Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Way, The Truth, The Life

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).

Verses six and seven are two of the most well know verses of St. John’s Gospel. They are Jesus’ answer to Thomas, after Thomas asks Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”[1] He doesn’t do it out of unbelief, or in an effort to mock Jesus as the Jewish leaders had done, but Thomas actually contradicts Jesus. In chapter 11 Thomas declared that he would die with Jesus.[2] Now, even after all the time Jesus and the disciples have spent together, he seems to have trouble seeing with the eyes of faith who Jesus is, and what his life’s work on earth was. Phillip, only two verses later, exhibits the same ignorance and frustration when he asks Jesus to, “...show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”[3]

Thomas may have known intellectually that Jesus was returning to the Father in heaven. He also knew that this return to the Father involved Jesus’ death, as Jesus had so often spoken of the ultimate destination of his earthly ministry (Lenski, 1959). His problem seemed to be the same as the rest of the disciples when struggling with what looked to them like Jesus’ pending demise: How could Jesus be the Messiah if he was murdered before he could set up his kingdom?

The dark spot in the mind of Thomas was his inability to follow the mission and work of Jesus beyond the boundary of death. For him the mission of Jesus was an earthly kingdom (Acts 1:6) – how, then, could Jesus retire to heaven; and how could there be a way to this kingdom that would lead via heaven? So Thomas grows downhearted like one who is lost in the dark (Lenski, 1959).

The disciples, like the rest of the Jewish religious establishment of Jesus’ day, were expecting a political Messiah (Engelbrecht).[4] The Messiah they knew from prophetic scripture was a political savior who would sweep away instantly the old order of things, removing the boot of Roman rule from the neck of the Israelites and reinstating the house of David to a physical throne in the restored kingdom of Israel. The disciples did not yet realize that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.[5]

Phillip, contrary to questioning Jesus, only begs him. He asks Jesus to show the Father to the disciples. I don’t know how Phillip expected Jesus to do such a thing, but it is a mark of his faith, however immature, to regard Jesus as being able to do such a thing (Lenski, 1959). Jesus must surely have been a little frustrated by his disciples’ lack of understanding. He has spent all this time with them, showing them works from the Father,[6] explaining to them and the Jewish leader that he was the incarnate Word,[7] the exact representation of the Father,[8] and they still didn’t get it. They still didn’t know Jesus.

What does it mean to know someone? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, the word ‘know’ can be defined as follows:

To perceive directly with the senses or mind; to have a practical understanding of or through experience with; to be subjected to; experience.

To know a person and to “know of” a person are two completely separate things, though on the surface, they may seem similar. For example, no matter how much factual information one learned about George Washington, regardless of how intimate the details, one could hardly say that they “knew” George Washington. On the other hand, one may not know every aspect or secret detail of his best friend’s life, yet one would not hesitate to say, “I know so-and-so. He’s my best friend.” To know someone – not just merely “about” them – relational experience must take place between the two people. In other words, they must, as the definition says, experience and interact with each other.

How then can Jesus tell us in John 14: 6-7, that we could know him? I mean, while that would have been fine for the apostles and everyone else who were alive at the time of Jesus, how could it apply to us today? They could meet, see, touch, talk to and experience him. How is this possible, though, for us living today? Are we not merely relegated to knowing, as Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts” about Jesus? How can we have a personal relationship with a man who died over 2,000 years ago?

If Jesus of Nazareth were merely a man, his death on the cross on Good Friday would be the end of the story. Not only would it be pointless to try to “know” Jesus, it would be impossible. To us he would be nothing more than an historical figure, about whom we could only memorize factual information. While Jesus did die on the cross on Good Friday, he did not stay in the grave, and it was far from the end of the story. Not only was Jesus 100% a human being, he was – and is – 100% God.

Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, sin entered God’s perfect creation, and as it says in Genesis, “…their eyes were opened…” – our human nature was changed. Jesus Christ, in order to restore the relationship between God and man, voluntarily humbled himself by becoming a man. He endured temptation, just as all human being must, but he lived a perfect life, kept all of God’s law, and died as the final perfect sacrifice for all our sins on Calvary’s cross. The author of Hebrews says this:

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2: 14-15, 17).

Christ, our living Savior, calls out to us through the Holy Scriptures that we might know him, and have eternal life.

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

He speaks to us through the Gospels, and all of God’s holy word. His Spirit comes to dwell in us through Baptism, and He comes to us, to strengthen and preserve us in the faith, through the Eucharist. We can know Jesus – and through Jesus, God the Father – because He is alive and we can experience and interact with Him. Thanks be to God that we can know – through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit – Jesus Christ, the risen Savior of the world.

Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19).

Life is really the central issue, not only in John 14, but also throughout the entire Bible. God is concerned that we live with him in glory forever. The Holy Scriptures are his plan for our redemption. These four succeeding chapters of John (14-17) are the dramatic prelude to culmination of God’s plan – the defeat of Satan by Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important aspect of Christianity. This fundamental of the Christian faith is what distinguishes Christians and Christianity from every other religion on the planet. The resurrection of Christ is so important and comforting because it confirms four important things: 1) Christ is the Son of God, 2) What He taught is true, 3) God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the reconciliation of the world, and 4) all those who believe in Christ will rise to eternal life.

Indeed, the apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians has this to say about Christ’s resurrection:

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:2).

Paul continues his explanation to the Corinthians, some of whom believed that there was no such thing as a resurrection from the dead, by pointing out this logical progression: If the dead do not rise, then not even Christ has been resurrected. If Christ has not been raised we Christians, then, believe and teach a lie about God. Not only that, if Christ was not raised, we are still in our sins. “If only for this life,” St. Paul continues, “we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1Cor. 15:19).

And this view, one of pity, is generally how the world looks at the followers of Jesus. There is no logic to support this fundamental pillar of the Christian faith, though there is evidence. Then again, that’s why the term faith is used. Martin Luther wrote, “I know that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.” Luther understood that the gift of faith in Christ comes from God by the power of His Holy Spirit.

There is evidence of Christ’s resurrection, and St. Paul supplies us with a good summary:

He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1Cor 15:4-8).

There is no logical explanation for the mass conversion of 3,000 people in Jerusalem on Pentecost if what they heard preached was false. There is no logical reason for the apostles who, save John, suffered martyrdom in some of the most horrible ways imaginable, to keep on professing a lie at the cost of their life, simply to save face. Put yourself in the Apostles’ shoes; would you give your life in order to continue professing a faith in something you know to be false? There is, however, an illogical reason for what they did. The Holy Spirit had created faith in them, though it could not be proven by logic or reason, what they – and we – profess is true. Surely these men would not willingly subject themselves to torture and death for something they knew to be a lie.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

As Christians we have faith in Jesus because he is the resurrection and the life. He promised that whoever believes in him will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die.[9] We have faith – we can be sure and certain – that because Jesus lives, we also will live. What wonderful news! How could we not help but live the new life that we have been given to God’s glory? May everything that we do, whether at work or play, bring glory to God. When we in our lives glorify Him, the Holy Spirit proclaims Jesus to those around us who need to know him, and draws them to him.


Works Cited


Engelbrecht, E. A. The Lutheran Study Bible - English Standard Version.

Lenski, R. C. (1959). The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press.


End Notes

[1] John 14:5


[2] John 11:16


[3] John 14:8


[4] Mark 10: 35-45; Acts 1:6


[5] John 18: 33-38


[6] John 14: 10-11


[7] John 8: 48-59; 10: 22-39


[8] Hebrews 1:3


[9] John 11: 25-26

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel," (Genesis 3:15).

It happens every year, usually just after Thanksgiving. Stores everywhere, resplendent in their holiday decorations beacon shoppers to their aisles. The wares may be covered in garland and tinsel, but the message is the same as always: Give us your money. That’s why they call the Friday after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” – stores hope to make a large profit on this quasi-official beginning of the holiday shopping season and be “in the black”. And people oblige. Their holiday shopping will not be successful unless they find just the right pair of laser-guided electric scissors for aunt Mildred. Every one of us has slipped into this mode at one time or another, but we all know that this is not what the holidays are all about. Right?

No, the holidays are about family. You, your wife, children and 27 of your closest relatives all jammed into the dining room watching Grandpa wrestle with an overcooked turkey, armed only with Popeil’s electric carving knife. Heaven forbid that uncle Mortie say the wrong thing, or tell the one about the Priest and the Rabbi, and end up insulting cousin Jerry’s girlfriend. And what if cousin Bill decides not to come over for dinner this year – the whole family would be insulted. The holidays would be ruined. Well, maybe that’s not quite what the spirit of the season is either…

I suppose it all could be about the “holiday mood”. All the festive decorations and lavish store windows lend a sense of joy and happiness to the brisk winter air. That is, at least until someone gets offended because there are too many orange lights and not enough green ones, and all the decorations have to be removed due to court order.

Thankfully, while this may be what “the holidays” are all about to most of society, they have little to do with what Christians celebrate on December 25th and the eleven days thereafter. Don’t misunderstand: My family is just as “normal” as every other family that eats, fights and shops for that perfect present. However, while we all have imposed these rituals on Christmas, they have nothing to do whatsoever with it’s meaning.

“Of course not,” you may retort. “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, being nice to your fellow man. That’s what Christmas is all about.”

Looking at the red and green splendor of a fully dressed Marshal Field’s window (and it will always be Marshal Field's store to me, Macy's notwithstanding), one may think that sugary sentimentality, nostalgia and contrived feelings of good will is the extent of the meaning of Christmas, and for many this may be the case. However, Christmas is much more significant than that.

“Oh yes,” you say dismissively, “it’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus.”

No. Christmas is about Easter. Hear me out.

Christmas is a celebration that God has not abandoned mankind. It is a celebration that God has kept his promise to redeem fallen man by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a way, Christmas is as much about the death of Jesus as it is about his birth. The author of Hebrews writes:

But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9: 26b-28).

Strip away from Christmas all the commercialism and nostalgia. Deep beneath the secular layer of snowmen and ½ price sales of this American national holiday is hidden the birth of Jesus Christ – not merely a baby who would grow up to lead a religious movement telling people to “be good”, but the divine Son of God, whose birth was foretold by prophets and heralded by angels. Describing the promised Messiah, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

This Jesus, whose birth we celebrate as a nation on December 25th, would go from the manger to the cross, bearing the world’s sinfulness on his shoulders. On that cross he would die as the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.

That’s what Christmas is about.

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5: 18-19).

The entire purpose of Jesus’ birth was his death. He voluntarily submitted to the will of God the Father, taking on human nature. He lived a pure and sinless life. He went to his death on the cross – a punishment of which all men are worthy because of our disobedience – so that those who repent and believe in him would not have to suffer it and would be given the gift of eternal life in God’s presence. Of himself, Jesus said:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3: 14-15).

Christmas is about Easter. It celebrates the birth of the world’s savior and the reconciling of men to God – something for which God is solely responsible.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6: 11-14).

Knowing this, Christendom understands that Christ is the source of peace on earth. Christ is the wellspring from which all good will and love flows. These things flow from believers in whom the Spirit lives, not as acts performed in order to please God or even to make ourselves feel good, but as a joyful response to God’s gift of forgiveness and reconciliation that he has given man in Christ Jesus.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rend the Heavens and Come Down...

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! (Isaiah 64: 1-2)

When I read this passage of scripture, I was immediately put in mind of a quote from a movie called The Prophecy. In one scene, the character Thomas Daggett makes the following statement: “Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?” Now, one could write an entire paper describing the theological inaccuracies of the movie The Prophecy. That is not something which I wish to undertake at this time. Mr. Daggett’s skewed analysis of scripture aside for a moment; I did have a similar feeling to his upon reading these words of Isaiah. With his description of the coming of the Lord, with the rending of the heavens, and the quaking of the mountains, and fire kindling brushwood, and fire causing waters to boil, I wondered to myself in a moment of candor, “would I really want to see the coming of the Lord?” It sounds terrifying.

You see, the thing that really bothered me was what Isaiah writes in verse six of chapter 64:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all strayed like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:6-7 ).

Isaiah says that we have all become like one who is unclean. That “we” means all people, including myself. In this chapter Isaiah longs for the coming of the Lord so that he can make his name known to his adversaries, and so that the nations, “might tremble at your presence!” Holy Scripture tells us, however, that we are by our very nature the Lord’s adversaries.[1] Our sinful nature separates us from God.[2] More than that, Scripture teaches that there is nothing that we can do on our own to remedy this condition. Would it not be we who were terrified by the rending of the Heavens when the Lord comes? Would it not be we who tremble at his presence?

The psalmist writes, “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”[3] This state of sinfulness from birth, which we commonly refer to as original sin, is the total corruption of our human nature, which we have inherited from Adam through our parents. Original sin has brought guilt and condemnation to all people.[4] It has left mankind without true fear and love of God.[5] We are spiritually bind and dead creatures; the enemies of God.[6] Because of this total corruption of our human nature, we are incapable of pleasing God and we are also disinclined to even try to do so.[7] Consequently, original sin manifests itself as the commission of actual sins.[8] St. Paul describes these sins in general terms in his letter to the Galatians:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Galatians 5:19).

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about the nature of sin. It didn’t start out that way, though. What we were actually talking about was the depravity of human nature; what makes one person able to live with themselves after committing some heinous act while another would torn apart by guilt. My theory was that, since God has built into us a conscience whose voice we can always hear, the less we listen to it, the less we will actually be able to hear it. At some point, if we ignore that voice long enough, we will grow deaf to it completely. After that point, such a person would be a cold-blooded psychopath; that person would have completely indulged the desires of their flesh. My friend wasn’t completely sure that he understood what I was saying.

He couldn’t understand how someone could steal something from another person and still sleep at night. Stealing, in his eyes, was one of the worst things one person could do to another. On the other hand, it was a trivial matter to him for someone to have sex with many women while that person was in a long-term relationship with, but not married to, another woman. He explained, “It isn’t adultery for a man to have sex with other women in that situation. Not if he’s not married.” When I explained to him that yes, this indeed was adultery, he was at first indignant. I then explained to him what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount concerning adultery[9], and he acquiesced. After a moment’s reflection, he said, “If that’s the case, we’re all in trouble.”

You see, the God who declared stealing sinful, also declared adultery sinful. He is also the one who defined what is stealing and what is adultery, and he wrote those definitions on our hearts. Therefore, if we break one of his commandments, we are guilty of breaking them all. We don’t get to pick and choose our own individual morality. The fact that we all recognize the existence of our own conscience proves that to us, even though we may not like to admit it, and particularly when we seek to justify our actions that go against it. There is an absolute morality. God is the one who has set that bar. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, all of mankind has been unable to measure up to that bar. My friend said more than he knew; left in that state we are all, most definitely, in trouble.

Christians, however, do not have to fear the Judgment Day. If it were up to us to make our sinfulness right, the Day of the Lord would most certainly be a terrifying thing. The Lord has told us in Holy Scripture, that no one is righteous, not even one. He has told us that our righteousness, our good works, no matter how wonderful they may seem to us, are nothing but filth. To stand in front of the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day, clothed in the works of our own righteousness would be the same as if one arrived for his audience with the Queen of England clothed in the rags of a homeless person off the street.

God knew this. He knew this ahead of time, and he accounted for it. God resolved before the foundation of the world that those whom he would save, he would save by his grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.[10] In the fullness of his time, the Father sent the Son, true God, begotten from all eternity, to come to earth to his people. He did not come, however, rending the heavens, as Isaiah here describes. He came in humble fashion as a man, having set aside his divine power and glory, and was born to a virgin in a stable by God’s mysterious power. At the right time He would be born of a virgin – true man also, yet born without the stain sin. He came down from heaven, Immanuel – which means “God, with us” – and he lived a perfect life doing what we could not do, keeping God’s moral law. And, again at the appointed time, he gave up his life for all of mankind, as a sacrifice to atone for our sins; three days later he exhibited his power over sin, death, and Satan by once again taking up his life and rising from the dead. This is the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke and for whom the faithful Jews were waiting. This was the first coming of Immanuel, “God, with us.” Though this first coming did not resemble Isaiah’s dream of an exhibition of God’s power and glory in order to subdue all of God’s enemies, he did, nevertheless, subdue them. Shortly before going to his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus declared, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”[11]

Since Jesus made atonement for all the sins of all mankind, that means that he is now responsible for them. When we stand before the judgment seat on the Last Day, Jesus will take responsibility for the lives of those who profess his name. Christians don’t need to fear their own death, or the Judgment Day – the day when Jesus will come with glory and “rending the heavens”, because He has already won the victory. “On the Last Day,” Martin Luther writes in his explanation of the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, “He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”

I can’t say that I look forward with joy to The Day of the Lord, at least in one sense, because my finite human mind cannot grasp the concept of God “rending the heavens,” and the unknown details of this cause me apprehension. I do not, however, fear its coming because Jesus has promised me that my sins are forgiven and that he will give me eternal life. Again, in the words of Luther:

He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.


End Notes


[1] Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:3


[2] 1 Corinthians 2:14


[3] Psalm 51:5


[4] Romans 5:19


[5] Genesis 8:21


[6] Ephesians 2:1


[7] Romans 8:7


[8] Matthew 7:17


[9] Matthew 5:27-28


[10] Matthew 13:34-35; Ephesians 1: 4-6


[11] John 12:31

The Form of a Servant

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13: 3-5).

Why would Jesus get up in the middle of supper and begin to wash everyone’s feet? This seems curious to me, especially considering the Jewish obsession with both ceremonial and actual cleanliness. We are taught in Sunday school that Jesus is giving his disciples an object lesson in service to one another here. While a superficial reading of the passage may seem to support that analysis of the foot washing event, I’m not sure that such an interpretation remains true to Jesus’ personality. Did he actually get up in the middle of supper and wash his disciples’ dirty feet, or was the foot washing staged to teach a moral lesson?

Jewish writings discuss two types of washing at meals. Washing before a meal is known as “first waters”. Washing after a meal is known as “last waters”. These terms refer to the washing of hands; Washing before meals is still rigorously practiced in Orthodox Judaism today (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, 2011). Foot washing was a custom of both hospitality and necessity, designed to comfort the weary traveler whose feet were soiled and fatigued from walking on dusty roads in sandals. It was not commanded by the law. In the Bible we see it used to honor and comfort guests.[1]

Jesus has demonstrated that, though he came to fulfill God’s law[2], he did not have any regard for the “rules of men”.[3] Therefore it would not be surprising or out of character to see Jesus, after his disciples had prepared the meal, after having washed according to the customs of the day, “rise from supper” and perform an act which would make him unclean according to tradition. However, in the Jewish culture, the washing of the hands (a ceremonial act) and of the feet (a custom of politeness) always took place prior to the meal, never during its progress (Lenski, 1959). Lenski extrapolates:

After a brief delay the company proceeded to recline upon the couches in the fashion common at that time for dining. No one had said or done anything about the feet. The words in v. 4 ‘he rises from the supper,’ read as though Jesus waited until the last moment when Peter and John, who had been ordered to make all things ready and had done so earlier in the day,[4] set the food on the tables…As far as Peter and John are concerned, they probably thought that they had done enough…Perhaps some expected that Jesus would designate one of their number to play the part of the servant. None of them volunteered (Lenski, 1959).

It is unlikely that Jesus staged a mid-supper foot washing just to teach the disciples that they should serve their fellow man. If we assume that the group had already washed their feet upon entering the room, prior to the dinner, Jesus’ act of foot washing ceases to be meaningful. On the contrary, Jesus himself says that what he is doing is not merely an object lesson, but an example that the disciples should emulate.[5] Further, Jesus’ act of washing his disciple’s feet, far from being symbolic of his humility, actually demonstrates it. Jesus washed real dirty feet that actually needed washing. Jesus laid aside his outer garments.[6] He performed the real work of a slave or servant – something none of the others in the room were willing to do. He did not take on the role of just any slave, but the lowliest of all slaves in the 1st century Jewish household, the one who did the menial work of washing the feet of others, and he did it out of genuine love for those who were his. St. Paul eloquently describes what Jesus did in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2: 5-11).

Jesus was completely a servant to those around him. He did not simply tell his disciples this, and that they should do likewise. He emptied himself of his glory, took on the form of a slave, and performed a slave’s lowly work – both in the upper room by washing dirty feet, and on Calvary. Jesus demonstrated the self-sacrifice and love that he would show the world the next day on the cross (Engelbrecht, 2009). What Jesus actually did in the upper room is more meaningful than any contrived theatrical object lesson could ever be.

Works Cited

Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth . (2011, 03 01). Retrieved 03 01, 2011, from Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth : http://www.come-and-hear.com/berakoth/berakoth_53.html

Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible - English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Lenski, R. C. (1959). the Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press.


End Notes


[1] Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24


[2] Matthew 5:17


[3] Matthew 15:9


[4] Mark 14: 15-16; Luke 22: 8-13


[5] John 13:15


[6] John 13:4; Phil. 2: 5-8

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Judgment of This World

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out (John 12:31).

This verse is compact, but quite significant to God’s salvation plan. When viewed in light of the rest of the New Testament, it is intensely comforting to Christians. Jesus tells the people and his disciples that Satan, the ruler of this world, the power of the air[1], will shortly be condemned by Jesus’ death on the cross. Christ’s death may have appeared to earthly eyes, blinded by the darkness of sin, as Satan’s victory; it was, in fact, Satan’s overthrow (Engelbrecht). This brings the discussion to an interesting place. This judgment of Satan pronounced by God the Father through the work of His Son should give the Christian hope, comfort, and peace. It also sheds light on one of the most analyzed and debated passages in the entirety of Holy Scripture – Revelation 20: 1-3:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

According to the four gospels[2] Satan was bound, conquered, judged, and cast out as a result of Jesus’ ministry. If this is the case, then the 1,000 years described by St. John in Revelation 20 begins with the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry – his death, resurrection and ascension (Brighton). Lutherans believe that Jesus has bound Satan and severely limited his power in this Millennium, the New Testament period, sometimes referred to as the “church age”, and that this is what he is speaking of in John 12:31.

Other churches teach that the Millennium will be a literal 1,000 year period when Jesus will set up his kingdom on earth. Along with this view, it is also taught that, at some point before the Millennium, Jesus will return secretly to resurrect or rapture all true Christians. There will then be a seven year “tribulation”, where Christians are persecuted. The battle of Armageddon will take place, culminating in Christ’s visible return to bind Satan, and the beginning of the Millennium. Following the Millennium, Satan will be released from the pit. The wicked will be resurrected for final judgment, Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, and the new heavens and the new earth will enter into eternity with Christ (Millennialism, 2011) (Engelbrecht, 2009).

Lutheran theology concerning the End Times is "A-Millenialist", because we do not teach that the 1,000 years described in Revelation 20 is a literal perfect 1,000 year long kingdom on earth. We also reject a “Left Behind” style rapture. Here's how we get there...

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers (Psalm 90: 4-6).

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3: 8-10).

These two passages also illustrate something which I think is important to consider when dealing with this issue. These are the only two references in Scripture (that I could find) that refer to "1,000 years" as Revelation does in chapter 20. These passages use the phrase symbolically, speaking of the timelessness of God (Brighton). We understand that grass doesn't grow in one morning, only to wither that same evening. We understand that death, though referred to as a "sleep", is something quite different. It is logical to assume that in Psalm 90, the psalmist is using this long, perfect (10 X 10) number to show that God does not look at time the same way humans do. St. Peter, quoting this passage, uses it in the same way. If we are willing to accept this rather conservative interpretation for the usage of this phrase in a book of poetry (Psalms), as well as in a document of correspondence (2 Peter), would it not also be logical to apply this to an book consisting, almost entirely, of apocalyptic visions? Of course, I also understand that God isn't the biggest fan of human logic, so I'm open to being flexible.

Lastly, concerning the Rapture, I just don't see evidence for it. The texts used to provide a basis for this teaching, however, seem only to make sense if you believe in the Millennial Kingdom. I guess that the most important one that has been cited to me is St. Paul writing to the Thessalonians:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4: 16-17).

Lutheran theology presents this passage, from St. Paul’s context, as a glimpse of the Last Day/Final Judgment. It certainly will not be something that happens secretly. Everybody will know what's going on when they hear the "loud command" and the "trumpet call of God". I have always sort of associated this passage with my favorite verses in Scripture, from 1 Corinthians:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15: 51-52).

Again, St. Paul mentions the trumpet call that will herald the resurrection. Jesus mentions it as well in Matthew 24:31, after describing the increasing turmoil and tribulation in the world, as well as the "abomination that causes desolation" - the Antichrist. In this discourse, far from describing how believers will be removed from the world, Jesus tells us:

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24: 9-14).

In the same vein as Our Lord, St. Peter describes an end that comes after increasing trials in the world. He likens it to the Flood:

Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3: 3, 5-7).

Peter describes the end, and he says it's going to be like the time of the Flood, only with fire instead of water. God set a time for the flood, he warned Noah, and Noah built the Ark. There was no break before the rain started for people to be converted.

He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels (Matthew 13: 37-39).

Jesus said the "wheat" and the "weeds" are to grow up together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30), and Jesus defined the timing of the harvest as the end of the age (Matthew 13: 39, 49). He not only presented the parable, but He explained it. It seems as though, if there were to be a removal of Christians from the earth, either pre or post-tribulation, Jesus would have adapted his parable accordingly.

Finally, to bring things back to the apocalyptic writings we began with, St. Peter has this to say:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:10).

Again, whether or not you believe Revelation 20 literally makes a big difference in what you get out of 2 Peter 3. Bottom line, Peter uses apocalyptic language, the figure of the thief and the dramatic description of the earth's demise, to illustrate that the end is going to come suddenly and without warning to us, other than the general warning that there is increasing turmoil in the world. He is trying to describe the indescribable, and he uses symbolism to do it.

And, whether or not we agree on this peripheral theology, as Christians we should take Peter's advice:

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace…You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3: 14, 17-18).

To discuss and debate the teachings of Holy Scripture is good, when done in love, without malice and anger. What binds the body of Christ, that is, the church, is not when Christ is coming, or how, but that he is coming. And that, if one is to appear before God to give account, as every man will, he needs to acknowledge his sin, repent, and cling to Christ before that day, if he hopes to stand.[3] This is what we can all agree on concerning the end: Christ will return visibly and with great glory on the Last Day.[4] Christ will return to judge the world.[5] Christ will return on a specific day known only to God alone.[6] Before Christ returns, there will be increasing turmoil and distress for the church and the world.[7] The return of Christ is a source of hope and joy for the Christian.[8]

On May 12, 1865, over one month after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, the battle of Palmito Ranch was fought in Texas. The battle was essentially pointless, as it was clear with Lee’s surrender that Confederate defeat was unavoidable. However, when the Union Army attacked Confederate forces inside Ft. Brown, not far from Brownsville, the fight was on. Though the Confederacy’s condition was terminal these Confederates repulsed the Union attack. They won the day despite the fact that the war was lost (Battle of Palmito Ranch, 2011).

When we face evil in this world, we must understand that Satan and the forces of darkness may win the battle that day, as they seemed to on Good Friday. However, just like the Confederacy in May 1865, Satan’s defeat is a foregone conclusion. Therefore, because of Jesus, Christians can live victoriously in this sinful, hostile world, even when it looks as though Satan has won the day. Jesus Christ has promised us final victory.

---

Bibliography


Battle of Palmito Ranch. (2011, February 27). Retrieved February 27, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Palmito_Ranch

Brighton, L. A. Concordia Popular Commentary: Revelation. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible - English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Millennialism. (2011, February 27). Retrieved February 27, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennialism



End Notes

[1] Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 9:11


[2] Mat. 12:29; Mk. 3:27; Lk. 11:21


[3] 2 Cor. 5:10


[4] Matt. 24:27; Lk. 21:27; Acts 1:11; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 1:7


[5] Matt. 25:31-32; John 12:48; John 18:36; 2 Cor. 5:10


[6] Matt. 24:44; Mark 13:32; Acts 17:31


[7] Matt. 24:7, 22; 1 Tim. 4:1


[8] Lk. 21:28; Heb. 9:28; Titus 2:13; Rev. 22:20

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lazarus, Come Out!


Lazarus, come out!

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:43-44).

The story of Lazarus’ death, and how Jesus raised him from the dead, is one of the most striking stories recorded in the New Testament. I'm not, however, going to dwell on whether or not it's possible or probable. I'm not going to try to prove that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. This is one of those things that you either believe, or you don't. No one, except for the Holy Spirit, can convince someone that this - or anything else - is true. It all depends on what you think about Holy Scripture; either it is the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God, or it isn't. It is either truth, or a lie. The Lutheran Confessions to which we subscribe profess that God's word is truth - divinely inspired, and without error - and not simply a collection of myths, parables, and morality tales. With that in mind, let us examine what I believe is the absolute essential message of the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.

Every day we read about doctors and paramedics bringing people back from the brink of death. Sometimes they use sophisticated medical equipment, such as a defibrillator; sometimes they use only their hands and mouth to perform CPR. These dedicated medical professionals are not always successful. With each minute that passes after a grave medical emergency, the odds against a successful revival become greater and greater.

What is so amazing about this person Jesus is that, without any medical equipment of any kind – with only his words – Jesus brought a man back from death to life. Lazarus had been dead and in his grave for four days, and Jesus simply commanded him to come out – and he did! In one amazing instance, Jesus uses the tragedy of Lazarus’ death to bring glory to the Father in heaven, confirm and strengthen the faith of his followers, show his own power and intimate relationship with the Father, and prove that he was who he said he was – the divine Son of God, the Messiah. And, we are told, many Jews put their faith in Jesus because of what they saw.

All of those things are important parts of John 11, and we could spend an hour discussing each of them. There is, however, another aspect to this story which, while it may not be as theologically lofty as a discussion of Jesus' dependence on God the Father while in the state of humiliation, hits much closer to home for the average person:

We are Lazarus.

Or, rather, we all can put ourselves in Lazarus’ place. Because of sin, we were all as dead to God as Lazarus was when he was lying in his tomb. St. Paul tells the Ephesians this very thing:

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2: 1-3).

And, just as there was nothing that Lazarus could do to raise himself from the dead and leave his grave, there is nothing we can do to “reanimate” ourselves to God. St. Paul dashes all human hopes of self-righteousness by quoting the Psalms in his letter to the Romans:

“As it is Written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; There is no one who does good not even one…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast,” (Romans 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:8-9).

While we can do nothing, Jesus can - and has - done everything for us. By his death and resurrection, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He now calls us with a loud voice, as he called Lazarus, to come out of our graves, through his word. He gives us the full forgiveness and salvation that he won for mankind through his word and the sacraments of holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, God daily strips away the stinking grave clothes of sin that stick to us, and he keeps us steadfast in the faith. “But if Christ is in you," Paul tells the Romans, "although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness" (Romans 8:10).

God has made us alive in Christ, and has given us forgiveness freely as a gift - the same way Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus didn't decide he wanted to be alive again, he didn't ask Jesus to save him, and he certainly did not assist in his resurrection. Jesus loved Lazarus, as he loves us; Jesus called Lazarus, as he calls us, from death to life.

The question is now what shall we do with our new gift of life? We have two options: 1) Live as we always have, according to our sinful nature, satisfying our every carnal desire or 2) By the power of the Holy Spirit, live according to our new spiritual nature that God has created within us. Paul gives us our answer:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6: 1-14).

When we live according to the Holy Spirit and by His power, using God's Law as our guide to that which is God-pleasing, we glorify God. When people see the new creation we have become, they cannot help but be evangelized by God himself, seeing Christ in us. God’s evangelism is much more effective than anything we could ever “do” for ourselves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pastor Otten's Installation at Immanuel


Participants in the installation gather in front of Immanuel's altar.
Center R: Rev. Walter Otten. Center L: Rev. Dan Gilbert
The Congregation of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hodgkins, IL installed it's first new pastor in 35 years on, Sunday, December 4. There were over 100 people in attendance; many other pastors participated in the installation service, including The Rev. Dan Gilbert, president of the Northern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, who conducted the installation.

The Rev. Walter D. Otten was called to serve as pastor of Immanuel in June 2011. Prior to accepting the call to shepherd the flock at Immanuel, Pastor Otten has had a long and distinguished career serving Our Lord in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

Pastor Otten served his vicarage at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Monticello, Indiana. His first call was to serve as the pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Delhi, Ontario, Canada in 1959. While in Canada, Pastor Otten served as the district pastoral adviser for the Ontario District Walther League.

In 1962 Pastor Otten was called to serve St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Brookfield, IL. He served at St. Paul's from 1962 - 2005. After retiring from St. Paul's in 2005, Pastor Otten has served at Good Shepherd/Our Redeemer as guest preacher and visitation pastor.

In 1965 Pastor Otten married Ruth Reinkin. The Lord has blessed their union with five children: Hans, Erik, Kurt, Elise, and Rolf. The Ottens are also the proud grandparents of eleven grandchildren.

The congregation of Immanuel is excited to welcome Pastor and Mrs. Otten into their family, and is thankful to God that He has provided them with a Shepherd to feed them with God's Word and Sacraments as they begin their next 100 years of proclaiming Christ's Gospel in Hodgkins.

P.S. - Many thanks to all of the clergy who participated in the rite of installation. I regret that I did not get all your names to post in the caption of the photo. I will remedy that as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Good Shepherd

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10: 7-11, 14-15).

Jesus is speaking to “the Jews” at the end of chapter nine, after having restored sight to the man who had been born blind. We have already identified “the Jews” as being the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the teachers of the Law – those groups who had become the religious leaders by Jesus’ time. Jesus’ entire “figure of speech” (v.6) seems to be directed at them. On one level, this paroimia (or enigmatic saying) is simple to understand (The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version, 2009). The sheep are God’s people; the sheepfold represents the safety and rest of the Lord. The shepherd is the one who cares for and protects the sheep, but who are the “thieves and robbers”? In the context of the conversation it is evident that Jesus is referring, not simply to false Messiahs and those who would teach false doctrine and scatter the people of God as a wolf scatters a flock (Lenski, 1942). Jesus is referring to those who have legitimately put in charge of caring for the sheep, but have shirked their duties. Lenski writes:

“Some have thought that Jesus here refers to false Messiahs who had come before his time. But this is historically incorrect and also untrue to the figure. False Messiahs would be false doors to the fold not thieves and robbers who fight shy of ‘the door.’ When Jesus adds that these ‘are’ thieves and robbers he comes down to the present and includes the present Jewish leaders. All, past and present, ‘are’ self-seekers” (Lenski, 1942).

When we apply the Berean Test[1] to Jesus’ message to the Jews in John chapter 10, it seems to be the same message spoke hundreds of years before by God the Jews through the prophet Ezekiel:

…Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them…Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness (Ezekiel 34: 1-4, 11-12).

In calling himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is calling himself Yahweh. The prophet Ezekiel wrote that God himself, because those who were supposed to shepherd Israel would neglect the responsibility given to them, would come among his sheep and be their shepherd himself. Jesus announces to the Jews here in John 10 that the long wait for their shepherd is over – he has arrived.

In addition to calling himself the Shepherd, Jesus also refers to himself as “the door of the sheep” (v. 7). This is significant because, by saying this, Jesus is telling everyone that, like the gate of the fold which controlled who had access to the safety of the pen and to the shepherd, Jesus is the means of access to God the Father. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus will explain to his disciples the concept that no one can come to the Father except through him;[2] here he teaches that truth with a figure of speech.

“Anyone who comes through the gate, that is, who believes in Jesus, will be saved. He or she will come and go and be nourished. The thieves and robbers come to steal, kill, and destroy, the effect of false teaching is disastrous. The path of the Pharisees falls off a rocky cliff. But Jesus came so that the sheep might have life and have it to the full” (Baumler, 1997).

The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jew, “but for blasphemy because you, a mere man, make yourself God” (NIV John 10:24-33).

Here, as he did in an exchange with the Pharisees in chapter eight, Jesus tells them exactly who he is. He is “one” with the Father. Not merely one in will and work, but one in being and essence (The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version, 2009).[3] Additionally, the Greek word used by John in this passage is neuter – one thing, not one person. Jesus is telling us that he and the Father are one in essence, or nature, but they are not identical persons. As the Scripture says, the Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying. They took these words to be blasphemy, and tried to carry out the law – the penalty for blasphemy was stoning – though without due process.[4]

Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel is amazing, in that it teaches so much in such a short space. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and, in so doing, gives us a glimpse of the intimate relationship he has with his followers, and the love that moved Jesus to die for them all. Sheep who do not listen to the voice of the shepherd are bound to wander away from the safety of the flock and be devoured by wolves. Like the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, the God-man’s love for his own moved him to endure the humiliating death on the cross to be the sacrifice for their sins (The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version, 2009).[5]

Jesus’ declaration that he and the Father “are one,” and that no one can snatch his sheep from his hand should give all believers hope, no matter what they face. “Believers can rest secure that they belong to Jesus Christ and will never perish; all of Jesus’ works affirm this truth” (The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version, 2009). Consequently, to reject Jesus as the Pharisees did, even in the face of the miracles Jesus did and the testimony of the Law and the Prophets, is to reject God himself and his gift of forgiveness and everlasting life.



Works Cited


Baumler, G. P. (1997). People's Bible Commentary: John. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Lenski, R. C. (1942). The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press.




End Notes




[1] Acts 17: 10-12
[2] John 14:6
[3] John 10:38
[4] Leviticus 24:16
[5] Php. 2:8

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Remarkable!

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes,” (John 9:30).

Of all the miracles God used throughout the Old Testament to show people who He was, there is not one recorded instance of a man born blind ever receiving his sight. This miracle happened in John’s Gospel and give indisputable proof that Jesus is from God – the promised Messiah.

We join the story of the healing of the man born blind right after the heated exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. This argument about the validity of Jesus’ claim to be Messiah and condemnation of the Pharisees illegitimate authority culminated with Jesus calling himself by God’s divine title – I AM – and the Pharisees trying to kill him. It is right after this scene that Jesus gives us, and all the world, proof of His authority. We don’t know how long a period of time separates the two events. However, they had to happen close to each other, judging by the reaction of the people and Pharisees who witnessed it, and the subsequent investigation.

The 9th chapter of John tells us that, “As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him. ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus ‘but this happened so that the word of God might be displayed in his life.’” It was common thought in Jesus’ day that such an infirmity was a result of sin. Jesus rejected this idea, and corrects his disciples. Jesus tells them that God allowed this man to be born blind so that God’s work could be displayed to all.

The story continues: Jesus heals the man. The man’s friends and acquaintances see the miracle and ask how it happened. He tells them that Jesus did it. Word gets back to the Pharisees who, with hardened hearts and a previous axe to grind, seek to catch Jesus in the act of sin, or “breaking of the law” (their man-made regulations) any way they can.

In the course of their investigation, the Pharisees question the blind man three times. They even talk to the man’s parents, just to make sure that this is the same man. Each time he is questioned, he gives the same account of the story, “’He put mud on my eyes,’ the man replied, ‘and I washed and now I see.’” No matter what angle they try, there just isn’t a way around it for the Pharisees – Jesus healed the man born blind, something, according to their own Pharisaic teaching the Messiah would do, and something God had never done in the past. Finally, the man born blind gets fed up with the question from the Pharisees and tells them, “I have told you already and you did not listen.”

“You did not listen.” That must have really made the Pharisees angry. The text actually says that they “hurled insults at the man,” but it was probably a little more intense than that. Here the Pharisees were, being lectured about this man, this prophet – the Son of Man, Jesus – by someone “steeped in sin at birth.” Their blood must have began to boil as they shouted, “but as for this fellow [Jesus], we don’t even know where he comes from.” Their anger and annoyance must have turned to rage as the blind man explained, “You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners.” Surely the exchange between the man born blind and the Pharisees puts us in mind of Isaiah chapter 6:

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’”

Here the prophet describes the Pharisees, and all those who deny what God plainly tells and shows them – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

The blind man could see what the Pharisees refused to acknowledge, because Jesus opened his eyes – not merely in a physical way, but also in a spiritual way. The Pharisees claimed to be Abraham’s children, but they could not even realize what God was showing the world – that He loved them and sent his Son, the promised Messiah to restore mankind to the relationship we had with God before our fall into sin. Those who had true faith in God and His promise to deliver man could plainly see who Jesus was when He declared it by his words or actions – the promised Messiah – even if they did not fully understand what Jesus’ “Messiah-ship” meant. But as for the Pharisees, those who put their trust in earthly things, such as man-made laws and political power, Jesus sums it up best, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you [Pharisees] do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:47).

To whom do you belong? Is God your Father, or are you children of the devil? Can you see what God is showing you, like the man born blind, or are you “seeing but never perceiving and hearing but never understanding,” like the Pharisees. Is the Father that you claim reflected in your actions, or are you living under a delusion like the Pharisees? St. Paul wrote in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through Faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”

Through Christ’s death and resurrection we have been set free from sin and death. We should not, however, use this freedom to indulge our sinful nature. When we do, we alienate ourselves from fellowship with God. Rather, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we must strive to serve one another in love. As it is written, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” When we do good to all people, both to those who believe and those who don’t, we proclaim the love Christ has for humanity, not with words, but by the way we live our very lives.

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

George Washington

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Shortly after the Thanksgiving Proclamation was written, it was lost for 130 years. The original document was written in long hand by William Jackson, secretary to the President, and was then signed by George Washington. It was probably misplaced or mixed in with some private papers when the US capitol moved from New York to Washington, D.C. The original manuscript was not placed in the National Archives until 1921 when Dr. J. C. Fitzpatrick, assistant chief of the manuscripts division of the Library of Congress found the proclamation at an auction sale being held at an art gallery in New York. Dr Fitzpatrick purchased the document for $300.00 for the Library of Congress, in which it now resides. It was the first official presidential proclamation issued in the United States.

http://wilstar.com/holidays/wash_thanks.html

See also:

http://freedomkeys.com/thanksgiving.htm