church which certainly shows the importance her faith played in her life. No, I did not personally know the deceased, but I want to assure you that my knowing her is not important. What is important is what we hear in our text, that is that God created her, that God redeemed her, that God knew her name, that God called her by name, and that she belongs to God.

God created the deceased. When her mother and father were married and in their sharing of their love for each other, at the moment of conception God began creating her. Of course, we understand that she too carried the traits of our original parents, in other words, she was, as the Psalmist David says, “conceived and born in sin.”

But Isaiah is not finished. He reminds us that the deceased was also redeemed, by God. Yes, she was born a sinner as we are all conceived and born in sin. And we all sin, that is simply a part of our nature. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sins sins of commission, that is doing the things we should not be doing. We sins sins of omission, that is we fail to do the things we should be doing. And your loved one was no different. Yet, Isaiah reminds us that she was redeemed. She was redeemed even before she was born. The word redeem means to buy back or to trade for. Many of us remember S & H Green stamps. We saved them in a book and then redeemed them at the redemption center. We traded the stamps for merchandise. Well, much the same way, God redeemed us, though not with S & H Green stamps. God redeemed us by trading His Son, even His own life for our life. What we should have received, eternal, spiritual death, Jesus received. What Jesus should have received, eternal life in heaven, we receive. We have been robbed in with His robes of righteousness.

When your loved one was baptized, God put His name on her. He put faith in her heart. He gave her forgiveness of sins. He wrote her name in the book of life. He claimed her as His own.

As your loved one grew and lived her life, her life reflected all that God did for her, and in and through her. As I mentioned earlier, her active involvement in her church is what showed forth the fact that she was God’s child.

The point I want to make this morning is that too often we get things backwards in our world and then we wonder why we have no hope or comfort. Too often we want to focus on ourselves on what we are doing, on our doing things to appease God or to gain His favor. Our text reminds us that we get it right, we get hope and comfort when we get our focus right. When we focus on what God is doing, what God has done, what God continues to do, then we get hope and comfort. It is God who created your loved one. It is God who redeemed her, who called her by name. Our hope, confidence and comfort come from the fact that God is going the doing and we know we can depend on God to get it right.

This morning we can give thanks because we are confident that your loved one has suffered only physical death. She has merely fallen asleep in the Lord. Your loved one was a baptized child of God. As we said earlier, at her baptism our Lord claimed her as His child. He washed her. He created faith in her heart. He put His name on her. By faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior, which is what your loved one professed, she is now seated at her banquet table where she is receiving her eternal inheritance prepared for her in heaven.

This morning we are here to remember the deceased, your loved one. We are reminded how God called her by name. This morning we are here to remember your loved one, we are also here to pay our last respects. We are here today as a part of our grieving process. We are here to say goodbye. In a sense we are here to give thanks that the Lord has been with her as she has traveled through this “valley of the shadow of death” here on earth. We are here to celebrate that she has reached her final reward in heaven. We are sad, because we will miss her, and that is okay, but we give thanks because we know that now she is far better off.

We are not here today to celebrate death, because death is a result of sin. We are not here today to praise your loved one because she too was a sinner like you and me. We are here today to celebrate Jesus’ work in and through her. We are here to praise the Lord for His bringing your loved one to faith, for keeping her in faith, for watching over her, and for taking her to dwell with Him in His house forever. We are here today to be comforted and strengthened in our faith. May the Lord give you that comfort and strength for Jesus sake.

Before I end this morning I want to share with you the words of a song which I know not too many of you have heard. It is a song written by a man named Jim Likens. I always thought this song was great for singing at baptisms, but my wife assured me it was more appropriate for funerals. Anyway, our text for this morning very much reflects the words of this song and takes us on a journey through one’s life. The song is title, God Knew Your Name and it goes like this:

Before the light of day shined on your little face God knew your name.
When no one else could see how precious you would be God knew your name. And He held you so close in His loving hand and He wanted all to see That before the light of day shined on your little face God knew your name.

Before you walked around, before you first fell down God knew your name. Before you rode your trike and then that first red bike God knew your name. He was with you everyday right there by your side
Even when you made mistakes And before the light of day shined on your little face God knew your name.

Before those wedding bells rang their story well God knew your name. Before that first new home and children of your own God knew your name. And through all the times both the good and bad He held you in his hand, And before the light of day shined on your little face God knew your name.

As you gracefully grew old you know you had been told God knew your name. One day when you died your friends and family cried God knew your name. And My angels carried your soul to Me I said, “Welcome home. You were one of Mine. I loved you for all time For I knew your name. You were one of Mine. I loved you for all time For I knew your name.

I would like to leave you with the artist singing this song http://www.godknewyourname.com/. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Trial - Lent Mid-week 4 - March 30, 2011 - Text: Matthew 27:11-14; Luke 22:66-71

Here in the United States of America we are “guaranteed” a fair, a just, and a speedy trial. We can be tried either by a judge or by, what we call, a jury of our peers, although having been on jury duty, more often than not it is not our peers who become our jury, but people who know nothing about us at all, which I guess is better for the one on trial. Unfortunately, our judicial system has waned in its glory over the past number of years, probably due to such factors as too many people needing to be judged, judges becoming corrupted, as well as lawyers and police looking out for themselves. Certainly the old adage is true, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But things are not really different today than they were in Jesus’ day.

In the case of Jesus, or we might say in the case of Jesus versus the Sanhedrin, not only did Jesus face a religious trail, but because the Jewish council of the Sanhedrin was not able to convict someone and sentence them to the death penalty, which is the sentence they were seeking, even before He was found guilty, but because they were under Roman rule, Jesus also had to face the civil court.

First, Jesus faced the religious court. He was brought before Annas, who had been high priest and who was the father-in-law of the now high priest. This was done out of respect for Annas and today we might say that this was the “lower” court. Perhaps it was because Jesus knew there was a major confrontation coming He was not as cooperative with Annas.

After Annas confronted Jesus, getting his kicks if you will, he sent Him to stand trial before Caiaphas. Now, keep in mind, the group that was trying Jesus were the ruling group of the children of Israel. These were the “elite” if you will who had the power, at least they had the religious power among the children of Israel. You might would think that this group of responsible people might at least attempt to act responsibly, especially in such an important case. Yet, although a night trial was illegal, Caiaphas knew that he did not want to attract Jesus’ supporters, nor the civil authorities, so the trial went on.

The call for witnesses against Jesus went out and although the number of witnesses was great, their testimony did not agree. Now, the least we can say for this “kangaroo” court, in their favor is that they knew they could not convict Jesus with only one witness. So, they tried as hard as they could to get any of two the witnesses to say something remotely similar, but they were unable, so Caiaphas tries another way to get a conviction. Notice that it does not matter to Caiaphas, nor to the Sanhedrien what is the charge, because they have already judged Jesus as guilty. At this time they are simply looking for a charge with which to charge Him, and especially to charge Him in the civil court so that they might get the declaration of capital punishment against Jesus. So, Caiaphas “traps” Jesus in His own words, thus setting up the religious charge of blasphemy. Jesus claims to be God and that is blasphemy and that is sin, and that is a conviction.

The Sanhedrien rules that Jesus has committed blasphemy and the sentence according to their law is death. Unfortunately, as we have said, because they are under Roman rule they are not able to carry out their conviction without the sentence from the civil government so the civil trial is set.

At the civil trail Jesus is brought before Pilate, but knowing that they cannot get a sentence of death for a religious charge of blasphemy, they accuse Jesus of treason. Now, especially to the Romans, treason was a serious offense and was punishable by death. A treasonous person was a threat to the Romans, to the country, to all involved and must be dealt with in the strictest of ways. Pilate questioned Jesus, but found Him guilty of nothing of which He was being charged.

Pilate found out that Jesus was from Galilee and that was Herod’s territory. So, rather than get in trouble and attempting to pass the buck, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for him to make a ruling. Interestingly enough we are told that Pilate and Herod were not necessarily friends until this event. Herod had hoped to see Jesus, but really for no other reason than he wanted to see Jesus do a “magic” trick. So, Jesus was brought before Herod and as Herod questioned Him, Jesus made no defense for Himself, much to Herod’s surprise and dismay.

Herod got nothing out of nor from Jesus, so he sent Him back to Pilate. One of my favorite exchanges happens when Jesus is brought back before Pilate and that is the question of “What is truth?” I guess that is a favorite exchange because that same questions comes up so often in our world today. The answer to “What is truth?” is so simple and so clear as Jesus quite well states when He says, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is truth and apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. Truth was standing right in front of Pilate and he could not see it. Even today, we have such a problem with truth because we do not know Jesus and apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. Anyway, after questioning Jesus, and from the prompting of the crowd, Pilate makes his judgement. He washes his hands and turns Jesus over to let the Jews have their way with Him, which is to put Him to death.

What does this mean? Perhaps there is a bit of irony in this whole trial sequence. Remember, Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets and He had fulfilled all the law and all prophets perfectly and completely, for us, in our place, because we cannot. Even more, Jesus came as the embodiment of the whole nation of Israel. What the whole nation of Israel could not do, live as God’s people, Jesus did, perfectly. Of course, that was not why He was on trial. He was not on trial for fulfilling the law and the prophets. He was on trial for blasphemy and treason. Here again is a bit more irony, how can Jesus, who is God, blaspheme Himself for calling Himself God?

More than Jesus being on trial for blasphemy and for treason, was the fact that He had challenged the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council, and not that He had challenged them, but He was a perceived threat to them. He was a threat to their perceived positions of power and authority.

But most important is the fact that Jesus was on trial for us, in our place. We are sinners, we are blasphemers. We are guilty. Yes, we are even treasonous. We rebel against God. We sin. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, by not doing what we ought to be doing and sins of commission, doing those things we should not be doing. We sin and every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. Jesus, took our sins, all our sins and all the sins of all people, of all places, of all times upon Himself. He who knew no sin became sin for us. And so, He was on trial for our sins.

And the judgement, death, which should have been our sentence, was placed on Jesus so that He was condemned in our stead.

Irony of ironies. What we deserved, Jesus suffered. What Jesus gave up and what He returned to, eternal glory, is ours all because of His great love for us. Jesus traded our sins for His righteousness. And even today, even though we continue to sin, the price for all our sins has already been paid. This gift of forgiveness does not give us license to sin, but it does give us hope and comfort and certainly it moves us to repent. And it moves us to rejoice and give thanks to God for what a great, loving, gift giving God we have. We have forgiveness of sins, earned and paid for by Jesus and given to us by Him so that we have life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (12 of 12)

What Is the Question Behind the Question?

Have you ever noticed how sometimes we want to ask a question perhaps one we know in our own mind is either not appropriate or is one that would make us sound “bad”? Instead of asking the question we want to ask we ask an different question. We do not always come out and ask what we want to know. Instead too often we ask a different, even a misleading question thinking we will get the answer we want to hear.

When someone asks me, “Pastor, will God forgive me if I . . . (fill in with any particular sin you wish)?” The question is not really a question of God’s forgiveness; rather the question is one of asking for permission. In other words, the person might better ask, “Pastor, will you give me permission to commit this sin I am about to commit?”

Sometimes people will ask us questions, and at first we might be unable to answer the question especially if the question seems a bit out of context. When this happens, that someone asks such a question, it behooves us to take a minute to think about the question and to ask ourselves, if not the person asking the question, “What is it you are really wanting to ask?”

I had a person ask me about the inerancy of the Bible. As I explained how the Bible came into the form we have today, and as I thought about the denominational background of the one asking the question, it dawned on me that the question was not so much about inerancy as it was about questioning the word of God. If the Bible is errant, that means there are mistakes and that means that a denomination can do as it pleases (and in this instance, this would justify women and homosexuals as pastors and other aberrations). After understanding the question behind the question, I could proceed to explain that the Bible is God’s Word, even those parts we might not like, and if the Bible were not God’s Word, then we might as well throw the whole thing out and so much for salvation.

Thinking critically means listening, not only to what is said, but to what is not said. It means listening to a person’s life story (history), and sometimes it means asking, “What is the question you really want to ask?”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Living Water - March 27, 2011 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: John 4:5-42

Three weeks ago we witnessed the transfiguration of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Two weeks we witnessed Jesus defeat the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Last week we witnessed Jesus explain to Nicodemus the fact that we must be born again, we must be baptized for forgiveness and eternal life. This week Jesus applies that forgiveness to the sinful woman whom He meets at the well. As we reflect on the life of this woman whom Jesus confronts and comforts, perhaps we might be reminded of our own sinfulness and reflect His forgiveness in our own lives, no matter what our sin, no matter how big or to us, how small.

Also, make note of the theme of suffering and water this morning. In the Old Testament lesson we hear the Children of Israel grumble, even after being rescued from slavery and we see God provide water. In the Epistle lesson Paul reminds us that suffering ultimately produces hope and strengthens us in faith in Jesus. And these two tie in together in our Gospel in which we see the woman at the well having had a difficult life, being quenched with the living water of faith in Jesus.

Our story begins with a bit of confrontation (v. 5-9), for you see, the two characters in our story are of different cultural backgrounds, although they could truly be cousins. A Samaritan was someone who was half Jewish and half something else. This Samaritan culture was from intermarriages of some of the Jewish people with those natives from the surrounding area. So, the Jews did not like the Samaritans, because they were not pure Jews and the Samaritans did not like the Jews because they were not liked by them. And so there was this conflict, this struggle between Jews and Samaritans. Their conflict was so great that even if they were the only two people in the same place at the same time they would not speak to one another. The Jews despised the Samaritans and the Samaritans despised the Jews.

Our story is about a man named Jesus. He is truly a human man and we can see this fact in that in his human state we are told He was tired. He had been on the road with His disciples, walking everywhere as they did, which reminds me of the old saying that anyplace is walking distance, if you have the time. Jesus had been walking and now He was tired and it was time to rest.

By the way, about Jesus, I should tell you, if you do not know it, but He was Jewish. He was not a Samaritan. He was not Hispanic. He was not black. He was not an Anglo. He was Jewish. And remember, Jews did not normally speak to Samaritans, even if they were the only two people present, yet, Jesus does speak to this Samaritan woman He meets at the well where He stopped to rest.

Her response was that she reminded Him that they don’t talk to one another. Now, I am sure you are wondering about this woman, but I am not going to tell you about her just yet, that would ruin the story. Anyway, our story begins, then, with this confrontation between Jesus, the Jew and this woman, the Samaritan.

What happens is that Jesus asks her for a drink of water. But, I guess I should tell you that Jesus has in mind more than talking about physical drinking water. Jesus’ intent is actually to bring this woman to know Him as her Savior, it is just that the water is a good starting point in their conversation (v. 10-15).

Jesus asks for a drink of water and her response is something like, “are you talking to me?” Jesus answer is, “if you knew what I could give to you, then you would be asking me for a drink.” But, again, remember that Jesus is speaking of a spiritual water and the woman is thinking of physical water.

The woman does not understand this distinction, she is like many who come to church on a Sunday morning, she has come to have her physical needs met and Jesus is looking to fulfill her spiritual needs. The woman’s thought is that if this guy can give me water, even though he does not have anything with which to draw the water from the well, then he must be greater than Jacob, our great-great-great-great grandfather who dug this well. So, her response, and I would say her doubting response, is, “Sir, (I’d like to see you) give me this water.”

Not yet, Jesus is not quite ready to give her what she wants, because she still does not understand what it is that she really needs. She is very much like many of us today. We know what we want, or at least we think we know what we want and we think that what we want is what we need. We think we need this, that or the other thing, but what we all really need is what Jesus is about to give this woman. Jesus tells her to call her husband, so that he can share in this gift. The woman’s answer is that she has no husband, and she is not lying, she does not have a husband, at least, not at this time. Now here at this point, Jesus lays out her sins. She has had five husbands and the man she is “shacking with” is not her husband. In order for Jesus to give her what she really needs, in order for Jesus to give us all what we really need, she and we need to recognize and confess (v. 16-18) our sins. Our greatest need is not to feel good about ourselves; it is not to be a part of some self-help group; it is not to learn how to look within ourselves for the answer to life’s questions; our greatest need is to repent for we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. It is only when we see how sinful we are, it is only when we realize that without forgiveness we would be lost forever, doomed to eternal spiritual death and hell, it is only when we confess our sins that we are given what we truly need, but, again, I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Upon hearing Jesus’ admonition, the woman says to Jesus, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” What she really was asking was, “what must I do to be saved?” She was ready to confess her sins and she was seeking His absolution (v. 19-24). What we all really need is Jesus’ absolution. We need to hear those most beautiful words that we hear at the beginning of every divine service, “Your sins are forgiven!” Because Jesus gave His life for you on the cross, because Jesus paid the eternal spiritual death penalty for you on the cross, “your sins are forgiven.” Those are the most precious, the most beautiful words we can hear, because with our sins forgiven, the door to heaven is open and we have eternal salvation.

The rest of the conversation turned to the subject of worship. The woman was not necessarily changing the subject, rather she was wanting to know how she might continue to confess and be given absolution, forgiveness. Jesus’ response is to worship in spirit and truth. We might translate that best for ourselves by saying, “We worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say.” Worship is not worship because of where we do it. Worship is not the externals, not the ritual, nor the traditions, although those things might be helpful in facilitating our worship, rather worship that is true worship is worship that comes from the heart of the individual. To say it again, “We worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say.” Personally, I struggle and fumble with what to say to God. When I open my Bible I have His Word which gives me a Word to speak to Him. How much better can I speak to my Lord than to speak to Him in the Words that are His Word? As you have been following along with our divine service this morning you will notice that most of what we have been speaking to the Lord this morning has been His Word, which we are speaking back to Him, that is what the liturgy is all about, speaking back to God the very words He has given us to say. And it is our liturgy which flows out of what God has given us and which is what ties us to those who have come before us and those who will come after us, transcending time, not simply contemporary, with time, here today and gone tomorrow.

But let us get back and finish this story. The story concludes with a bit of revelation (v. 25-26). The woman, the Samaritan, who had come out at an odd time during the day, so as not to be seen by others, this woman, having met Jesus, by His design and plan, now confesses that she believes in the coming Messiah. Jesus confesses that He is the Messiah. The woman confesses that she believes that He is the Messiah and then she must go and tell the others. The others come and hear and say they believe because of what the woman said. And finally, the others say they no longer believe simply because of the word of the woman, but because they, themselves have heard the Word. Here we are reminded, again, of the importance of the Word. It is through the means of grace, the Word in particular, that faith is given, along with the other gifts which God has to give, forgiveness, life, eternal life and salvation.

As we read and study this text today we come to a restoration, that is we come to restore our broken relationship with our Lord. I have heard people say, “I do not go to church because I do not like the hypocrites!” And I suppose they have a point. As Christians we profess to try to do good, but we often fail and we show how sinful we really are, and that is why we go to church to confess our sins and be given forgiveness so that we might have the opportunity to start over and try again, with His help, to live godly lives. We come to divine service to have Jesus fill us with His gifts and blessings through the Word and Sacrament. I guess a good answer to the hypocrite statement would be to say, “so because somebody else ‘pretends’ to be religious you would rather forfeit your own soul as well?”

We come to church to divine service to worship in spirit and in truth. We come to be given the gifts the Lord has to give to us. And as we are given those gifts we are filled. We are filled with faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. We are filled with peace and joy. We are filled with the Lord. We are clothed in His righteousness.

Ultimately, as we are given the gifts our Lord has to give to us and as we are filled, we overflow, that is we go out and live lives of faith always being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, telling others the good news that we have heard and been given. You have heard me use this illustration before and it is a fitting illustration. We are a lot like a glass and God is like a pitcher. Through our making regular and diligent use of the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, God pours His gifts into us until we finally overflow and share those gifts with others, which is a very important part of our Christian faith and life, the getting to the point where we share our faith with others. The difficult part is that as we grow and mature in our Christian faith our glass becomes bigger and bigger. It takes more and more to fill us before we overflow and share with others. And that is unfortunate. Maybe that is why God reminds us to be as little children, to have small glasses, ones that will overflow quickly.

We worship Jesus best when we worship Him in spirit and truth, recognizing and confessing our sins and being given from Him forgiveness, newness of life, strengthening of faith and salvation. And as we given to from the Lord, so we pass that on to others. Today we give thanks for the opportunities that we have daily to hear God’s Word, to be strengthened and to be filled so that we might take God’s gifts out and share them with others through our actions as well as our words and thoughts. Praise the Lord and may He continue to bless the Word that is spoken here. To God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (11 of 12)

What Is Not Said.

In a recent issue of the comic strip Blondie (May 5, 2009), we have this exchange: Dagwood says, “I think it’s a crying shame that so many people base their political views on what radio talk show people say.” Herb responds, “Where did you get that ridiculous idea, Bumstedt?!” Dagwood says, “From that talk show host.” Another character says, “Hey, you two pipe down! He’s coming back on!” “Yeah! And he was about to make a great point!”

Now, from a first reading one might believe that a talk show host carries too much influence in our culture today. What is not said is what about television, magazine or newspaper personalities. Could the argument be made that too many people base their political views on what television news anchors say, or what opinion article writers write or on what is printed in magazines?

Martin Luther is credited with saying that when someone spoke to him concerning an issue involving someone else, he would always hold his hand over one ear. In this way he would reserve the second ear to hear the other side of the story. Or as the old joke goes, where two people are gathered there are three opinions. We all have our own biases. We all have our own presuppositions. When we hear people speak, we need to make sure we listen, not only to what they say, but also to what they are not saying, to the other side of the story, or as Paul Harvey used to say, to the “Rest of the story.”

When a person takes the witness stand in a court of law, they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Critical thinking involves listening for the whole truth, including that part of the truth that is not given for whatever reason. Listen to how one side of the story is presented, and always ask, “What is not being said?”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Suicide (Judas was condemned because of his unbelief) - Lent Mid-week 3 - March 23, 2011 - Text: Matthew 27:3-10

It was believed and taught for many years that if a person committed suicide they would go to hell. As the saying goes, “Go directly to hell, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.” As a matter of fact, if a person did commit suicide they were not even allowed to be buried in the church cemetery, which is why from time to time you see graves outside the cemetery fence. The reasoning and logic behind this belief was that if you committed suicide you did not have enough time to repent before you died, and if you did not repent before you died, then you were eternally condemned. The fallacy and the problem with this thinking and logic is that if you take the logic to its final conclusion then can expect to be saved because, again, following the logic, since none of us knows when we will die, none of us knows when to repent just before we die and so we would all be eternally condemned. So, thinking suicide through from a logic point of reasoning, it is not the actually killing of oneself that would condemn someone to eternal spiritual death, rather it is unbelief that condemns, which is always the case. It is always unbelief that condemns. Remember, the only unforgivable sin is dying in unbelief. But, let us get to our topic for this evening, namely, Judas.

Now please understand that I am not trying to defend Judas’ and what he did, but I am simply attempting to help us to understand, perhaps why he did what he did. There are some who believe that Judas believed Jesus was a social/political Savior. They believe that Judas believed Jesus was the Savior, but not a spiritual savior, rather that he believe that Jesus was the one who would overthrow the Roman government and bring the Jews back into power. In his defense, if this was the case, he was not the only one who held this social/political point of view, at least he was not the only one who was looking for a social/political savior. God’s promise to send a Savior was about 4000 years old and it had been some 500 years since the nation of Israel had actually heard from God, or at least had had a prophet among them. So, by this point in history, many of the Jews had given up belief in a spiritual Savior and perhaps that was not even being taught, instead they were looking for a political savior.

Along these lines, then, some people believe that the reason Judas set Jesus up and betrayed Him into the hands of the Sanhedrin was in an attempt to “force” Jesus into action. The argument is that Judas believed that if the right events were to transpire then Jesus would have to act. He would have to begin the revolt and reformation promised, to save the nation of Israel.

But, what did actually happen? Judas was called by Jesus to be one of the twelve. Judas was called by Jesus and set apart as an apostle. He was with Jesus for three years, watching, listening, working with, eating with Jesus and certainly you would have thought that he knew Jesus pretty well. Actually he knew Jesus well enough to know where He would be and when He would be anyplace, especially on Maundy Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. So, Judas went to those who were seeking Jesus and for a price, which they both agreed on, thirty pieces of silver, Judas agreed to point Jesus out with the sign of the kiss of a friend. Although some would argue that the money was important to Judas, even suggesting that he was a thief who stole from the group treasury, I would argue, perhaps not, as we will see when he returns the money.

As the account continues, as usual, this was something that Jesus and His disciple were in the habit of doing, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Mount of Olives to pray. After praying, as we heard last week, Jesus was strengthened and prepared for the events which He knew were about to take place and He was ready and went out to meet Judas and the gang of temple guards who came out with him to arrest Him. And so, as the events played out Jesus was there with His disciples, who fled the scene, and He was arrested.

Jesus was taken and put on trial, actually He was tried several times and most of the proceedings were done illegally, at night. There were laws against having such night trials. There were laws against condemning someone with only one witness. There were laws which the Sanhedrin broke and broke and broke in order to get the conviction they were seeking. Yet, during all these precedings, legal and illegal, one of the most amazing things that stands out is that Jesus did not defend Himself. Certainly Judas did not understand why Jesus was not defending Himself and even more, why He was not calling for a political revolution. After all the trials, and on trumped up charges, and false witnesses, Jesus was sentenced to die.

Today we often hear about what is called the unintended consequences of certain actions. What was the fall out, what were the unintended consequences of these events, of Jesus’ arrest, trial and conviction? For Judas, he had remorse. He was sorry for what he did, that he betrayed Jesus for money, perhaps showing that it was not the money that motivated his actions. He even repented, at least he repented of his miscalculation, his misdeeds, his betrayal of Jesus to the chief priests and elders.

As for the chief priests and elders, they were not concerned about Judas, nor about his repentance and so they gave him no absolution. So much for their being the spiritual leaders of the community. Their only concern was getting rid of Jesus. As for the betrayal money, the blood money, the money paid to Judas, in his despair he threw into the temple in a sign of repentance. As for the Sanhedrin, they simply, judiciously decided that it could not be used in the temple, since it was blood money, so it was decided to use it to buy a burial plot for outsiders. And as we are told, this was done to fulfill one of the prophecies concerning the Messiah.

So, Judas was remorseful, and repented, but not receiving any forgiveness, he was left in despair. The reason Judas was in despair was because he received no absolution and he did not believe he could be forgiven. So, what actually condemned Judas was not his taking his own life, not his suicide, but what condemned Judas was his refusal of forgiveness, his unbelief.

What does this mean? What do we take from these Words of Scripture? We all have expectations. We have certain expectations of ourselves, of family members, of co-workers, of others and we even have certain expectations of God. Unfortunately, very often we have wrong expectations especially of God as we continually misread and misunderstand His Word which causes us all kinds of consternation. At times we may even feel a little like Judas must have felt, unloved and unforgiven.

We have expectations of God and God has expectations of us. Unfortunately, more often than not, we fail. We fail by doing the things we should not be doing. We fail by not doing the good things we should be doing. We fail and we sin.

Thanks be to God that we know our sin and we confess our sins. We repent and thanks be to God, unlike Judas, who did not hear words of absolution and fell into despair, we do hear words of absolutions. Each week we confess our sins, in thought, word and deed, and we hear the most beautiful words ever, that our sins are forgiven.

The difference between us and Judas is that we are given absolution and we know and believe we are absolved, forgiven, by God for Jesus’ sake.

None of us knows when we will die. None of us has an expiration date on our birth certificate. Thus, it is important, it is imperative that we are always ready for our last day, our last hour either when we pass on, or when the Lord returns, which ever is first. And we are ready and our Lord makes us and keeps us ready through His Word and Sacraments and especially through the forgiveness of sins. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (10 of 12)

“To Be Honest” means . . .

Perhaps there has been a time when you have been listening to someone for a few minutes and then they say something like, “Well, to be honest with you . . .” Or perhaps you have uttered these words. Have you ever wondered what the other person or even what you have implied by stating these words? Most people who make this statement are making this statement because they want the person who is listening to know that they are saying something which they believe is true and perhaps is important. But what is implied by these words? What is implied is that what has thus been said may be discounted as not necessarily being true because the same was not stated before those words were spoken. Again, this is what is implied.

Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37 (ESV)). In other words, Jesus tells us that we are not to say anything except what is true, and we do that simply by saying “Yes” or “No.” It is only after we have shown others that our “Yes” does not necessarily mean “Yes” and that our “No” does not necessarily mean “No” that we feel compelled to speak in such a way, that is so as to weigh our words to be believed.

In all circumstances, as we live our lives, speaking the truth, always speaking the truth, even if that might mean speaking the truth in love (saying those difficult things that may need to be said), others will recognize that our “Yes” means “Yes” and our “No” means “No,” and we will not have to try to get them to believe us by saying, “To be honest with you . . .”

Critical thinking includes not only listening to how and what others say, but also to how and what we say. Our reputation depends on letting our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No.” Jesus’ reputation depends on it as we bear His name as little Christs (Christians).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

You Must Be Born Again - March 20, 2011 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: John 3:1-17

This morning we celebrate birth and rebirth. In the Old Testament reading we hear God reiterate the promise He first made in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior to take care of the sin of disobedience of Adam and Eve, the sin that brought a curse on the whole world. In the Epistle lesson we are reminded that God’s covenant was not a covenant of flesh, but a covenant of faith and grace. Thus, when we get to our text for this morning we are reminded that we, you and I, are indeed children of Abraham and children of the covenant, not by genetics, not by DNA, not by flesh, but by rebirth and faith. Just as we saw Becca become a child of Abraham by baptism, so each one of us are children of Abraham, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, faith first given to most of us at our baptism.

Our text brings us to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He is identified, along with Joseph of Arimathea, as being one who did not vote for the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and yet he did not go along with the rest of the Pharisees in their actions. Evidently Nicodemus recognized, from the signs and wonders, from the preaching and the miracles of Jesus, from the Word of God, even from the Word Jesus Himself spoke, that He was not just an ordinary person, but that, perhaps, maybe, just perhaps, Jesus may be the one promised from of old. He may be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Nicodemus approached Jesus at night. He came at night so that he might not be seen by others and in particular by others of the Pharisees. He came at night so that he might have some one on one time with Jesus, that he might be alone with Jesus without being disturbed by others. He came to Jesus and he confessed his faith. His confession was that Jesus is a prophet and he knows this because “no one can do these signs that [He] does unless God is with him.” Nicodemus understood the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus’ performed as signs of His divinity that He was the Messiah.

Nicodemus came to Jesus and was concerned and questioned Jesus about eternal life. Jesus’ answer was an answer of faith. One is not saved by physical birth, by being born a Jew, nor is one not saved by being born a Gentile. One is not saved by doing enough good works, nor by doing specific good works. Just as a person does not choose to be born, so a person cannot choose to save themself, no matter by how much a person may try.

Jesus expands His teaching by making a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. As for physical birth, that which is born of flesh is flesh, in other words, we are all conceived and born in sin, that is original sin. The sin of Adam and Eve infected their DNA and the curse they received has been passed on through them from generation to generation and will continue to be passed on. And not only are we conceived and born in sin, we add to our inborn sin, that is, we daily sin much on our own, sins of thought, word, and deed, sins of omission, failing to live and do as we ought and sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing, and we are in need of forgiveness. Left in our sin we are doomed to eternal spiritual death.

God’s demand is that we are perfect and we cannot be perfect. Yet, there is one solution and that is that one must be born again, and this rebirth is not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth, a being born again of water and spirit. Of course we understand that Jesus is speaking about Holy Baptism. Here Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying, what He means about this being born again and so Jesus explains.

As for physical birth Jesus said that sin is born in each one of us. As for spiritual birth, each one must be born again through Holy Baptism, so that which is born of spirit is spirit, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a). And as we heard quoted at Becca’s baptism a few moments ago, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Here again, just as we do not choose to be born, so it is with Holy Baptism. Most of us did not choose to be baptized, but our parents brought us so that through our baptism God saves us, putting His name on us, giving us forgiveness of sins, faith and eternal life.

The analogy Jesus uses is not so hard to understand. Jesus says, the wind is unseen, and yet we see its effect. We may not see the sin with which we are born, but we see its effect. I would suggest that if you really want to see the effect of our inborn sin, put two toddlers in a room with one toy and see if they instinctively share the toy. I would suggest that rather than share the one toy they will fight over the one toy, an effect of our inborn sin. Likewise, the spirit works through Holy Baptism. We cannot see the Holy Spirit work in Baptism, but we see the result and the result is faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.

And to the argument that children cannot have faith, I beg to differ. Children can and do have faith, they simply do not express their faith as an adult, mostly because they cannot speak. They express their faith through their actions. If you hold a spoon of food to a child’s mouth they will believe you are giving them something good to eat and will, in faith, open their mouths, expressing their faith. Their faith in Jesus is seen also as they speak to Him in prayers and singing songs to Him as well.

Even in adults, the Holy Spirit, though unseen, is seen in His work of conversion, as He works through the means of grace to work faith, strengthening of faith and to keep us in faith. An unbaptized person who comes to faith through the Word of the Lord naturally has a desire to be baptized, not their choosing, but by compulsion of God, thus we see the effect of the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean? This means that there is a distinction between heavenly beings and earthly beings. And further we are told that only a heavenly being can testify of heaven. In other words, no one from earth can testify concerning heaven because no one from earth has yet been to heaven, except one and that one is Jesus. Only Jesus can testify of heavenly things because only Jesus has been to heaven, for that is from where He came in order to be born as one of us and that is where He ascended following His resurrection.

For what purpose did Jesus descend? Jesus explains His coming to earth using what would be a familiar illustration for Nicodemus and that is the encounter of the children of Israel and the serpents in the wilderness. When Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage of slavery in Egypt it did not take too long and they began to grumble. They grumbled against Moses and against God. As a consequence and as a punishment of their grumbling, God caused serpents to come into the camp and to bite the people. The people, then, cried out in repentance to Moses and to God.

Moses prayed to God and God told him to make an image of the serpent and to put it on a pole. Whenever anyone was bitten by a serpent he or she could look at the serpent on the pole and they would live. The serpent was punishment for their sins. The serpent on the pole was to be looked at in an act of repentance and faith in forgiveness. Thus, the punishment became the cure. Let me say that again and please keep this in mind, the punishment became the cure.

God created a perfect world and in that perfect world He created and placed a perfect man and a perfect woman into a perfect garden. The devil came and tempted the woman to be like God. The woman disobeyed God as did the man and with that disobedience, sin entered the world. The punishment for sin was death, the beginning of physical death, and unless there was a cure, the ultimate conclusion would be eternal spiritual death. God promised to send a Savior. Jesus came as the Savior. He came as one of us, one of the beings which brought sin and death into the world. He came in order to suffer the punishment for us.

Now follow Jesus analogy. God placed Jesus on the cross. The serpent in the wilderness brought death, humans brought death. The serpent on the cross was to be looked at in repentance and faith. Jesus was put on the cross to be looked at in repentance and faith. We look at Jesus and believe and we are saved. The punishment became the cure, for us.

Which brings us to Jesus words, what we call “the Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16. The price of sin is death, physical death and ultimately left unpaid, eternal spiritual death. What sin has earned, the wages of sin is death, eternal spiritual death, hell. Sin costs the shedding of blood and death. Left alone in our sins we would be condemned to eternal spiritual death. Nothing on our part can take care of our sins. There are not enough good things we could do, not that we could or would do them, that could add up to pay the price for our sins.

In His love God sent Jesus. Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is the Creator taking on the flesh and blood of His creation in order to rescue His creation. God knew that we, His creation, His creatures, would not be able to save or rescue ourselves, thus, because of His great love for us, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, true God in human flesh to pay the price for our sins, to rescue us from sin, death and the devil.

The price, the cost, what sin has earned, the wage of sin is eternal spiritual death. What Jesus, God in flesh did was pay that price. On the cross, God died for us, in our place.

In our theology we talk about the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sins. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Law shows us how we sin, it tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Law can lead us either to think we can gain heaven through works righteousness, or it leads us to despair. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel motivates repentance and forgiveness. The Gospel leads us to faith in Jesus who paid the price for our sins.

Thus, Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world though Him might be saved. Yes, to those who do not believe in Jesus they are condemned, but to all those who do believe, to all those who have been given faith, they are forgiven and have eternal life.

As we continue to work our way through this Lenten season, this morning we celebrate what a great and loving God we have. We celebrate that He is the one who created us, redeemed us, that is traded His life for ours on the cross, and sanctifies us, that is He continues to work faith in our hearts, strengthens us in faith, and keeps us in faith until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again He will gather us with all the saints and we will stand before the Lord’s throne and say, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (9 of 12)

“But” means . . .

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Well, I really did not mean to do what I did, but something just told me to do it”? Someone suggested this adage, “‘But’ means I take back everything I just said.” In other words, whenever a “but” is placed in the statement, the part before the statement is not to be believed, and the part after the statement is to be believed. A good example is often seen in a half-hearted apology, “I am sorry I said what I said, but I just did not know what came over me.” In other words, “I really meant what I said I am sorry you caught me saying it.”

This brings us to this whole thing of apologies. When we are caught doing something and we know we must apologize, do we apologize for the wrong we committed or that we got caught committing a wrong? And as someone once noted, how often do we force our children to lie? When one child hurts another, we tell them to “Say you’re sorry.” What if they really are not sorry? Of course we understand the importance of confession and absolution and teaching this to our children. Do we also understand the importance of contrition?

Critical thinking means critical listening. Critical thinking does not necessarily mean criticism. It simply means taking care in listening not only to the words that are said, but to the order of the words, to the inference of the words, as well as the meanings of the words. Critical thinking means to listen. Sometimes it means asking questions, getting definitions of words, making sure we are understanding what is being said, in our own language. Sometimes it may even mean defining terms in order to better understand. That may be a lot of work, but it is well worth it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Garden (Mount of Olives) - Lent Mid-week 2 - March 16, 2011 Text: Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46

In his book In the Fullness of Time, Paul Maier describes the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives this way, “They were walking toward a grove of olive trees nestled in the lower reaches of the Mount of Olives, a favorite haunt of Jesus and the Twelve. It was called Gethsemane, meaning “oil vat” or “oil press” in Aramaic, and somewhere in the garden the contrivance likely stood, its stone wheels reflecting a ghostly blue-white in the moonlight.” And so the stage is set for Jesus to be confronted and arrested.

Jesus had just celebrated the Passover with His disciples. The Passover was that once a year meal in which the children of Israel celebrated the passing over of the angel of death in Egypt so they might escape their bondage in slavery. At the point of the breaking of the middle Matzah and the third cup of wine, the cup of redemption, Jesus had given them a new celebration, a new Sacrament, His own Holy Supper. Now that the meal was over and after the last song was sung, He and His disciples went to the Garden, a “favorite haunt” to pray. Certainly Jesus was in agony. This day had been before His eyes since His promise in the Garden of Eden to crush Satan’s head while bruising His own heel, and now the time to die quickly approached. Jesus entered the Garden and left some of His disciples at one spot to pray and He went a little further into the garden taking Peter, James and John. Again He stopped and at this place He left Peter, James and John with the instructions to keep watch and pray and then He went even further, “a stones throw.” He fell prostrate to the ground, that is He fell on His face in agony. Certainly we see that Jesus was truly human, that is why He was in agony and wavering and we might imagine He was even seeking a way out. The Gospel writer Luke, the doctor, adds the details, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 2:44). I have read that intense anguish may cause one to sweat drops of blood and indeed, Jesus was in anguish on the throws of death’s door.

And Jesus prayed. He prayed for an out, a different way to bring salvation, other than suffering and death. Here again we see His humanness, seeking another way. Yet, in His prayer He continually prayed, not His will, but God’s will be done. Yes, Jesus is also true God, but most certainly He is also true man and in His humanity, suffering and death on a cross did not look so promising and so He prays. He prays and He is consoled by angels. He prays and He is strengthened by His Father in heaven. He prays and His resolve is to do God’s will, even to go to the cross.

Jesus prays and when He completes His prayers He gathers His disciples as He looks to the events that are unfolding even as He speaks, because just then Judas enters the scene. Judas, the man many love to hate; the man who may have believed himself to be doing everyone a favor; a man who was chosen like the other eleven, to be one of Jesus disciples. Judas enters and according to the plan of betrayal, Judas betrays Jesus with the kiss of friendship. A common, friendly greeting becomes the signal for capture.

Judas gives the signal and the guards attempt to arrest Jesus. But Peter, brave Peter, Peter who swore eternal allegiance steps up to defend Jesus. He draws his sword and swings, cutting off Malchus’ ear. Poor Malchus, he was just a servant, probably forced to go with the mob and now he finds himself, ear in hand, bleeding. It’s the showdown at Gethsemane, at the Mount of Olives. Jesus versus Judas, Jesus versus Satan.

But, getting back to Jesus. Jesus had just been in prayer. He was pouring out His heart, sweating drops of blood and now He stands facing the crowd. And Jesus is calm. He is not riled. He is not tense. He is calm and calmly accesses the situation. Certainly we can see that He has been strengthened by His Father in heaven. Jesus, the only calm one in the bunch, calmly takes Malchus’ ear, touches his head and heals the servants ear.

And then Jesus calmly addresses the crowd. He knows why they are there. He knows Judas has betrayed Him with a friendly greeting and a kiss. He knows how this will all end and yet, He calmly address the group.

As for the mob, the riotous mob that came out with swords and clubs. They were not calm. They were rather in a frenzy. They did not know how this would turn out, they were simply running and acting on adrenalin. So, when the scene calms down and Jesus asks who they have come for and they tell Him they are looking for Jesus, notice that when Jesus answers they all move back and fall to the ground. Their reaction comes from the fact that Jesus answers that He is “I Am,” He is the one who appeared to Moses in the wilderness. Remember, Moses asked, “Who shall I say sent me?” and God answered, “Tell them I AM has sent you.” Jesus says, I AM, I AM Jesus. I AM the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus is God Himself, so certainly they would react by falling to the ground.

This mob was more than likely, temple guards, not Roman Soldiers. As Roman Soldiers they would probably not have understood what Jesus said, but as temple guards, as a part of the Jewish nation, having been raised in the Jewish faith, in the Old Testament prophecies, they certainly would have understood the implications of Jesus answer that He was indeed I AM, God in flesh.

As for the eleven other disciples, the men who just a few hours earlier pledged their dying loyalty, when things began getting too much for them, they deserted Jesus and ran away. They did not hang around for fear that they too might be arrested simply for associating with Jesus. They were not in prayer with Jesus, remember, they were sleeping. They had not been strengthened for the events that were about to take place and so they frighteningly ran away.

The fear of the disciples was a great fear, as we are told that one disciple, John Mark was so frightened that he even left his clothes in order to get away. So much for the first commandment, we should fear, love and trust in God above all things.

What does this mean? The world of Jesus’ day was in just the right place, just the right frame of mind. The world in Jerusalem, the world of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, even the world of the disciples was is an uproar. Life as they knew it was being challenged.

And Jesus is calmly ready to do what He came to do. Jesus does not put up a fight. He goes, willingly, obediently, calmly. As was the case at Palm Sunday, so it is now, Jesus has set His face to go to the cross.

We live in a world very similar to the world of Jesus day. Many in our world are living life as if this is all there is, eating, drinking, marrying and being given into marriage. Many in our world are oblivious to the real world to come. Many in our world enjoy living according to the “status quo.” They enjoy living their lives and they do not like anyone “ruining” their utopia. And yet, Jesus continues to invade our world. He continues to come to us, through His means of grace. He comes to us because of His love for us. He comes to us in order to give to us. Sometimes we run away. Yet, He continues to call us back. He continues to pour out on us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give, most importantly forgiveness of sins. And we rejoice in His patience with us and in His giving us forgiveness. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (8 of 12)

Always ask, “Is that true?”

We live in a culture which has a tendency to believe whatever we see on television, hear on the radio, read in the newspaper, or read in books. We also have a tendency, because of our sinful human nature, to want to hear and believe the worst. A good example is our present day media. How often do we hear stories about someone doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing? Or about someone doing good instead of evil? Yes, we do hear these stories, from time to time, but they are few and far between. Instead, what do we hear? We hear stories of killing, stealing, rape, coveting, idolatry and so on. And we tend to thrive on such news.

Pay attention to yourself. The next time you stop to listen to some bit of news (either through the television, radio or newspaper) stop yourself and ask, “What is it about this that is of interest to me?” I would suggest, even if we do not want to admit it, it is the fact that we are interested in just how deviant people may be. Yes, we want to hear the worst. Well, after all, it is refreshing to realize that there are others with worse problems than we have.

But what does this have to do with critical thinking? Have you ever stopped and asked, “Is it true?” Is what I am reading about or what I am hearing about true? Or perhaps parts are true and parts are conjecture? Listen to what is said to be true and what is said to be conjecture, if such is admitted.

Have you ever heard of the show, what used to be a section in the comics page, called, Ripley’s Believe it or Not? Have you ever noticed that they do not say if what is presented is true or not, simply that you are to “believe it,” or “not believe it.” We would do well when watching television, listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper, magazines, and books, to read with a discerning eye, to read and question, “Is the author presenting this as a fact or an opinion?” “If the author is presenting this as a fact, what is the proof?” “If the author is presenting this as an opinion, is the opinion founded on facts or not and again, what is the proof?”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Temptation - March 13, 2011 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In our Old Testament reading for this morning we have the account of the first temptation by the devil. He tempts Eve to question God and His Word, much like what we see and hear happening in our world today. How often do we hear the question, not necessarily “Did God say . . . ?” but “Did God really mean what He said?” In Genesis, Satan planted seeds of doubt. This morning in our Gospel lesson we see Satan at it again, tempting Jesus, and again attempting to plant seeds of doubt and allusions of grandeur and glory.

In confirmation we learn that there are two types of temptation, one is a temptation to do something evil, that is a temptation to sin. And we know that this type of temptation does not come from God. The second type of temptation is what is better called a testing of faith and is intended for our strengthening of faith. This type of temptation or testing does come from God. In our text for today we have the account of the temptation of Jesus and we can rest assured that because this temptation is from the devil that it is not a testing for strengthening, but is a temptation to do evil.

Our text follows the account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. At His baptism, Jesus is attested by God as being true God and true man. And now, as a part of His humanness, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He was tempted for forty days and forty nights. What we have in our text are the three top temptations, if you will, from the devil. In the next few minutes we will look at each one of these temptations separately and see what is the heart of the temptation and what is Jesus’ response. As we review these temptations it might do us well to make a note of the temptation and how Jesus handled the devil so that we might arm ourselves against the old evil foe and his deadly temptations in our own lives.

The first temptation. “3And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (v. 3). Remember that Jesus has been in the desert for forty days and forty nights and he was at this time very hungry. The devil begins by using Jesus’ hunger, this physical, human desire to tempt Him. We might liken this temptation to the type of torture used on a captured soldier of war. I have been told by someone who was a prisoner of war that food and sleep depravation can make a person very vulnerable.

The devil uses Jesus’ hunger against Him and then questions His divinity. This is a temptation of self doubt, that is the devil wants to question Jesus’ divinity and also He wants Jesus to question His own divinity. “If you are hungry and if you are sure that you are God, and if you are God then why don’t you do something about it, why don’t you prove that you are God by making yourself something to eat.” This would be only one of the many times that this type of temptation, to prove Himself, would be offered to Jesus. Time and again the Pharisees would ask Jesus for a sign, a miracle as a “proof” that He was the Messiah, that He was God. Interestingly enough, Jesus gave many signs and miracles as “proof” that He was God. Even the Gospel writer John makes much of the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus performed as proof that He was God, it is just that the Pharisees missed it or really did not want to believe it. On the cross was the ultimate temptation by the Pharisees, “if you will come down we will believe you are the Messiah.” The irony of that temptation was that if Jesus came down from the cross He might have proven His case to the Pharisees, but He would have missed His opportunity to be the Savior, thus He would not have been our Savior. Thanks be to God that He did not give in to any of these temptations and especially that He did not come down from the cross, but that He did give His life as a ransom, to pay the death penalty for us all.

Jesus’ response to the devil was to quote from the Word of the Lord, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (v. 4). The most powerful weapon we have against the devil is the sword of the Word of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul lays out the armor of a Christian and the only offensive weapon he describes is that of the sword of faith, the sword of the Word of God. We would do well to follow Jesus’ example when faced with the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh, that is, go to the Word of the Lord.

The second temptation is the temptation to self-glory. “5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’” (v.5, 6 ). This is a temptation of the spectacular. The devil is saying, “there is an easier way, my way.” The devil knows that Jesus knows that the cross is ever before Him. Why not give Jesus a second way, an easier way, other than the cross. The devil says, “do not go to the cross, instead, do something spectacular that will bring people to faith in you.”

Behind this second temptation are questions of the Father’s love and questions of Jesus’ trust in the Father. “Are you sure the Father loves you enough that He will protect you and if you are sure, prove it, show me.” Thanks be to God that Jesus knew the Father’s love, that He knew the glory that was His in heaven that He gave up to take on human flesh and blood and to give His life as a ransom for you and me.

Jesus’ response to this second temptation is again to quote the Word of the Lord, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v. 7). Again, we have the reminder to use the Word of the Lord to fight off the temptations of the devil.

The third temptation, “8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” (v. 8, 9). The third temptation seems like no temptation at all, if we really think about it. After all, everything is Jesus’, He created and made all things out of nothing. Who is the devil to think he can tempt Jesus into believing that anything is his to give away. This is another temptation of glory, “another easy way out.” “Do not go to the cross, the devil says, I have an easier way.” “Just worship me and I will give up all my authority and let you be king.”

The third question put to Jesus is meant to question His humanity. As a man Jesus can worship the Father in heaven, who has given Him the task of going to the cross. Or He can worship the devil, who is giving Him the option of forgoing the cross. Thanks be to God that Jesus knew that He came to do the will of His Father in heaven, His good and gracious will and that will included His giving His life for you and me.

Again, for the third time, Jesus’ response is the Word of the Lord, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10). And yet again we have the example for our own lives when facing temptation to meet it and beat it with the Word of the Lord.

Jesus began His earthly ministry at His baptism by John in the Jordan river. He immediately went into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Jesus begins His earthly ministry by subjecting Himself to the temptations of the devil and by defeating the devil. He defeated the devil not only for Himself, but for us, in our place, as well. He defeated the devil for us and He is with us to help us to defeat him in our own lives.

Did you notice that the devil did not come in a red suit with horns and a pitch fork. Really, he is not that easily recognizable, especially not in our world today. Today the devil’s temptations are a bit more subtle, such as, the devil does not tempt you to not go to church, because he knows that temptation would not work. Instead he tempts you with too many things to do, more important things to do, to fill up your schedule so that you do not have time to go to church. The devil does not tempt you to take things from others, instead he tempts you to forget to return things until you forget what you have has been borrowed and you think it is your own. The devil tempts you through your own natural logic and reasoning, making you think that you are doing what you should be doing which is often what he wants you to do. Through His temptation, Jesus shows us how to defeat the devil, not that we challenge the devil on our own, but we know how to defend ourselves against the devil. We defend ourselves by use of the sword of the Word of the Lord. This reminds us of our constant need to make regular and diligent use of the Word of the Lord so that we might be able to defend ourselves against the devil.

Jesus’ temptation also reminds us that we can go to Him for help in times of temptation. Jesus understands our temptation, He underwent the same temptations and even greater temptations. And we are reminded that we can go to Him for forgiveness following our fall into temptation and sin. Yes, temptations will come. With the Lord’s help we will be able to resist some temptations. Other temptations will come and we will fall, we will sin. Praise be to God that when we do fall, that when we do fail, that when we do succumb to temptation, that when we do sin, He is there ready to forgive and give us another chance.

I do want to emphasize this point, lest we think Jesus’ temptation was merely given as an example of how we can defeat the devil, that we cannot do it on our own, nor should we challenge the devil by putting ourselves in the place to be tempted. However, we do have Jesus’ defeat of the devil as a reminder that the devil has no power over us, that we do have Jesus to help us in times of temptation and with Him we also have forgiveness when we do sin. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ temptation, for His defeat of the devil, for His giving of His life for us so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation and that He moves in us to say, to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (7 of 12)

A True Skeptic

The word skeptic is defined as “one who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.” Because we now live in a world in which it is thought, and perhaps believed by some, that there is no ultimate authority, there is no right or wrong, there is no one single truth, then it is important to be a skeptic, at least when it comes to the assertions and conclusions of the society and culture.

To be a skeptic, in regards to the world, is not a bad thing. To be a skeptic simply indicates that one is thinking and has questions concerning the validity of assertions and conclusions. Because our society and our culture tend to not be in tune with the Word of God, it should be questioned and even doubted.

When it comes to the Word of God, to ultimate authority and to right and wrong, truth and falsehoods, even a skeptic can have the certainty that it is true and that, as God has promised, not one iota of His Word has ever or will ever fail.

Putting these two worlds together, when one reads or hears the Word of God proclaimed in the world, certainly one would want to do so with discerning ears. A Christian skeptic, if we may use that term, is one who is discerning when it comes to the things of the Word of God. Paul encourages, even us today, to be as the Bereans, who were of a more noble character and checked out everything he said and compared it with the one ultimate truth, the Word of God. And so, we too are encourage to listen well, to discern what we read, and compare everything with what we know to be true and never changing, the Word of God. And doing so, we can then rightly trust our assessment of our own assertions and conclusions.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Procession (Palm Sunday) - Ash Wednesday - March 9, 2011 - Text: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-18

Lent is the season we use to prepare ourselves to celebrate Good Friday and Easter. Yes, you heard me correctly, we prepare to celebrate Good Friday and Easter. We celebrate Good Friday, not because of Jesus’ suffering, but because He suffered for us, in our place. And more certainly we celebrate His defeat of sin, death and the devil as we celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday. The whole of Lent then, is the time we use to prepare ourselves for our remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death for us in our place and our celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, in much the same way as a great and grand celebration does not simply happen, but it can only be as great and grand as the amount of the preparation that goes into the celebration, so it is with our Easter celebration. If we want a great and grand Easter celebration then we will take the time during Lent to prepare for such a great and grand celebration.

This year, to help us prepare for our great and grand celebration, during the season of Lent, we will take a look at some of the little talked about facts concerning Jesus’ life, and His suffering, death and resurrection. We will begin, this evening, by talking about Jesus’ great and grand Procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We will continue our Lenten services by talking about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives. We will talk about the Suicide of Judas and the fact that Judas was condemned, not because he committed suicide, but because of his unbelief. We will talk about the Trial of Jesus as well as the Crowd at the Trial. We will talk about the place of the Skull where Jesus was nailed to the cross. We will not only talk about, but celebrate an actual Seder. It was during the Passover Seder that Jesus gives us the Lord’s Supper. Again, this year we will actually celebrate a Passover Seder, reminding us of the passing over of the angel of eternal spiritual death in our lives and how Jesus brings this reminder out of the celebration of the passing over of the angel of death in Egypt. We will talk about the Three days and how we count the three days in the tomb. We will talk about the Empty Tomb, and the Guards and their false story.

This evening we begin with the great and grand Procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which is what used to be celebrated the Sunday before Easter and the beginning of Holy Week. This procession was indeed the end of Jesus time of privacy. There were other occasions, other Passovers when Jesus came into town quietly to observe and this is one of those times He could have come into town quietly, but that was not the way it was to be on this occasion.

Rather than enter town quietly, Jesus allowed the word to get out that the Rabbi was coming to town. Jesus was no stranger to Jerusalem. He had been here many times, but even more, the name of Jesus had become a common name as people all around had heard about Him and had actually gone out and heard Him preach. Many had witnessed the miracles He performed and many believed that He was the promised Messiah.

For His entrance into town, Jesus did not ride on a horse, a steed, a stallion as this animal would be the symbol of triumph. Jesus was not riding into town to defeat Jerusalem, to be victorious over any worldly culture or country, that was not the purpose for which He was born. And it was His non-earthly, non-political ways that turned the Pharisees against Him as they were looking for a social-political Savior to overthrow the Romans and set them up as rulers in the land.

No, Jesus did not ride into town in triumph. Instead of riding a horse, He did ride a donkey. The donkey was the symbol of humility. Jesus never came to earth to draw attention to Himself. Certainly He did gain massive amounts of attention, but that is usually the way it is with great servant leadership. Jesus did not come to be served, but He came to serve. Jesus came to live perfectly for us in our place because we cannot. Jesus came in humility. Just as He was born, humble and in a stable, in a manger, so He rode into Jerusalem for His last time in humility, to give His life for ours.

As Jesus rode into town, as the crowd gathered, as joy, excitement and perhaps tension, filled the air, the words of Zechariah and even Isaiah came to mind as the crowd shouted out calling Jesus the “Son of David.” If any name is a loaded name it would be to call Jesus the Son of David. David was one of the greatest kings of Israel. David was known to be one of the forerunners of the Messiah, who would be a Son of David.

Calling Jesus the name “Son of David,” was calling Him the expected Messiah. Is it no wonder the Pharisees and the teachers of the law got so upset, because this crowd was confessing Jesus as the Promised Messiah. And, again, Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting. They were looking for an earthly King. They were looking for someone to overthrow Roman rule and to set them up as the rulers, leaders in the land. Jesus was definitely not that man. Yet, the people knew and many believed that Jesus was the true Messiah.

And in honor of the Messiah the crowds of people waved Palm Branches and put their coats and branches on the street, similarly to a red carpet. The Palms might well have been a symbol of the national emblem of independence for Jerusalem. The Palm branch may have been perceived as a bit of a Jewish Flag of sorts. The question the Palm branches may have raised would be concerning Jesus, could He be King?

What does all this mean? Palm Sunday reminds us that this event is the beginning of the end, and the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus has come to town for the last time. He knows that by the end of the week He will be crucified. Jesus knows that it was for this reason, to be crucified, that He was born and now after thirty-three years of life, after three years of public ministry, He is ready to complete the event for which He was born.

Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem meant that the work He came to work was almost complete. Jesus had fulfilled all the law perfectly. There was no law that Jesus broke or did not fulfill. And Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly for us, in our place, because we cannot. And there was no prophecy concerning the Messiah, the Savior that Jesus did not fulfill, for Israel, and for us. Jesus came as the one true Israel to do what the whole nation could not do. Jesus came as the one true Messiah to do for all of us what we are unable to do. At the transfiguration of Jesus both Moses and Elijah attested to the fact that Jesus had accomplished that which was set before Him.

And so Jesus came not to be crowned king, but to humbly give His life for all. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Here again, we are reminded that God is the prime mover. God created all things perfect and holy and man messed it up, all God created, bringing sin into the world and the curse of sin. God created us to love us and in His promise to Adam and Eve, in His reiterating His promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and so forth, in the narrowing of the fulfillment of the line of His promise He continued to love us. His love is seen in the ultimate sacrifice of Himself on the cross for us, for you and for me, not because He had to, but because He wanted to, because of His great love for us.

As we begin Lent, as the ashes remind us that we are dust and to dust we will return, as we begin these next forty days, not counting Sundays, I would ask, encourage, even challenge you to be loved by God. Be in His Word. Follow His life over these forty days. Contemplate your part in these events, that it was because of my sin that Jesus had to die on the cross, and even if I were the only person in the world, He still would have done it all for me. Take the time to prepare so that when Easter does roll around, you will be able to have a great and grand celebration. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (6 of 12)


The Bible is a book of history, poetry, letters, and revelation of what is to come. As one reads the Bible it is important to make note of what is the focus of all these different types of literature, as well as the styles of writing and the like. Most important when reading the Bible is to notice where its focus is. All of the Bible has one main focus, and that focus is on Christ and what He came to do. The Bible’s main focus is not on what Jesus came to show us how to do. The Bible’s main focus is not on what Jesus tells us is important. No, the focus of the Bible is on what Jesus did, does and continues to do for us.

When we read, especially when we read anything that suggests that it is telling us about the Bible or the Word of God, how do we know if it is true or not? We know by whether or not its focus matches the focus of the original. Does what we read focus its attention on Jesus and what He has done, does and continues to do for us, that is a right and proper, Biblical focus? Or is the focus on what we are (supposedly supposed) to do for Jesus, which is not in line with the focus of the Bible?

As one seminary professor would say, “Check to see who is running the verbs.” If we are running the verbs, if we are doing the doing, then we get it wrong. It is only as the Lord is running the verbs, doing the doing, that we know what we are reading is true.

Listen carefully. If we are hearing and reading what we (you) must do; how we (you) must live; what we (you) must offer to the Lord, then we (you) are running the verbs, and this is contrary to the focus and message of the Bible.

However, if we are hearing and reading how God has done this for us; how God has done that for us; how God has given this to us; then what we are hearing and reading is in line with the focus of the Bible, and we know that it is true.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (5 of 12)

Beginning with Truth

When Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate the following conversation took place, “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him’” (John 18:37-38 (ESV)).

Pilate did not know what truth was, even though Truth was sitting right in front of Him. This is the way it is with a fallen world. This is the way it is in a world that has disowned our Lord. Without Jesus, without an absolute, without an ultimate authority, without God’s Word, there is and can be no truth.

Earlier in His Gospel, John lets Jesus speak for Himself when it comes to this matter of truth. “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)).

Jesus is truth. Apart from Jesus there can be no truth. This principle harkens back to the fact that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The fear of the Lord, faith in Jesus is the beginning (and actually it is the middle and the end) of truth.

When the world attempts to separate itself from its Creator, something must fill the void. What tends to fill the void is relativism or some wishy washy excuse for truth. Thus, we get such statements as, “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me.” Unfortunately, if there is no objective truth, then there is no right or wrong, thus I can do as I please, I am not accountable to anyone, and no one can do anything or say anything to correct me, since I am neither right nor wrong.

Yet, to espouse a truth, any truth, is necessary and certainly involves admitting that there are absolutes and there is an ultimate authority, which remains difficult in a world which would attempt to separate itself from such authority. So, we are back to the statement the fact that to begin with truth means we must begin with Jesus.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (4 of 12)

Wisdom - Fear of the Lord

The path to critical thinking must begin where wisdom begins, with the Lord and with the fear of the Lord. Time and again we are told, by David, and especially by the wisest man of human history, his son, King Solomon, that wisdom is not something that comes with age or experience, but wisdom is a gift from the Lord and has its beginning in the fear of the Lord.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10 (ESV)). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)). “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15:33 (ESV)).

This fear of the Lord is not necessarily a being afraid; although, as we stand before our Lord in all our sin, deserving nothing less than His eternal judgement on us, we should be afraid. Rather, this fear of the Lord is a reverent respect for our Lord, our Creator God. This fear begins with acknowledging that the Lord is the Creator, and as the Creator, He knows, more than anyone, what is mete, right, and salutary in His world.

True wisdom is a gift given to those who fear the Lord, who acknowledge that He is the one who is the ultimate authority and the ultimate one to whom we must be responsible. True wisdom is freely submitting to our Creator God, letting Him have His way with us, and being given His Word and guidance over our own opinion, reason and strength, which we know is fallible.

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28 (ESV)).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (3 of 12)

Is vs. Contains

Either the Bible is the Word of God, or it merely contains the Word of God. If the Bible contains the Word of God, that means that I must diligently search it in order to ascertain which parts really are His Word and which parts are not.

If you and I both search the Scriptures in order to ascertain which really is the Word of God and which is not, we will, more than likely, come to different conclusions (unless we agree that it is all the Word of God). There may be parts of Scripture you do not like and other parts which I do not like, so in our own “wisdom” we would each exclude those parts as being the “Word of God.” If we continued this process with many people, certainly we would come to the conclusion that none of it is the “Word of God.” In essence, then, what we have done is torn down the foundation and made none of it worth anything. We have taken away its authority. And notice who then, really, becomes the authority. We do, that is fallible human, fallen into sin, human minds.

On the other hand, if we believe the Bible really is the Word of God, that means that we are bound to all of it. There may be parts with which we disagree or do not like, but that does not rob it of its authority. Instead, understanding that the Bible is the Word of God means that it does have authority and even all authority. That the Bible is the Word of God means that there are absolutes, that there is an ultimate authority to whom we are all responsible. That the Bible is the Word of God means that we are and will be held accountable for our actions. And it means that if we can believe God in one part of the Bible, we can believe Him in all parts. Notice then, who really is the authority, our loving Creator God.

Textbooks, theories, hypothesis, and the like come and go and change. The Word of God has never and will never change. So, do we believe in the thoughts and wisdom of man or in the Word of God?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lessons in Critical Thinking (2 of 12)

A Comparative process.

Having established that there is a God and that there are absolutes, the next part of critical thinking is the process of comparing all assertions to what is known to be true and right. How do you know if one dollar bill is a real one dollar bill or a counterfeit dollar bill? You compare it to what you know to be a real one dollar bill. Likewise, how do you know if a theory is true or counterfeit? How do you know if a hypothesis is true or counterfeit? You compare each to what you know is true.

We know there is a God, and we know what is true because He has given us what is true, His Word, that book we call the Bible. When theories and hypotheses are put forth as being true, we are to compare them to what we know is true, the Word of God, the Bible. The Apostle Paul writes, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 (ESV)).

It is neither meet, right or salutary, or wise for that matter, to blindly believe others. As we are daily bombarded with messages from newspapers, television, radio, books, family and friends, churches, cults, sects and would be religions personalities, we would do well to not believe everything we read, see or hear. We would do well to take what we read, see and hear and compare it with what we know to be true.

Interestingly enough, people who work to distinguish real from counterfeit money spend most of their time looking at what is real. This makes it easier to distinguish the counterfeit. Taking this as a lesson, we would do well spending most of our time reading what is true, that is reading, studying, hearing, meditating on the Word of God, the Bible, and less time thinking about what is counterfeit, so that we will be able to rightly distinguish what is true, right and from God, that is what is an absolute and what is not.