Monday, March 19, 2018

Test Yourselves

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified (2 Corinthians 13:5).

There has lately arisen a discussion among friends as to the meaning of Paul’s words here. Taken from their context, they are used by preachers of dubious education and intent to call their hearers to do good works, and judge their Christianity by their behavior. If you’re a Christian, you’ll exhibit the fruits of the Spirit; you won’t drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do. But is that what Paul is saying here? Is that the type of test he is talking about?

We have to understand Paul’s words here, as always when we try to understand the words of Scripture, in their context. Paul is answering the Corinthian congregation’s demand that he prove his words are from Christ. They have been influenced by outside teachers, and now they doubt Paul’s veracity. They want to see his credentials, so to speak. His response to them is that they, rather then he, need to put themselves to the test. Paul isn’t talking about some legalistic morality test. He isn’t instructing them to examine their “faith-walk” by looking at how nicely they behave toward others, so that they will cultivate good behavior and have a closer, more personal relationship with Jesus. He is telling them to examine their doctrine. He wants them to look at what they believe, teach and confess, and see if it lines up with what he, and the Scriptures, taught them to believe.

This is essentially the same thing Paul told the faithful Timothy. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.[1] In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages Timothy to continue teaching true doctrine. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul is warning them to test their doctrine, to see if they have strayed from the truth.

Paul begins this portion of his letter with his concerns for their faithfulness. Paul betrothed the Corinthians to the bridegroom, Christ, as a chaste virgin. Now he is worried that their minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.[2] They have put up with the preaching of another, counterfeit Jesus, spirit, and gospel. So, how does he expect the Corinthians to test themselves? Scripture tells us. When Paul went to Berea and preached in the synagogue, the Bereans received the word that Paul preached; they searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether the things Paul preached were so.[3] Scripture, the Word of God, is and should remain the only rule and norm of all doctrine. Everything should be subjected to God’s Word.[4]

Paul seems confident that the Corinthians will pass the test. He bids them farewell as brethren; he tells them to become complete, to be of good comfort, to be of one mind, and to live in peace. These are good directions for we Christians living today. We should also examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith. This examination is one of doctrine, rather than behavior. Do we profess that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures?[5] Do we teach Christ’s disciples to observe all things that He has commanded, as Jesus said to his Apostles after His resurrection?[6] Or, do we put up with another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel? We must test our doctrines against Holy Scripture.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:16
[2] 2 Corinthians 11:1-4
[3] Acts 17:10-12
[5] 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
[6] Matthew 28:16-20

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Judas Hangs Himself

When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself (Matthew 27:1-5).

Judas must have been following the events of Jesus’ trial from afar, as did Peter. As he watched what was happening, the full weight of his sin sunk in. He had betrayed innocent blood. For the price of 30 pieces of silver, Judas sold Jesus into death. We don’t really know why Judas did what he did, except for St. Luke’s explanation that Satan entered into him.[1] When he turns to the Chief Priests in his remorse over his sin, he does not receive absolution. They tell him that he must deal with his sin on his own. What is that to us? You see to it!

Judas wasn’t the only one of Jesus’ disciples to betray Him. When the Shepherd was struck, all of the sheep were scattered, most notably Peter. Jesus told His disciples that they would all fall away. Peter tells Jesus he will not fall away, even if it means death. The other disciples agree. Jesus assures Peter that he will deny Jesus before the cock crows twice. This he does, with oaths, calling down curses on himself. And, when the cock crowed the second time, and Jesus turned to look at Peter, Peter remembered Jesus’ words. He went away and wept bitterly.[2] Peter realized what he had done; the full weight of his sin sunk in. Later, the risen Christ would absolve and restore him.[3]

Why the different outcomes for Judas and Peter? They both committed the same sin. They denied Christ. They both betrayed Him. Why did Judas end up dead by his own hand, burst open in a field with his guts spilling out,[4] and Peter end up in his usual place as leader of the disciples? Did Jesus not, by His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death, purchase and win all mankind from sin, death, and the devil? Both men felt sorry for their sin; Judas turned to the Chief Priests for a remedy for his sin. The Law however, whom these men represent, doesn’t fix sin; the purpose of the Law is to show us our sin.[5] The Law always accuses. It crushes the sinner under it’s weight. Judas, despairing under the weight of his sin, took the advice of the Chief Priests: He saw to it himself. Peter did not see to his sin himself. Christ dealt with it. Peter came to Christ, and heard authentic absolution. Only Christ is able to give us that. To seek remedy for our sin from any other source than Christ is to betray and reject Him. It is to reject the gift of forgiveness He gives to us, as Judas did. Such rejection and denial can only end, as it did for Judas, in despair and death.

[1] Luke 22:3; John 13:27
[2] Luke 22:54-62
[3] John 21:15-19
[4] Acts 1:18
[5] Romans 3:20

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Jesus Predicts His Death

Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:1-5).

Whenever we hear Jesus predict His own death, and see the disciples’ utter failure to understand or believe what Jesus is telling them, we tend to react incredulously. What was their problem? Were they not paying attention? Were they just stupid? Modern man has an arrogant tendency to look down on those of previous generations. We tend to characterize those who came before us as ignorant. After all, we have televisions, smart phones, and computers. We do this in religious matters as well. We look down our nose at the disciples. We think to ourselves, “If I had been there with Jesus, I would’ve believed.” How could these idiots possibly doubt Jesus’ words after what they witnessed? They saw Him heal the sick, cast out demons, miraculously feed the multitudes, walk on water, and even raise the dead. If we saw all that, savvy and well-educated modern sophisticates that we are, we certainly would’ve believed.

But it isn’t true. Miracles don’t make believers, the Holy Spirit working through the Word does. If people won’t believe the words of Moses and the Prophets, they won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead.[1] The Jews who plotted to kill Jesus saw many of His miracles. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees did not marvel that Lazarus was again alive; they said, “If we let Him alone like this everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”[2] They, too, thought Jesus’ miracles would make converts. It didn’t work on them, though. The multitudes who ate multiplied loaves and fishes soon after deserted Jesus when he taught them the hard saying that, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.[3]

The teaching of Scripture cannot be stated any more clearly and concisely than in the explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed from Luther’s Small Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.[4]

The problem with the disciples wasn’t that they needed to be convinced to believe in Jesus. They needed to be converted. This is what was happening to them over the course of their time with Jesus. The Holy Spirit worked to create faith in them as He willed. Christ tells them plainly: You don’t have faith even as big as a mustard seed. They protest, of course. They even vow to die with Jesus, when he tells them that they will all abandon him, as foretold in Holy Scripture. Their self-image will be shattered upon Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, when the shepherd is smitten, and the sheep are scattered. Peter must be restored by Christ.[5] The disciples on the road to Emmaus must have their eyes opened to Jesus.[6] Jesus must open understanding of the Scriptures to the disciples.[7] He is the key.

Christ worked their conversion - and ours - from beginning to end. We can be certain that as we now believe in Him, no one can pluck us out of His hand. This is why we, following St. Paul’s example, endeavor to know nothing but Christ crucified among those with whom God has surrounded us in our vocation. It is through hearing the message of Christ that men are born again - not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.[8] This is why it is important that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word. It is the means through which sinners receive repentance, faith, and forgiveness of sins, won for mankind by the death and resurrection of Christ.

[1] Luke 16:27-31
[2] John 11:45-48
[3] John 6:53
[4] Luther, Martin. "The Small Catechism." The Small Catechism - Book of Concord. Accessed March 14, 2018.
[5] John 21:15-19
[6] Luke 24:13-35
[7] Luke 24:44-49
[8] Romans 10:17; John 1:12-13

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jesus Faces the Sanhedrin

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.” And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth” (Luke 22:66-71).

Christ begins His journey to the cross in earnest. Jesus is troubled; He prays that the Father would remove the bitter cup from Him if possible. He knows what is coming: gruesome torture and agonizing physical death. He also knows that He is to become sin.[1] He will be forsaken on the cross by the Father for the sake of His enemies. He will be separated from God the Father. Being in agony, He prayed all the more earnestly; His sweat became as great drops of blood. Then comes the mob. This group of people is not coming for healing, or bread, or sermons. They come to seize Jesus. Betrayal, arrest, and interrogation. Mockery and beatings. At daybreak, a trial.

The High Priest asks Jesus if He is the Christ. Jesus doesn’t answer this question. He says, “Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” When the High Priest asks Jesus if Jesus is the Son of God, He says yes. There is now no mistake or misunderstanding. Jesus is not a political Christ. He is not here to establish an earthly kingdom; His kingdom is not of this world.[2] His work is spiritual. He has come to save the world from sin, death, and the devil. To do that, he must go to the cross.

By His use of the phrase “Son of Man” Jesus communicates this to the High Priest. Jesus’ words call to mind the words of the prophet Daniel, and his vision of the Ancient of Days. The scene recounted by Daniel[3] is the Day of Judgment. The Ancient of Days is God the Father. Ten thousand times ten thousand attend to Him; they stand before Him awaiting the destruction of the beast and the establishment of the kingdom. Daniel writes: “And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.[4]” Hearing Jesus’ claim of divinity, the High Priest ended the trial. They wouldn’t need to proceed any further. They would not investigate the evidence that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus, assumed the High Priest, had committed blasphemy by making Himself equal to God.

Scripture teaches us that Jesus is indeed the Son of Man, God in human flesh. He was appointed heir of all things by God the Father. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. He upholds all things by the word of His power; when He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.[5] Jesus is our real and perfect High Priest, seated at the right hand of God.[6] The earthly temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood and the High Priest were shadows of Jesus, intended to point us all to Him. He is the High Priest who does not need to offer daily sacrifice to cover sin. Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice one time for the sin of all people on the cross.

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[2] John 18:36
[3] Daniel 7:9-14
[4] Daniel 7:13-14
[5] Hebrews 1:1-4
[6] Hebrews 7:25 - 8:6

Monday, March 5, 2018

With God All Things Are Possible

Holbein - An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:24-27).

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him what he must do to gain eternal life, he probably did not expect the answer he got. He was probably respected in the synagogue and prominent in the community at large. He probably expected an answer from Jesus more like one he would have gotten from the Pharisees: one that validated him. He was, after all, rich and powerful. We all know that if you are rich it means God loves you, and if you aren’t, He doesn’t. The Pharisees certainly thought they knew this, along with most of the pagan secular world. Jesus destroys this misconception.

The rich young ruler probably really thought, as we do, that he wasn’t guilty of breaking the Commandments. Look at the commandments Jesus names. Can’t you hear the rich young ruler’s thoughts? He thinks like we do. I’ve never cheated on my wife. I’ve never unjustifiably killed anyone. I’ve never taken anything that didn’t belong to me. Maybe we’ve never physically had sex with someone who wasn’t our spouse, strangled the life out of a man, or committed armed robbery. Jesus points out that the law still condemns us. Out of the heart comes all manner of evil and uncleanness.[1] If you have fantasized about a woman you are an adulterer; if you hate your brother, you are a murderer.[2]  If you have failed to keep one command, you’ve broken them all.[3] Jesus shows the rich young ruler, in three sentences, that his god was his wealth. He broke the First Commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, particularly his wealth. He was just as filthy a sinner as all the rest of the filthy sinners, including us.

If a rich guy can’t get into heaven, what hope does anyone else have? None. That’s Jesus’ point. It’s impossible. All of it. We can’t keep from sinning;[4] we are conceived and born in sin.[5] It is our natural state.[6] We can’t pay for our sin.[7] The things which are impossible with men, however, are possible with God. God puts down the mighty from their seats, and exalts those of low degree.[8] He uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.[9] The rich young ruler, and others like him, put their confidence for their eternal salvation into wealth, status, and power. We put ours in Christ crucified. This is ridiculous to the unbelieving world.[10] How could weak and lowly Jesus save anyone from anything? What they fail to see is that this lowly, filthy man was God in human flesh. His brutal, humiliating execution was the payment for our sin, and the sin of all mankind. He gives us this forgiveness by his grace, through faith in Him. This faith comes to us through the working of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.[11] Adulterer, murderer, thief, we are all those things, and more. We are utterly without hope left on our own. If we cling to our sins, we go away from Christ empty-handed and sorrowful. But, if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness for the sake of Christ.[12] It is impossible any other way.

[1] Matthew 15:16-20
[2] Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28
[3] James 2:8-13
[4] Genesis 8:21; Romans 8:7
[5] Psalm 51:5
[6] John 3:6; Ephesians 2:3
[7] Acts 4:12; Galatians 5:4-5; Ephesians 2:8-9
[8] Luke 1:45-55
[9] 1 Corinthians 1:27
[10] 1 Corinthians 1:18
[11] Romans 10:17
[12] 1 John 1:5-10

Friday, March 2, 2018

Jesus Warns of Offenses

Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 10:1-5).

It is inevitable that we will sin; we are, by nature, children of wrath.[1] It is just as inevitable that we will offend our neighbor. Jesus says something that sounds harsh. Would it really be better for the one who causes offense to one of these little ones, to have a millstone tied around his neck and be drowned? If the comparison is between physical death, and eternal spiritual death, then yes. What Jesus describes here is what the Pharisees are doing. They are unrepentant sinners; they blaspheme the Holy Spirit and teach the commandments of men as doctrines of God.[2] They travel land and sea to make one convert and, when they win him, make him twice as fit for hell as they are themselves, by teaching him to believe their false teachings. They will have to stand before Christ on the Last Day and give an account for their actions, just as all others who have done similarly will be required to do. Their unregenerate hearts will not have been washed by the washing of regeneration.[3] They will be required to justify themselves, apart from Christ, as they tried to do during their earthly life. They will be cast into outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.[4] Yes, physical death, in comparison to eternal separation from God, would be much preferable.

Christ teaches His disciples to forgive those who repent of their sins against them, in the same way God forgives us penitent sinners: Finally, freely, and continually. He has taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we really believe God has graciously forgiven us for all our sins for the sake of Christ? That forgiveness and love will overflow out of our heart and onto our neighbor, even if he sins against us seven times a day, and repents. There is no talk here of “forgiving, but not forgetting.” God said, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more.”[5] This is how we are called to forgive our neighbor who sins against us.

The disciples are stunned, as their response indicates: Increase our faith. Amen! They know that, by their own effort, such an attitude is impossible. But with Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, all things are possible, even our eternal salvation. Our entire life is one spent uttering the prayers: Lord, have mercy! Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! Increase my faith![6] We cannot do it; Christ must do it.[7] He has promised to hear us, and grant our requests.[8]

[1] Ephesians 2:3
[2] Matthew 15:7-9
[3] Titus 3:5
[4] Luke 13:22-30; Matthew 25:41
[5] Romans 11:27; Hebrews 8:12
[6] Luke 18:13; Mark 9:23-25; Luke 10:5
[7] 1 Corinthians 2:14; 12:3; Romans 8:7
[8] John 14:13; 1 John 5:14

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Leaving All to Follow Christ

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:25-33).

As Jesus continues on His way, great multitudes follow. These are not Jesus’ disciples. They are following Jesus out of curiosity. They want to see Jesus the miracle worker. They want to see him heal, and cast out demons, and multiply loaves and fishes. He tried to teach His disciples privately but, as soon as word spread, the multitudes sought out Jesus.[1] Every time the multitudes came to Jesus, he had compassion on them. He did heal the sick and feed the hungry. More importantly, he taught them about the kingdom of God. The people were more concerned with meeting their physical needs. Jesus will demonstrate that this is not what we should worry about. We should worry about eternal life. Multitudes would continue to follow Jesus throughout his ministry. So little do they understand Jesus and His purpose, that they will meet Him as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hailing Him the Son of David; by the end of the week they will stand before Pilate and call for Him to be crucified, asking for a murderer in exchange.

Jesus clarifies what is really important. He says to them that anyone who would come to Him must hate his father and mother. What does this mean? Are we not taught by Holy Scripture that he who does not love does not know God, for God is love?[2] How can Jesus tell us we must hate our families? Jesus is the same God who gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Is Jesus now contradicting The Fourth Commandment, which says thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother? If He is, He is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as he claims.[3] God does not change, and He does not lie.[4] No, Jesus is admonishing the multitudes to examine themselves. Following Jesus would demand, from an earthly perspective, great sacrifice. Christ Himself said that he came to bring division;[5] in other words, some people would believe in Him, and some would not. Even families would be divided over faith in Christ. If anyone would follow Jesus, his love for Christ must precede all other love, even the love of family and friends.[6] He can have no other gods. Jesus shows this to the rich young ruler. The man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, something which cannot be done perfectly. The young man answers that he has kept them, but Jesus exposes his idolatry. He calls the man to sell all that he has and distribute to the poor. The man loved his wealth more than God. He went away sorrowful.

We, too, belong to the multitudes. We would treat Jesus as our own personal bread king. We want Him to grant us health, money, love, success, and all manner of other earthly blessings. We think these things are the most important things. Jesus would show us otherwise. We are working for food which perishes, and for treasure which will rot away.[7] Jesus would have us seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.[8] He teaches us to pray, not for piles of wealth so that we can live our best life now, but for our daily bread.[9] It was our sin which put Jesus on the cross. We, along with the multitudes, delivered Jesus up to death; we killed the author of life.[10] We justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. But it was to save mankind from such punishment that Christ came into the world. While we were still his enemies, Christ came to earth in human flesh, kept God’s law perfectly, lived a sinless life, and went to the cross to die for us, the ungodly.[11] He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God, in Christ.[12] And though He died on the cross, on the third day Jesus rose again. Repent, and believe the Gospel. Jesus did not come into the world so that we could be rich and successful; Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom we are the worst.[13]

[1] Luke 9:10-11
[2] 1 John 4:8
[3] John 8:48-59
[4] Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; Number 23:19; John 17:17
[5] Luke 12:49-53
[6] Kretzmann, Paul E. Popular Commentary of the Bible. Vol. 1. 2 vols. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1921.
[7] Matthew 6:19-21
[8] Matthew 6:33
[9] Luke 11:1-4
[10] Acts 3:14-15
[11] Romans 5:8
[12] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[13] 1 Timothy 1:15