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, April 26, 2015
Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, already. Can you believe it, Easter was four weeks ago? Today is also what has been traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Today gets the name “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel reading is the account of Jesus telling us that He is our Good Shepherd. Four weeks ago we witnessed just how good a shepherd Jesus is in that He did lay down His life for us as He suffered and died on the cross. In our First Lesson for this morning we hear Peter and John bear witness of Jesus and the fact that it is only by faith in Jesus that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In our text John helps us to understand what it means for us to be Christians and how, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we are to be imitators of Christ.
First, John sounds a little like James in telling us that faith shows itself in action. We begin at verse sixteen, “16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (v. 16-18).
Notice again as we said last week, and as we have said many times before, God is the prime mover. God loves us first and this love is seen in Jesus who gave His life for ours. Jesus did not have to give His life, but He freely gave His life. Because of His great love for us, a love we really cannot even fathom, He gave up the glory that was His in heaven, took on human flesh and blood, being born as a man, lived a perfect life, doing all that we are to be doing and cannot, obeying all the commandments perfectly, fulfilling on the promises and prophecies, perfectly and then He took our sins upon Himself, all our sins and all the sins of all people of all places of all times and He paid the price for our sins. This love is indeed a great love.
God loves first and our response of love and faith is that we are to be willing to do the same for others. As Christians, being loved by God, being given faith by God, being forgiven by God, we are to love others and our love is to show itself in this, that we are to be willing to give our lives for others as Jesus gave His life for ours.
Certainly God knows that this giving of our lives for others is almost impossible, and so, as John tells us, we respond by doing even less than giving our lives, that is, we respond by simply giving help to others. We help others by offering kind words, by offering words of encouragement. We help others by offering to help with giving of our time and our talents. At times, we even help others by offering our financial resources.
God loves us and we love Him and others. We love, not simply in words, but in actions. This reflects what James tells us when he says that “faith without works is meaningless.” Even Martin Luther who worked to reform the church which believed one was saved by faith and works, helps us understand that we are saved by grace, through faith apart from works, even Luther reminds us that the natural response of forgiveness and faith is to do good works.
John reassures us that God knows what is in our hearts. We pick up at verse nineteen, “19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him”(v. 19- 22).
How well we understand that as human beings and as adults we tend to be harder on ourselves than others are on us. Likewise as Christians, as we grow in sanctification we tend to be harder on ourselves, thinking we should do more. And perhaps there are times that we should do more, yet, always remembering that God never asks more of us than He knows we can give.
God knows what is in our hearts. God knows if we are cheerful givers or if we are giving begrudgingly. God knows if we are refusing to help others because we really cannot help or if there is some other reason. It may be frightening to know that God knows so we might remind ourselves that God also knows that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins.
Our confidence, then, is in God, not in ourselves. We cannot do enough to save ourselves. We cannot give enough to save ourselves. We cannot earn or pay for our salvation. Our salvation, our faith, our forgiveness come from outside of us, not inside of us. Our confidence is in God who knows all things and who has taken care of all things for us.
With confidence we pray to God, knowing He will answer according to what He knows is best for us, according to His good and gracious will. Interestingly enough, I believe we do not have so difficult a time praying for God’s will to be done, but I do believe we have a more difficult time accepting God’s will, whatever that will may be. So, perhaps we would do well to pray, not only, “Thy will be done,” but also, “Lord, help me to accept Your will, even and especially when You say ‘No.’” And all the while understanding that God does know what is best for us, even more than we know what is best for ourselves.
John talks about obeying God’s commands. What are God’s commands? We pick up at verse twenty-three, “23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (v. 23-24).
Normally when we hear about or think about the commands of God we think in terms of the Ten Commandments. And certainly as we go through the Ten Commandments we cannot help but understand the fact that not only can we not keep the commandments, but we fail miserably and we are indeed quite sinful. And yet, there is more to the commandments than simply being a list of dos and don’ts. In our text, John summarizes what Jesus summarizes; God’s command is to love Jesus and one another. Love is the fulfillment of the law. If we could love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind then we would not break the first three commandments. If we could love our neighbor as ourselves, then we would not break the last seven commandments. The difficulty is that in and of ourselves we cannot do either of these things.
John reminds us of God’s command, that we believe in Jesus and love one another. At the same time, notice that it is God who loves first. God loves first, giving us the ability to love. Here again we see God as the prime mover. God loves and we are loved. God gives and we are given to. God does and we are done to. God loves and He gives us the ability to love.
As God loves us and gives us the ability to love others, interestingly enough, then, as we love, God loves even more. Here again, as we always know, we cannot out give God. We cannot out give Him financially speaking, understanding that He is the one who gives to us in the first place. And now, here we understand that we cannot out give God in a loving way. We cannot out love God, remembering that He first loves us and He gives to us to be able to love others.
God is the prime mover. He gives, strengthens and keeps in faith through His means of grace. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who continues to care for us today, He is the one who gave His life on the cross and the one through whom all good things are given.
What does this mean? God does first, He loves, He does, He gives. And we are loved, we are done to and we are given to. Apart from God we are lost and condemned persons.
God loves first and then God works in us to respond. Yet, even here John gives us a warning. Back in verse seventeen we were reminded that if we do not respond, if we do not love, if we do not give, these are ways we refuse the gifts God has to give. As John says, “How does God’s love abide in him?” How does God’s love abide in one who does not respond to all the Lord has to give? It does not. Thus, we see that a response of faith is not only natural, but also necessary. To not respond, then, is truly to refuse the gifts God has to give. To respond, however, means even greater blessings.
John reminds us that as we respond, God loves and gives even more. Here again we are back to that old cliché, “You cannot out give God.” It is amazing when you think about it, God first loves us, then He helps us to love others and finally He loves us even more. God first gives to us, He gives us life at conception; new life, even eternal life through the waters of Holy Baptism; the ability as well as gifts and talents and a job in order to work, to earn a wage and He moves in us to return a portion to Him. And the more we return to Him, the more blessings He has in store for us. This then may and hopefully will become a reciprocal circle, that of the Lord giving, our returning, the Lord giving more and our returning more.
As this reciprocal circle continues we are then even more reminded of the importance of regular and diligent use of the means of grace. As Luther attested, the more he knew he had to do in a day, the more he knew he needed to spend time in prayer at the beginning of the day. The Lord provides, not only for our physical well being, not only by giving us life and treasure, but also by giving us talents and time. In all areas of life, we cannot out give God. The more He gives to us, the more we return to Him, the more yet, He still gives to us. And in Malachi He asks that we test Him in these things.
There is, what I call a camp song, and I know it is not the greatest song from a theological point of view, but I believe the chorus somewhat summarizes this text for this morning. I know you have heard it, it says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” John is telling us this morning that the world will know we are Christians by our love, but even more, by our response of faith, the giving of our whole lives over to the Lord as He has first given His life for ours. May the Lord, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, of us, who gave His life for us, continue to work in and through you so that you might show your faith through your life, in response to all that He has done, does and will continue to do for you. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
This morning we continue to bask in the glow of the resurrection. Indeed, for us Christians the very reason we worship on Sunday, the very reason that Sunday is now our Sabbath, our day of rest is because of the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week, thus for us Christians each and every Sunday is an Easter celebration. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
In our text for this morning, John’s first letter, not the Gospel of John, but his first letter, John helps us to understand what love is, what true love is, that is that true love begins with the Father’s love, with God the Father’s love. True love is that God loves us first and He shows His love in the gift of His Son. We begin at verse one, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 1-3).
Notice first and foremost that God is the prime mover. He first loved us, making us His children. And notice that this is a passive clause indicating that this is all done by the Father Himself. It is the Father who has given love to us, making us His children and we are simply given to and made His children with no effort on our part. And how does He make us His children? Two weeks ago we celebrated Good Friday; the giving of Jesus’ life for ours on the cross, His suffering the punishment for our sins and on Sunday, on Easter Sunday we celebrated His resurrection, the complete defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is how He purchased us, by paying the price for our sins. And now He makes us His children through means, namely through His means of grace. He makes us His children through His Word, which does what it says, in other words, when the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God gives us faith and says we have faith, that is exactly what we have, faith, given to us by God through His Word. Another means the Lord uses to make us His children is Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name are put on us at Baptism, the Lord gives us faith, forgiveness of sins, life, even eternal life and salvation. These things come to us from outside of us and are given to us from outside of us. These are the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s giving. He makes us His children.
When Jesus came into the world, as we are reminded in the Gospel accounts, the world rejected Him. Jesus was not the Savior the people were looking for. Jesus was not a social/political Savior. Jesus did not come and overthrow the oppressors of the Children of Israel, at least not the oppressors they wanted overthrown. Jesus simply did not fit their definition of who the Savior was or what He should do.
The world rejected Jesus and as He makes us His children, we should expect nothing more or less from the world, in other words, we should expect that the world will reject us as well. As children of the Lord we do not speak the same language as the world, we do not have the same priorities as the world, we do not have the same outlook as the world. The world speaks of power, fame and fortune. The world speaks of the things of this world, that is that this is all there is. We speak of sin and forgiveness. We speak of absolutes, absolute truth and love. We speak of the transient nature of this world, that our lives in this world are fast and fleeting And so, our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come.
John says that we are not yet what we will be. John is speaking of our goal of sanctification, that is that, after being given faith by the Holy Spirit, through the outward means of grace, the Word of God and Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us to make us more and more Christ-like. Of course, we understand that we will never be completely Christ-like, at least not this side of heaven. But when we reach our eternal home of heaven, we will be made perfect. So, we are no longer what we were before being given faith, that is we are no longer complete sinners, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet what we will be in heaven, complete and perfect saints.
But, John is not through speaking. He moves on to outline the two sides of our nature. We pick up at verse four, “4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (v. 4-7).
John talks about sin and sinning and we do not shy away from speaking about sin and sinning either. John says that sinning is lawlessness. Sinning, not doing what God would have us to do, that is sins of omission and doing those things God says we are not to do, that is sins of commission are lawlessness. Having other gods, taking His name in vain, absenting ourselves from worship, Bible class, family and private devotions, these are ways we break His laws, His commandment, His Words. Disobeying our parents or those in authority over us, hurting, harming, hating, actually killing others, lusting after others, taking things that do not belong to us, borrowing without returning, vandalism, speaking evil of others, gossiping, coveting, all these are ways we break His commandments. All these are ways we sin. And we do sin. We sin boldly. We sin daily. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing as we ought and sins of commission, doing things we ought not. Let us face it, we are sinners.
And yet, there is good news, even great news. Jesus took away our sin. Actually we would better say, He paid the price for our sins. He did this by dying on the cross, which is what we celebrate on Good Friday, Jesus suffering the punishment for our sins. Certainly we may have a difficult time with Good Friday, and we should, because it is because of our sins that Jesus had to die, yet at the same time we are so thankful, because Good Friday shows God’s great love for us. As I have mentioned before, it is only as we realize, acknowledge and confess, just how sinful we really are that we can realize how gracious God really is. If God only had to die a little for me, then His love does not seem that big. But when we realize that I am the biggest sinner and still, Jesus died for me, then we realize just how great and wonderful His love truly is.
Because of what Jesus has done for us, because the Holy Spirit puts faith in our hearts, our response to all the Lord does for us and give to us is that as Christians, with the Lord’s help, we work to keep way from sinning, but please understand this does not imply perfectionism on our part. This side of heaven we will never reach perfection, let alone get close.
John next distinguishes between malicious sin versus sins of weakness. Malicious sins are sins where we are thinking up ways to sin against God. Malicious sins are when we want to ask, “Will God forgive me if I do ________?” and you fill in the blank. This is premeditated sin and this is malicious sin. This is not the same as sins of weakness and while we are on this earth, we can know for certain that we will continue to sin sins of weakness. Sinning is our nature, after all, we are conceived and born in sin as David tells us and we cannot help ourselves, as Paul reminds us.
And so, John puts up this division, that we are either Christ’s or the devil’s. And, although we may be Christians, we may have been given faith in Jesus, that does not keep the devil away, as a matter of fact, the devil works hardest on those he does not have. So, if you are never tempted, then be wary.
Yet, do not be deceived, there is no perfectionism while on this earth. Again, we will never reach the state of perfection while we live in this world It is only when we reach our eternal home in heaven that we will be perfect.
What does this mean? First we are reminded that God is the prime mover. As John says elsewhere, we love because He first loves us. Here, as you know and as you have heard me say many times, I like image of the Sun and the moon. When we see the moon shining in the sky, we know we are seeing the reflection of the Sun, because the moon has no light of its own. Thus when we love others and when we are loved by others, we know that we and they are merely reflecting the love of God to each other, because in and of ourselves, apart from God, we have no love of our own.
God first loves us and then God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. These are gifts from God. These are not gifts we take or get on our own, which would mean they are not gifts, but they are gifts from God. And these gifts He gives through means, namely through the outward, external means of His Word, the Bible; Holy Baptism wherein He tells us that Baptism which corresponds to circumcision which was done on the eight day after birth, now saves you; the Lord’s Supper wherein we eat His body and drink His blood thus participating in His sacrifice for us making His perfect life our perfect life, His perfect death our perfect death and His perfect resurrection our perfect resurrection; and confession and absolution where in as we confess all our sins so that as He speaks His most beautiful word of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven you,” and we know we have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation. Just as we did not choose to be born into this world, but we were conceived by our parents and born into this world, so we do not choose to save ourselves, to get forgiveness for ourselves, these gifts are given from outside of us, namely our Lord has chosen us and gives us the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, faith, and life and He delivers these gifts through these means of grace.
God first loves us, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life and then God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is our becoming more and more Christ-like, but here again, this is not something we do in and of ourselves, this is God’s doing as well. God the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to always point to Christ and that is why we do not hear or see much of Him, He is the one, working through the means of grace who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and we do them because He is working them in and though us.
And finally, God brings us into His kingdom. Notice how in all these instances it is God who is doing the doing. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God has His way with us and we are thankful. We know we get it right and we can have confidence only in this, that God always does it right, and gets it right. I may err, but God never errs. Thanks be to God.
As we continue to celebrate Easter and the resurrection and life of our Savior, He continues to fill us with His love and as He helps us to reach out and love others, so we pray that He will reach out, in and through us, to share His love with even more, so that all people may come to know His great love, be given faith and be kept in faith until His return, or our departure from this world. Finally, may the Lord bless our time together in this world, and His Word, so that we might be given, strengthened, and kept in faith, so that His kingdom may be extended and so that praise and glory may be given to His Holy Name. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
“As we pray, so we believe” is one way of expressing the understanding that what we do informs and instructs how we believe so that when we change how we pray, we are changing what we believe. Another way of saying this more distinctly is that our doctrine, that is what we believe, teach and confess, should determine our practice, that is how we do what we do, whether what we are doing has to do with the way we evangelize, the way we teach, the way we live, and especially the way we act out our faith in Divine Service, or worship. Indeed, we practice our faith in worship in a way that flows out of what we believe, so that in worship we are instructed in what we believe. So these two things, doctrine and practice, or as sometimes stated and equated, style (practice) and substance (doctrine) cannot be separated but go together hand in hand. This understanding of doctrine and practice being inseparable can be seen in what has been happening in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod over the past thirty-five years as there was an attempt to separate these two entities with the belief that to change how one acts does not affect what one believes. The following is an example of how these two, doctrine and practice do go hand in hand.
The so called “Church Growth” movement of the early 1980s brought many ideas to the table concerning how to “grow” a church. All of the ideas however were ideas from a social or cultural understanding of how people act and respond to, shall we say, “persuasion.” In other words, as a famous movie says, “Build it and they will come,” the church growth strategy was “do this or change that and they will come.” Now, from a strictly social point of view of attracting people, many of the ideas were valid and true. Certainly people are prone to only fill 80% of a space before they feel uncomfortable, except we might suggest being at a concert or ball game of sorts. Certainly it is true that in order to fill a church building that ample parking is necessary. So, we concede that there are obvious (or not so obvious) secular, social, cultural norms that need to be acknowledged and provided.
But what about the very heart of the Church? What about what we believe, teach and confess? Are these things that we believe important, just as important, more important or less important than luring people into our facility? How is it that a person is brought to faith? How is it that a person is strengthened and kept in faith? Where is the power of the giving of faith? What is the means through which one comes into the church, is given faith, and made a member of the Holy Christian Church?
The Lutheran Church has always believed in the “solas”; Sola Fida (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Scritpura (Scripture alone) and these three “alones” have guide our faith lives, at least up until recent history. We believe, teach and confess, or at least according to our confessional documents and history, that we are conceived and born in sin, that our will is no longer free but has been tainted by sin, that we cannot come to Jesus nor claim faith in Him but that He must come to us, that He is the one who gives us faith, forgiveness and life, and that He does His work through means, namely the means of grace, that is through His Holy Word, through Holy Baptism, through Confession and Absolution and through His Holy Supper. Thus we believe that we are saved by grace through faith given to us through Scripture as the Holy Spirit works through these means to give us the gifts God has to give.
What we hear today are statements such as, “We have to get out of the way of God’s Word.” “We have to be conscious of the culture in which we are working.” “We have to make God’s Word fitting for the culture we are trying to reach.” These statements not only infer but outright state that we no longer believe that the Word of God is efficacious, but that it is ineffective, and so there is something we must do in order to help God out. Here again, we are not only implying but outright stating that the Holy Spirit is ineffective as well because even He cannot work through God’s Word. So we see that as we have changed something we believe as innocuous as our practice of how we present the Word of God, we have changed our belief concerning the power and effectiveness of that same Word.
So, today the three solas of the church have become the solas of “Sola Cultura,” “Sola Societas,” “Sola Civilis,” that is, culture alone, society alone, and civil alone. It would seem that today we believe, teach and confess that God gives His gifts through how we relate to the culture and society especially in a civil manner. It would seem that today we believe it is our efforts and how we exercise those efforts that are what are effective in giving faith to people.
So, in an attempt to grow the church, we have analyzed the culture, interviewed the society, and have civilized what we do so that we might attract people to be a part of our group. In the process we have given up the true identity of our group and that thing that makes us who we are, or who we were, so that we are no longer that to which we were attempting to draw others to in the first place. Now we are a different body of beliefs and believers practicing a different set of practices which conform to our new beliefs and which teach those beliefs, even if they are not what we profess them to be.
Perhaps it is time to get back to God’s Word and let His Word dictate, guide and instruct us in how we are to be His people and His church. Perhaps it is time to renew our faith in the Good News of Christ alone for our salvation and God’s promise that the Holy Spirit will work when and where He pleases through His Word to give, strengthen and keep in faith. And then realize that means practicing being His people in the way He has given us to be His people, i.e., vocationally with His authority and promise to be with us giving us the words, His Word to speak as we have opportunity and as we are asked, in gentleness with respect and let God be God.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Our text is Luke 24:13-35: “13That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” This is our text.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! This morning as we celebrate our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His resurrection, we get a wonderful sermon from Him and a bold and gracious example of how we too might boldly, with His authority and promise to be with us, share the good news of His life, death and resurrection to others.
The whole of Scripture, the whole of the world focuses and centers on Christ. Jesus Christ is the focus of all things. All things focus on Jesus. In the Old Testament, in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, after God created the world, after man disobeyed and brought God’s curse on the world, God promised to send a Savior. The whole Old Testament points to that Savior, Jesus. Some have even suggested, and I believe it, that the events of the Old Testament were laid out in accord with God’s giving of the New Testament, in other words, God directed the events of the Old Testament so that we might be given the gifts of the New Testament.
Throughout the Old Testament, the patriarchs, that is our great church fathers, the great men of faith of the Old Testament always point to Jesus. The call of Abraham pointed to Jesus. The confirmation of the covenant to Isaac and Jacob, pointed to Jesus. The call of Moses pointed to Jesus. All the prophets, judges and kings pointed to Jesus.
Indeed, the whole nation of Israel, the children of Israel point to Jesus. Jesus was born as the embodiment of the nation of Israel. This is true because Jesus was born to do what the nation of Israel could not do. Jesus was born to do what we and all people of all times could not and cannot do. Remember, God’s demand has been, is and always will be perfection. We are to be perfect and yet, because of the curse, we are born in and live in imperfection.
The Old Testament pointed to Jesus and Jesus came into this world, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the human woman, the Virgin Mary. Jesus was born as the embodiment of Israel and all people for that matter. Jesus was born to fulfill all the promises concerning the coming Christ, and He did just that, being born of the line of King David even in the town of David, the town of Bethlehem. Indeed, all the promises and prophecies concerning the Messiah, in Hebrew, the Christ, in Greek, the Savior were fulfilled, completely in Jesus.
Jesus came as the embodiment of Israel and all people. He was conceived and born without sin. There was no sin in Him and He obeyed all of God’s laws perfectly, fulfilling the complete demand of God, to be perfect. Jesus accomplished and fulfilled the demands of God on all people, thus He was the embodiment, doing for all what we could not do.
Jesus lived perfectly for us, in our place, as our substitute. He had to be and was truly human so that He could substitute Himself for us. He lived perfectly for us in our place and then He who had no sin, He who knew no sin took our sins upon Himself. And He suffered. He suffered the complete punishment for our sins, eternal spiritual death, hell, for us in our place. He suffered and paid the price for all sins for all people for all times and He died. Yes, in Jesus, our God died. Jesus died and when He died His body was placed in the tomb and His soul, God Himself descended into hell to declare victory over Satan before He rose. On the third day He rose defeating sin, death and the devil.
During Jesus earthly life many of the people as we are told, those who had eyes could not see and ears could not hear or understand, indeed while Jesus was alive there was confusion concerning His identity. Was He a prophet? Was He simply a good man? Was He simply a good teacher? Or was He more? Was He the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior? Of course this confusion was also part of God’s plan because if the world had known who Jesus was they may not have crucified Him so that He would not have been able to accomplish our salvation.
Yet, after Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, after He lived, suffered, died and rose, and especially after He ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, He opened the eyes and ears of all the faithful so that seeing and hearing they may believe. Indeed, as Jesus showed Himself to be alive for those forty days, He opened their eyes and ears to hear and believe. And after He ascended, after Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit He continued even more opening the eyes, ears and hearts of many people through the preaching of the Word of God.
In our text for this morning we hear Jesus explaining how it all fit together. As they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty, so it is much easier after looking back on these events to see how well they fit together, how they all pointed to Jesus, how all history points to Jesus.
And so, even today we are better able to look back and see how all of history is focused on Jesus, the pivotal point and focus of time. In the Old Testament people were looking forward to the Christ and in faith in the Christ to come they were Christians and they were saved by God’s grace through faith given to them by God. Today we point back to Jesus, we believe Jesus is the Christ and so we are Christians and we are saved by God’s grace through faith given to us by the Holy Spirit.
And yet even in our world today there continue to be too many people who cannot see nor hear, because they do not and will not believe in Jesus. Too many in our world today continue to refuse and reject Jesus as the Christ. And yes, even among us Christians, day in and day out, week in and week out we continue to refuse and reject Jesus and the gifts He has to give. We refuse and reject our Lord and His gifts when we absent ourselves from the means of grace, from those means He has of giving us His good gifts and blessings. That is when we absent ourselves from reading God’s Word, having personal and family devotions, being in divine service and Bible class as often as offered, we are refusing and rejecting Jesus.
And yet, Jesus continues, He persists in coming to us in giving us chance after chance after chance, at least while we remain alive in this world and until He comes again, at which time it will be too late. Yes, Jesus continues to come to us today to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give. He comes to us to give to us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation won for us on the cross. That is why we come to worship every Sunday so that we might celebrate His resurrection and be given the gifts He has to give and because we worship a living God. We worship our God who defeated sin, death and the devil. We worship our God, Jesus who is the focus of all time.
Jesus is the answer, really, no matter what the question. Jesus is the focus of the Old Testament. All the Old Testament pointed to Him. Jesus is the focus of the New Testament. All the New Testament points to Him. Just as the people of the Old Testament were Christians, believing in the promised Christ to come, so we in the New Testament are Christians, believing that Jesus is the Christ who lived, suffered, died and rose for us. Just as the Old Testament Christians were saved by faith in the coming Christ, we are saved by faith in Jesus, the Christ. And just as the Old Testament Christians were saved by grace, by no effort of their own, we too are saved by grace, by the faith given to us by the Holy Spirit giving us faith, by Jesus earning and giving us forgiveness by God’s rich, undeserved grace for us. And so we rejoice, we celebrate, we give thanks. We say, to God alone be all glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! This morning we continue looking at the question behind the question as we say, we continue looking at the words to understand the meaning of the words. This morning in particular we look at the meaning of the words for the people of Jesus’ day and for us today.
We begin by going back to the Old Testament. After God delivered the Children of Israel from their bondage of slavery in Egypt, after He brought them out into the wilderness, on their way to the promised land, God gave His people His law, His moral law, His civil law and His ceremonial law. God instructed the people as to how to set up camp, and more importantly, how to erect a tabernacle, a place of worship in the wilderness. This tabernacle in the wilderness and later the temple in Jerusalem both were symbols of God’s presence among His Holy people. Both of these places of worship had a holy place and a holy of holies where only the high priest could go and where he would go only once a year on the day of atonement to present offerings for the people, the whole nation of Israel.
The holy place was entered daily to change the show bread, that is the twelve loaves of bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel and to keep the lamps burning. The Holy of Holies was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and it was entered only once a year on the day of Atonement by the one priest who was selected at random, by God and by the other priests. These two places, the holy place and the holy of holies were separated by a curtain.
The tabernacle and temple areas were set up in such a way that the common or unclean people were kept from entering into the clean or holy areas. The court yard allowed those of a certain degree of cleanness. The Holy place was meant only for the priest and the Holy of Holies was to be enter in only by an authorized person once a year. For an unauthorized person to enter or for anyone to enter in an unauthorized manner would mean immediate death.
So, what is it about this curtain and this secrecy? The physical make up of the tabernacle and temple were intended by God as a visual image of the relationship between God and His people, between the complete perfection and holiness of God and the complete depravity and sinfulness of His people. The curtain is our sin which separates us from God. God is perfection, we are sin. We cannot stand in God’s presence in our sin for to enter His presence in our sinful state would mean complete and utter annihilation.
In our sin we cannot, in and of ourselves approach God, because there is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to make ourselves clean or presentable in God’s presence. Yes, we may do some good deeds, or at least what we might think in our own imagination are good deeds, but even Isaiah reminds us that our good deeds are in God’s eyes as filthy rags.
And so we need a mediator. We need someone to stand in our stead. We need a substitute. And Jesus is our substitute. He is our mediator. The very reason He was born in this world, in human history was to live for us. We were conceived and born in sin, He was conceived and born in perfection. We constantly, continually, daily disobey God’s laws. Jesus obeyed all of God’s laws and commands perfectly, even perfectly fulfilling all the promises of God concerning the coming Messiah. In our sin we cannot stand before God. Only someone who is perfect can stand in the presence of God. Jesus is perfect so that He is able to be our perfect mediator, the one who is our go between.
Yes, Jesus is our Mediator. Because Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place, which is truly the fulness of the Gospel message, not simply that He died and rose, but because He fulfilled the demands of God’s law, be perfect, for us in our place, doing all we could not do, He is able to stand before God for us, on our behalf as our mediator.
As our mediator, because of His perfection, Jesus was able and did take our sins, all our sins, as well as all the sins of all people who have ever lived or who will ever live, from all places of the world and He paid the price for our sin. The price that was set in the Garden of Eden, the price of eternal spiritual death and hell, Jesus paid that price completely so that nothing else needs to be done for our forgiveness.
And now Jesus stands before God on our behalf as our mediator. He stands before God pleading our case for us. He stands before God having paid the price, the full price for our sins. When God looks at us He sees Jesus perfection on us and He is satisfied that we have been perfect, because it is Jesus perfection that He sees on us.
What does this mean? The price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death in hell. The price is not negotiable and there is never a sale. And all sins are equal and equally damnable in God’s eyes. Sin is sin is sin. There are no big and small sins in God’s eyes. Certainly we might image there are some crimes that are worse than others in this world, but in God’s eyes all sins are equally condemning. And because of our sin, because we are not perfect and holy, we owe our very lives. We would most certainly be destined to hell if not for Jesus. Sin has separated us from God and yet Jesus paid the price for all sins which separated us from God.
When Jesus died on the cross, the price for sin was paid, completely, for all sins of all places of all times. Because there was no more sin to separate us from God, the price for sin being paid, the curtain was now torn in two, from top to bottom. It is almost as if God Himself were tearing the curtain from top to bottom. The good news is that now we can go directly to God. We do not need a priest or mediator to talk with God. Certainly we still need Jesus as our mediator for eternal life, but we can at any time speak directly to God the Father because the sin which separated us from Him has been completely removed.
We can approach God because Jesus has paid the price for our sins, completely. Nothing more needs to be done. For anyone to tell you that there is something more you need to do to be given forgiveness of sins and eternal life, they are telling you that God’s grace, that Jesus’ suffering and death were not enough. Whereas we have the sure and certain Word of God as well as demonstrated at the death of Jesus with the tearing of the curtain in the temple that Jesus’ life, suffering and death were enough. And with His resurrection as the exclamation point of His defeat of sin, death and the devil.
Today we celebrate. We celebrate and we worship, not a dead God, but a living God, a life giving God, a forgiving God. We celebrate today and every Sunday Jesus’ defeat of sin, death and the devil. We celebrate all the gifts and blessings He has won and gives to us. We celebrate His life, suffering, death and resurrection for us. We celebrate His means of grace, those means through which He gives us the gifts He has to give. We celebrate His gifts of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We celebrate that we can come to Him anytime and anywhere and bring our prayers and petitions before Him. We celebrate that He continues to rule over us, watch over us and intercede for us. We celebrate and give thanks and praise to Him alone. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake, Amen. He is risen, He is risen, indeed! Alleluia. Amen.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Our text is John 19:30: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” This is our text.
Words have meaning. Sometimes words have more than one meaning and sometimes the meaning of a word is only understood in the context of the sentence or situation. Words have meaning and when words are translated from one language to another the fullness of the meaning may be missed. With that stated, this evening we want to look closely at one of the words Jesus spoke from the cross, the words, “It is finished.”
It is Good Friday. On Maundy Thursday we witnessed Jesus give us His Holy Supper out of the celebration of the Passover. We witnessed Jesus praying in Gethsemane. We witnessed Jesus being arrested. We witnessed the trials of Jesus through the night. We witnessed Jesus being striped, beaten, spat upon, slapped, and mocked. And now we witness Jesus nailed to the cross, suffering the punishment for our sins. In the four Gospels we hear a total of seven recorded statements of Jesus from the cross. This evening we will address the sixth statement.
In the fifth statement from the cross Jesus said, “I thirst.” In response to Jesus statement, implying a request from something to drink we are told that a sponge with sour wine or wine vinegar or gall were given to Him. The intent of this mixture was to relieve some of the pain and suffering and we might note that it was not until the end that Jesus made this request, indeed not until He had suffered the complete suffering.
After the sponge touched Jesus’ lips He said, “It is finished.” It is finished. What is finished? Did He finish drinking what was on the sponge? What did He finish? Is there more to these words of Jesus than simply what we are offered in our English Bible? Have these words lost something in the translation?
What is the meaning of the word “finished?” The word that is translated as “finished” in English is the Greek word τετέλεσται tetelestai and means “end, complete, fulfill, conclusion, finish, obligation, even toll or tax. The goal, result, or conclusion of the word can have such senses as forever, completely, perfectly, to the limit, and denotes something that has been completed continually and constantly or in full measure.” What a great word Jesus uses on the cross as He ends His suffering and is ready to be received into His Father’s house.
When Jesus says, “It is finished,” He was not simply speaking about the fact that He had finished drinking whatever had been given to Him to drink. Certainly He wet His lips and sucked in some of what was on the sponge so that He would be able to speak and speak more clearly, after all, He had been suffering, hanging, suffocating and dehydrating on the cross from some time and certainly He was finished with the sponge.
More importantly than simply being finished sucking from the sponge is the fact that Jesus was speaking in context of His goal for coming to earth, to live for us, obey all God’s laws perfectly, to fulfill all the prophecies concerning the Messiah, the Christ perfectly to take our sins upon Himself, to suffer and to completely pay for, to perfectly in full measure pay the price for sin. Indeed when Jesus announces “It is finished,” the whole of His intervening in human history, the salvation of all mankind was complete, finished.
What does this mean? It is said that when someone was put in jail for a debt, the list of debts was posted beside the person’s cell. As each debt was paid it was marked, tetelestai, finished. Now understand, the debt was paid, not by the person who was in jail and owed the debt, but by someone on the outside, someone who did not owe a debt and could therefore pay the debt.
We owe a great debt, indeed we owe our very lives. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and commission, doing what we should not be doing. As in the parable of the unforgiving servant, someone may owe us for a sin against us, but our debt before God is millions times greater as we owe the complete price for our sins, death, eternal spiritual death. And we cannot pay our own debt because we owe such a large debt. We are trapped in the prison of our own sin and cannot pay our debt.
By faith in Jesus, faith given to us, Jesus took our debt. Jesus comes from outside of us. He owes no debt and so He was able to pay our debt. Jesus does it all for us and gives it all to us. Jesus gives us faith which He gives through the very means He has given to give us faith. He gives us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives and strengthens us in faith through His Holy Word. He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life through confession and absolution. He gives us forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through His Holy Supper wherein He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink so that we participate in His sacrifice for us on the cross.
Jesus paid the complete price for our sin, eternal spiritual death, for us, for all people of all places of all times. Jesus did not simply suffer and die to pay the price for some sins. Jesus did not suffer and die to pay half the price and ask us to pay the other half. To say or even imply that there is something else necessary on our part to complete what Jesus did on the cross is to say that what Jesus did was not enough. In other words, to say there is something we must do to earn, deserve or get the forgiveness Jesus earned or to add to the forgiveness He earned is simply to say what He did was not enough and simply erodes the gifts and grace He gives to us. Indeed, Jesus paid the price completely and He gives us the forgiveness He earned unconditionally, meaning with no effort or doing on our part. He gives and we are given to.
Jesus completed the punishment so that the debt was paid in full, and thus He speaks boldly and clearly from the cross, before He gives up His spirit to return to heaven, “it is finished.” Nothing more needs to be done. The price for sin, for our sin, for all our sin has been paid. We use accounting terms such as being reconciled meaning that there is a balance between what is owed and what is paid. Jesus has reconciled our account. He has paid what we owe because we cannot. We use words like redeem meaning to trade something for something else. Jesus redeemed us, He traded His perfect life, death and resurrection for our imperfect life, death and resurrection. By the faith that He gives to us His perfect life becomes our perfect life, His perfect obedience becomes our perfect obedience, His perfect death becomes our perfect death. And His perfect resurrection will become our perfect resurrection when we will be raised from the dead to live with Him in heaven for eternity.
Jesus gives us the forgiveness He earned and with forgiveness, we know we have life and salvation. God’s demand is perfection. We are born in imperfection. Jesus was born in perfection. God’s demand is perfection, we disobey the laws of God continually every day. Jesus was completely obedient even to the point of death. What we cannot do Jesus did for us in our place. Because we are completely spiritually sinful and bankrupt, Jesus gave His all, His life, His death for us in our place, paying the price, earning forgiveness and giving that forgiveness to us, completely free with no charge for us.
The price for sin is death, eternal spiritual death, hell. Jesus paid the price of hell for us in our place because of His great love for us and He gives this forgiveness, freely with no strings or requirements attached. He gives and we are given to. He paid the price so that it was finished. Nothing more needs to be done, He had done it all, completed it all, fulfilled it all, for us and He gives it to us. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Our text is Matthew 26:17-29: “17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” This is our text.
The Lord’s Supper, what is it? Do we reenact the Lord’s Supper simply as an act in order to be obedient to God? What do we mean when we say it is a sacrament? What does the Lord’s Supper have to do with the Jewish Passover? This evening we will look at the history and the giving of the Lord’s Supper to see how Jesus takes the Jewish Passover celebration and from that celebration gives to us the sacred act, the sacrament we have today, that is the sacred act through which He connects us to Himself and through which He gives us the gifts He has to give, not from a demand of obedience but from an act of love and giving from Him to us.
In order to understand what Jesus is giving to us in the Lord’s Supper we must first look at the first Passover and understand what Jesus was celebrating. The first Passover was the passing over of the angel of death in Egypt killing the first born of those houses not marked with the blood of the lamb. The lamb was the redemption price for the first born in each house. Before the passing over of the angel of death a lamb was selected and set aside. The lamb was to be an unblemished lamb, one without spot or defect. The lamb was then slaughtered, sacrificed and the blood was caught in a jar.
The blood of the lamb was used to mark the houses of the children of Israel. The door post, up and down and the lintel, side to side were painted with the blood making and in essence marking with the sign of the cross so the angel of death would pass over the houses so marked. This was a type or foreshadowing of the Savior to come.
The lamb was then cooked and eaten while the family was ready to exit Egypt. Following the first Passover and the actual exit of Egypt God gave this festival as a memorial for the children of Israel so that every year they were to celebrate the Passover lest they forget what God had done for them. The only difference between the first Passover and the celebrations that followed the original was that there was now no need to be in a rush as the family was not exiting any place, simply celebrating what God had done for them and now what He was giving to them.
At the time of Jesus, the children of Israel continued to celebrate the Passover and of course Jesus also celebrated the Passover. He sent His disciples to prepare the Passover in the upper room that is the guest room, the kataluma as we learned at Christmas time, that is that Jesus was born, not in the inn, not in the upper room or guest room, but in the main part of the house because there was no room in the inn, the guest room. A lamb was selected and sacrificed. The meal and all the trimmings were prepared and set up and Jesus entered into the upper room or the guest room with His twelve apostles to celebrate the Passover.
The lamb was eaten and the wine was drank and this was done in a relaxed atmosphere, and yet in an ordered manner, a manner fixed for calling to memory what God had done for His people, freeing them from their slavery in Egypt. At one point in the meal Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the feet of His apostles as a show of what it truly means to be a servant.
This Passover celebration which Jesus celebrated with His apostles was to remember the passing over of the angel of death in Egypt as God delivered His people from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. Yet, as Jesus is celebrating the Passover He pauses in the middle in order to give them and us something new, something that had actually been pointed to in this celebration for the past 2000 years.
We might say that Jesus repurposes the Passover celebration. At the beginning of the Passover celebration a lamb, a spotless, unblemished lamb was selected for sacrifice. Jesus came as the lamb of God, the spotless, sinless lamb of God, to offer Himself as a sacrifice.
The lamb was slaughtered and its blood caught then brushed on the door post and lintel of the house. Jesus was beaten, stricken, smitten and afflicted. He was nailed to the cross. He shed His blood on the cross.
During the Passover celebration Jesus took the middle matzah, the matzah that had been broken and half hidden, the middle of the three matzah in the burse, indeed, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the middle matzah of His being buried and resurrected. Jesus took this middle matzah, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples telling them He was giving them His body to eat, not in a symbolic, acting it out way, but in the very same way that the children of Israel ate the sacrificed lamb whose blood was on the door post and lintel, bringing them into one with the sacrifice as Jesus was now bringing His disciples and us into one with Him in His sacrifice.
Jesus then took the cup of wine, the third cup of wine, the cup of redemption. He gave thanks and gave it to His disciples telling them that this was His true blood that they were to drink. Again, Jesus did not say nor suggest that this was anything symbolic nor that they should act this event out in obedience. He said they were to drink His blood, again bringing them and us into communion with Himself.
Just as the children of Israel ate of the sacrifice whose blood marked their house so that the angel of death passed over, so too we eat and drink of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, eating His body and drinking His blood marking us with the blood of the lamb so the angel of eternal spiritual death might pass over us.
What does this mean? First and foremost, as one looks at the importance of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament and how they pointed to their fulfillment in the New Testament, in Jesus, one cannot help but get a better understanding of the importance of the sacred acts that God gives to us in the New Testament. In specific, how can one come to such a simplistic conclusion that the Lord’s Supper is merely an obedient reenactment of Maundy Thursday and the night when Jesus was betrayed, especially when Jesus Himself speaks quite clearly that He is giving His body and His blood along with the bread and wine.
As a person understands the whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament and how the person who ate the sacrifice participated in the sacrifice by eating the sacrifice making the sacrifice a part of them, how can one miss this whole participation in the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper, as we eat and drink of the body and blood of Jesus, the One offered as a sacrifice for our sins, we do this in remembrance, that is we do this in participation of Jesus so that His life becomes our life, His suffering becomes our suffering, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
The only conclusion of one studying, reading, hearing, and inwardly digesting the Word of the Lord concerning the Lord’s Supper is that it is a Sacrament, a Sacred act through which we are given the gifts of God, faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
Just as the children of Israel, God’s chosen people, participated in the Passover, so we, God’s chosen people by faith in Jesus, participate in Jesus’ sacrifice for us. And thanks be to God for Jesus’ sacrifice and His gift to us. Indeed, understanding this sacred act for what it is, knowing the gifts God gives through this very means of grace, our response is certainly one in which our desire is to be where this gift is given, when it is given and as often as we might be given this gift. Thanks be to God for this great gift and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.