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.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
To God Be Glory - December 21, 2014 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Romans 16:25-27
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “It’s a mystery to me.” Or have you ever read a “mystery” novel? Or, maybe you watch shows on television that are consider “mystery” shows? When we speak in such terms, using the word “mystery,” we usually means something that we cannot explain, at least not right off. Of course, most “mystery” novels and “mystery” shows disclose the secret by the end of the book. In our text for this morning Paul speaks of “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” To help us better understand this “mystery” and the revelation of the secret of this mystery let us take a moment to do a little word study. The word “mystery” in the New Testament is often connected with another word, the word “kerygma,” which means “proclamation,” that is that one proclaims or preaches something. Paul links this word to the cross which is divine wisdom. Linking these words together, Paul is speaking of the mystery of the eternal counsel of God hidden from the world but fulfilled and revealed in the cross of Christ. This mystery is before the world, hidden from eternity, hidden in God, but fulfilled and revealed in Christ. And today this mystery is continually revealed through the means of grace, especially through the proclamation of the Gospel.
So, what about this mystery? What is such a mystery? For us Christians, there really is no mystery, at least not any more. For those of us who have been given faith, the mystery has been revealed and we reveal in the mystery and give glory to God. Yet, there are many in our world who continue to be confused and for whom the Gospel, the Good News of salvation is and continues to be a mystery. For too many, their eyes are veiled and they cannot fathom the revelation of the mystery of God. Perhaps we would do well to reveal this mystery to them. What is this mystery? The mystery is how a Creator God could so love and care for His creation so much that He would do anything and everything (even giving His own life) to save His creation. This just does not make sense to the average person. We live in what has been called a “throw away” society, even a consumer society. We buy, use, and dispense, that is, we throw away and discard what we have used. We purchase “fast” food, eat it on the run and then dispose of our trash. Certainly we must all admit that we are very wasteful people. Unfortunately, this translates into the fact that we very often care very little for the so many blessings we have.
Maybe the illustration of a potter might help. A potter works the clay in order to make a pot to serve a purpose. If the potter is not satisfied with the clay he or she simply smashes it and begins to rework it, or if they have completed the work and then in the firing process, that is when it is put in the oven to make it hard, something happens, they simply throw it away. God is our Creator. He has molded us. Through trials and tribulations He fires us. And yet, even as we are conceived and born in sin, even as we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, He does not simply start over or throw us away. Instead, because of His great love for us, He set out to redeem us, to buy us back to take care of our impurities and imperfections, and this is no small task. And so this, to many, is a mystery, how a Creator God could have such love for His wayward creation.
This is not a new mystery, but this is a mystery that was given through the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. Moses recorded the words of the Lord as He recounted the story of His creation of the world, out of nothing, in six - twenty-four hour days. Moses recorded the account of the perfection of God’s creation, that all was good and even very good. And Moses, by inspiration from God, who was there, recounts the fall into sin. God, who created all things out of nothing, who created the man in His own image, perfect and holy, who created the woman as a helper suitable for the man, gave only one requirement for His creatures, not to eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And God even set the penalty for such transgression if it would occur and that penalty was eternal spiritual death and even physical death.
And, of course, we know the story, Eve and Adam did disobey God. They did eat from the fruit and their disobedience brought sin and death into our once perfect world. Fortunately, God, who knew this would happen, even before He set out and began creation, God also knew that He would take care of this sin as well. See, this too is a mystery, a mystery from eternity, that is that God knew all these things from before He set out to create and yet, He created this world and us anyway. And He also knew the price that He would willingly pay for His creation.
The mystery is given in the Old Testament and the mystery is made know to the world through the birth of Jesus Christ. We are in the fourth week of Advent, preparing ourselves for our celebration of the birth of Christ, the birth of God in flesh, according to the promise God made in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior. Jesus is God from eternity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God who took on human flesh and blood in order to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. Jesus had to be truly God in order to be perfect, in order to live perfectly, in order to do for us all that we in our imperfection cannot do for ourselves. Jesus also had to be truly human in order to be our substitute. Just as we speak of different things, such as apples and oranges, these cannot be substituted because they are not the same, so our substitute had to be one of us, thus Jesus was truly one of us, truly human.
Jesus came, God in flesh, to do for us what we cannot do. Jesus came to bring reconciliation, to set our account with God straight, that is to pay what we owe, the price for our sins as well as for the sins of all people of all places of all times. Remember, when the promise to send a Savior was first made, it was made to Adam and Eve, to all people, to all their offspring. Yes, later the promise was narrowed, that is that the Savior would be born through the chosen people of the children of Israel, but that does not negate the fact that the promise was for all people, especially for you and for me.
Today Jesus still comes to us. He comes to us to gives us all His good gifts and blessings. He comes to give us forgiveness of sins. He comes to give us faith and to bring us strengthening of faith. He comes to strengthen and keep us in faith.
And, as Paul says, our Lord continues to come to us to “bring about obedience of faith,” that is to work in and through us so that we do the good works which God has prepared for us to do. Of course we understand that this is properly the work of the Holy Spirit. And yet, this too is a mystery, that is how we, who are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God can do anything that is pleasing in God’s eyes. But these things we do, as the Lord works these good works in and through us and as they are done to His glory.
What does this mean? For many in our world, and unfortunately for many even in the Christian church this continues to be a mystery. This is the mystery of God’s great love. How often we, even as faithful Christians, wonder how, in our sin, God can love us so much? Yet, we realize that this is just the work of Satan trying to fill us with doubt and despair in order to lead us away from Christ. Our answer is, as always, to go back to the place where God reveals His mystery and that is to go back to His Word which rightly and boldly proclaims our forgiveness and God’s love to us in Christ.
Yes, the mystery has been and continues to be revealed. It is revealed every time the Word of God is read and heard and, yet it continues to be missed by many. It continues to be rejected by many. God’s word is rejected as phoney, as counterfeit, as restrictive and so it continues to be a mystery.
The mystery has been revealed in Christ, the Word made flesh. As we read and hear all the promises of the Old Testament, we see all these promises, not just some, but all these promises fulfilled in this one person, Jesus Christ, God in flesh. Certainly the odds that only one person might fulfill one or two of these promises would be great, but Jesus fulfilled them all. He is the one eternal God from eternity, without beginning, without end, who intervened in our own human history, who took on human flesh and blood in order to take care of our broken relationship with Himself as Creator God.
The mystery is revealed in confession and absolution. Whenever we confess our sins as we do at the beginning of almost every worship service, and we hear those most beautiful words, “your sins are forgiven,” then we know that this is exactly what we have, forgiveness of sins. No, our sins did not simply vanish. The price for our sins had to be paid and it was paid. It was paid by Christ on the cross.
The mystery is revealed in Holy Baptism. Again, unfortunately too many people fail to understand the power of water and God’s Word, depending, instead, on their own finite, human understanding. And yet our Lord tells us how baptism even saves us, not simply the water, but the word connected with God’s Word, namely His name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through which our Lord works to give us faith, to write His name on us, to write our names in the book of life, to claim us as His own.
And the mystery is revealed in the Lord’s Supper. Again, according to our own finite human understanding too many fail to understand our Lord’s Word when He tells us that Jesus took bread and took wine and gave it saying that this “is,” not that this “is changed into,” nor that this “symbolizes,” but that this “is” My body and My blood. And that as we do “this,” that is as we eat His body and drink His blood we do this in remembrance, that is we do this in participation of His death and resurrection, so that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
Most of you know that I tend to be a simple person and I like things simple. The simpler the better. That is the reason I always say, when you have a theological question, the first place I always go to for an answer is my catechism, which many equate with being a children’s catechism. I guess because we are usually in seventh and eighth grade when we go through it. Yet, this is the first place I always go for answers to great theological questions. So, for an answer to the mystery of God, might I suggest in simple terms and this is nothing new, you have heard it before, we know we get it right, we know we get the mystery of God right when we get it right as to who is doing what. When we are “running the verbs,” that is when we put ourselves in the position of doing the doing, we get it wrong and everything continues to be a mystery. However, when we have God “running the verbs,” that is when God is doing the doing and we are the ones being done to, when God is doing the giving and we are the ones being given to, then we get it right and we have the mystery revealed. And certainly, when God is doing the doing and doing the giving, then He is also the one who moves and stirs in us to say, “to Him be the glory.” Which brings us back to Paul’s words, which are words of benediction and words with which I leave you this morning, “25Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—27to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (v. 25-27).