Monday, June 24, 2024

Thoughts on The Chosen

Thoughts on "The Chosen" The Chosen

A dear friend and fellow Christian has been, for some time now, trying to get me to watch the show, "The Chosen." If you're unfamiliar with it, The Chosen is a dramatic series created by Dallas Jenkins depicting the life of Jesus. The show has become very popular and is now in its fourth season. My friend has been a zealous and tenacious evangelist for the show. A conversation rarely passes with him in which The Chosen isn't mentioned or where some interesting scene isn't described. My friend maintains that I will be hooked if I just consent to watch it once. Thus far, I have avoided an entire episode, though I promised to watch one of his choosing before the summer is out.

My friend rightly asks me why I have a problem with the show. That is the strange thing. I can't quite put my finger on what bothers me about it. I haven't watched entire episodes, but I have watched enough clips online to know it isn't for me. My immediate thought is that I don't particularly care for any dramatic depictions of the Bible. Most of them, including Mel Gibson's "The Passion," make me uneasy. And I don't mean that the subject matter makes me uneasy. I mean that the interpolation used to "fill in the gaps of Scripture" and the blatant attempts to manipulate my emotions makes me uncomfortable. After watching a 10-minute talk by Dallas Jenkins on The Chosen app, where he answered some common concerns and myths about the show, I decided to codify my distaste. It boils down to these things: 1) Revivalism, and 2) Gospel Reductionism.

I mean revivalism, in that the show tries to manipulate people's emotions so they come to the place where they will decide to become a Christian. I mean Gospel Reductionism, in that anything that does not fit within the so-called Gospel of "Jesus Loves You" is abandoned.

I know that what I think about this show is not popular. Personally, I don't care if you watch The Chosen or not. These are my reasons for abstaining. Dallas Jenkins' 10-minute video was enough to solidify my position.

The Chosen is designed to affect people emotionally. That should not be surprising. That is part of what art and entertainment generally try to do. It is this effect that the show is going for where Jesus is concerned, just like revival preachers employing Finney's New Measures. They are trying to humanize Jesus; to make him relatable. In the pages of Scripture, we think we get a more sterile Jesus. He is one-dimensional. But the Chosen fills in the gaps. In the show Jesus laughs; Jesus cries; Jesus interacts with His disciples in ways similar to how we interact with our own friends. In short, Jesus becomes more "real." The show affects the viewer emotionally, and the result of that emotional reaction is supposed to be the viewer seeing Jesus less as a character or figure and more as a real person to whom the viewer can relate. Dare I say, a more "authentic" Jesus. In fact, my friend expressed this thought to me directly. That plan is fantastic for a fiction writer trying to create believable, relatable, and more sympathetic characters. However, it is dangerous to the Christian faith when we do this with Jesus. You might even say that we are being led to the conclusion that Jesus is just like us and, therefore, He "gets" us.

Dallas Jenkins said that The Chosen is not a replacement for Scripture. The show is, instead, supposed to drive people who watch it into the study of Scripture. Mr. Jenkins says that, in his experience, this is what has happened. In my experience, however, it has been the opposite. At Bible study, particularly a study of the Gospel accounts, I hear fellow parishioners who watch The Chosen interject things like, "They depict this [verse/verses/story/etc] in such-and-such a way on The Chosen," as though the show is meant to illuminate Holy Scripture. And, whether they realize it or not, that is precisely what is happening to them. Scripture is being informed by the fictional dramatic elements of the show, making Scripture, they wrongly think, more lively, meaningful, and relatable.

As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, it is probably a fair criticism of me to say that I find a Higher Critical Gospel Reductionist under every rock. However, I think that how one views Scripture is essential when one is discussing theology in general and the person and work of Jesus Christ specifically. Dallas Jenkins identifies himself as an Evangelical (no, I'm not accusing him of being a Mormon), but that does not give any clue to how he views Holy Scripture. Does he think that the Bible the divinely inspired inerrant Word of God, or is the Bible a literary creation of man that merely contains the Word of God for us to seek out? From what he has said about his approach to Scripture and the show, I suspect it leans more toward the latter view.

Mr. Jenkins said that he has chosen only to depict what is in the pages of Scripture and not give any sort of interpretation, personal, denominational, or otherwise. Not only is this confusing, it is impossible. It matters greatly who Dallas Jenkins says Jesus is. If he is an Evangelical, he believes that Jesus is God in human flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This view must necessarily color his portrayal of Jesus, just as an atheist's or agnostic's view that Jesus was simply a good man and moral teacher will inform and influence his portrayal. Just like with Bible translations, all translation is interpretation to some degree. No one is unbiased; no one can be completely neutral. Moreover, complete neutrality is an odd goal for an Evangelical to strive for in recounting the story of Jesus to the world.

Jesus Himself posed this, the most important question: Who do you say that I am? Jesus says that He is the Word made flesh. He is true God and true man at the same time. Jesus says that He and God the Father are one. Jesus says that He came to serve mankind by giving His life as a ransom for many; that He would be crucified and rise from the dead. Scripture, the very Word of God, tells us that Jesus' death was the propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, and the sins of the whole world, and that He will return to judge the living and the dead. Jesus proved that His word was true by the miracles He performed, chief among those being His resurrection. That is a different Jesus from the one presented by theological liberals (higher critics), the LDS, and other non-Christian cults.

Mr. Jenkins' desire to leave aside, as he says, the "traditions of religion" is concerning to me. The traditions to which he refers are the very teachings of God recorded in Holy Scripture. The fact that Christians debate the things that Scripture teaches, and decide questions of fellowship based on those arguments, shows how important doctrine is. Such an approach, one which focuses only on the Gospel narrative and does not explain what is said and done by Jesus and the Apostles, is similar to Gospel Reductionism. Here, it seems the only important thing is how Jesus makes me feel. All questions of "religion," the doctrine that Jesus commanded His Apostles to teach in its entirety, are secondary.

We don't need an emotional experience with Jesus for the Gospel to be true. The Gospel is already true whether we believe it or not. Our feelings are not to be trusted. Jesus is, and we find Him and what He taught in the Bible, in the Lord's Supper, and in Baptism. Similarly, God's Word does not need to be marketed. Men are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins by the power and working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God as it is preached, read, meditated upon, and received through water (in Baptism), and bread and wine (in the Supper). God needs no help from us in this regard. Finally, the so-called traditions of religion cannot be ignored in favor of the bare narrative of the Gospel story alone. Jesus commanded His Apostles to teach everything that He commanded; Scripture calls us to watch our lives and our doctrine closely because by it (our scripturally true teachings given to us by Jesus), we shall save ourselves and our hearers. And, to say that one is presenting the story of Jesus without personal bias is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. ###

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Thoughts on Demographics, Higher Criticism, and the Future of the LCMS

Delusional Lutherans LCMS logo

We members of the LCMS are delusional. I have suspected that for years. Now, however, there is a survey to prove it.

Lyman Stone, an LCMS layman and demographer, conducted a survey last year entitled "The 2023 Lutheran Religious Life Survey." According to the description, the purpose of the survey was to collect information on the attitudes, characteristics, and views of LCMS members. The section "Perceived Congregational Growth" gives some astounding insights.

According to the survey, about half of the approximately 2,000 LCMS members surveyed think that their congregations are staying about the same in terms of growth. Over 30% of LCMS members believe that their congregations are growing. Just under 20% of LCMS members think that their congregations are shrinking (Stone, 2024).

The reality is quite different. Over 70% of LCMS congregations are shrinking, approximately 20% are holding their own, and fewer than 10% are growing (Stone, 2024).

This should be obvious to anyone who has not been living in a cave for the past 40 years. Reports concerning our demographic crisis have even been discussed in convention in 2016.

The fact of the matter is that we have stopped having babies. That may not be the only problem we have where membership is concerned, but it certainly is a significant one. Getting married, starting a family, and having children is the surest way to grow. The other side of that coin is, if our members do not have families, if they do not procreate above the replacement rate, then we will shrink. During the last several generations, the LCMS has imbibed many progressive philosophies from our pagan culture here in the United States. The most destructive one, after the introduction of Higher Criticism and Gospel Reductionism, are the effects of the sexual revolution. We at least attempted to fight against the higher critics hijacking our seminaries. We did not do nearly as well resisting the sexual revolution.

We can see the trends if we look at some other statistics. According to reports published by the LCMS School Ministry between the school years 2014-2015 and 2021-2022, the number of children baptized in Synod increased by a moderate 2.6%.[1] That sounds OK until we look closer. In 2014-2015, 1,756 children were baptized. The number peaks in 2016-2017 at 2,486. From that point onwards, however, the trend is downward, to 1,794 in 2021-2022, the latest available statistics.

Instead of sending the children we did have to Lutheran schools, we sent them to progressive government schools. We thought that having extra-curricular activities in which they could participate was more essential to their formation as a person than keeping Christ at the center of their education. But it turns out that weekly Sunday school and catechism class just is not enough to combat the onslaught of the godless Leftist culture which is offered to them at every opportunity.

Over the past eight years, the number of LCMS schools has declined by approximately 12%.[2] In 2014 there were 2,111 LCMS schools. In the 2021-22 school year there were 1,855 schools. Because of inconsistency in the number of schools reporting statistics each year, the student enrollment data is less straightforward. Overall, the trend was downward from 2015. In 2015, the reported enrollment for LCMS schools was 191,340 with 81% of congregations/schools reporting. By 2021, that number was 162,074 with only 73% of congregations/schools reporting. It is likely that, had the number of congregations that reported statistics for the 2021-22 school year been similar to the 2015-16 school year (approximately 19% non-reporting rate) the decline would be less severe. It would, however, likely still be a decline.

At the government school, they were given a feeling of belonging and purpose. They are, after all, kept there, on average, around eight hours a day, five days a week. They were taught a secular anti-catechism that is a mix of moral relativism, Marxism, sexual perversion, and radical environmentalism. They were taught to worship the planet, to worship the culture, to worship their feelings, to worship themselves. They were taught what to think, to conform, and that such conformity was really tolerance. All the while, we parents were in denial. We told ourselves that stuff might be happening in the big cities or on the coasts. But it is not happening in my hidden little Mayberry, USA.

But it is. It happens anywhere a teacher who was trained at a secular Leftist university is teaching children. They were all trained in progressivism.

And we were surprised that, when our kids returned from college, they no longer confessed Christ and Him crucified as the atonement for the sin of the world and claimed to be the opposite sex. But we should not be surprised when, to paraphrase Voddie Baucham, our kids return to us Romans, after we have sent them to Caesar for their education.

Knowing us, we will grab onto whatever the hottest trend was 20 years ago among American Evangelicals to try and grow our congregations. I’ve seen us do it. We will probably also continue to blame traditional liturgical practices, chanting, vestments, "dead orthodoxy," and not being "loving" (otherwise known as being doctrinally uncompromising). All the while, we will continue to ignore the fact that the Marxist-Leftist-racist-environmentalist religion has also infiltrated our Synod, particularly our Concordia university system, and dismiss those who try to warn about this danger as "mean."

Ironically, the so-called conservative, confessional, and traditional congregations are among the ones actually showing growth (Stone, 2024).

Don't get me wrong: I would bet that the LCMS is less far gone than most of American Christianity. We can probably attribute that to three things many in our Synod also dislike: our theological foundation, which is justification by faith in Christ alone, our high view of the Holy Scriptures as established and protected in the Book of Concord and by theologians such as Walther and Pieper, and our tendency to isolate ourselves from the broader culture because of our "German-ness."

It's just too bad we also have some kind of theological/cultural/academic inferiority complex to go along with all those things.

Since the early to mid-20th Century, our theologians and professors have wanted to be seen in a more favorable light by mainstream American academia. We wanted our schools, universities, and seminaries to be taken seriously and our professors to be accepted as serious scholars. We did not want to be seen as crazy immigrant fundamentalists who ran some backward Bible colleges. And, as we shed the German language and cultural customs, we looked less and less like outsiders. The more we engaged in academic debate, the more the ideas of mainline American academia and Protestantism began to gain traction in the Synod.

Rev. Dr. Scott Murray describes this situation well in his book, "Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism."

Murray explains that the LCMS was seen as old-fashioned by the Lutheran theologians and academics in Germany. They derisively referred to the LCMS repristinators of theology from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy. When LCMS theologians met with them in the late 1940s, they were surprised that the Germans had little regard for the Book of Concord, except for the Augsburg Confession. They particularly dismissed the Formula of Concord, which they saw as Melanchthonian and a corruption of Luther's theology.

The Luther Renaissance influenced theologians in Germany to focus on Luther and his writings rather than on the Book of Concord. Consequently, the status of the theologians and writings from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy was diminished. As Murray points out, the problem with this is how do we know which Luther is the real Luther. As is well-known and documented, early Luther was a much different theologian than older Luther. He developed into a Lutheran out of Augustinianism over time. There is a danger that writings from Luther's various periods could be used to support views held by modern theologians but that Luther had grown out of.

The LCMS participated in ecumenical meetings in Germany in 1947-48. This was the LCMS theologians' first significant contact with German Lutherans, who had been heavily influenced by Kierkegaard and Existentialism. Murray says that the LCMS theologians were particularly enamored with Werner Elert. While the LCMS would continue to claim their orthodoxy and so-called repristination theology following the meetings, they did bring back certain existential Lutheran influences. Among those influences, writes Murray, was a distaste for the Third Use of the Law. But that wasn't the only thing.

Existentialism in Lutheranism comes from Soren Kierkegaard. To the existentialist Lutheran, faith is an existential communication between God and man, where man encounters God. Faith is more than just knowing the right doctrines and how to express them using the correct formulas of jargon (Murray, 2002). To them, Murray explains, faith is a subjective experience for each person.

Pieper and Walther were the prime examples of LCMS repristination to the German Lutherans. This was, Murray explains, because they primarily cited sources from the age of Orthodoxy, chief among those sources being the Book of Concord, rather than adding their own insights. Pieper and Walther held the Formula of Concord in high regard. At the Bad Boll meetings in 1947-48, the German Lutherans criticized Pieper and Walter, and accused them of holding Biblical inerrancy as more important than the Doctrine of Justification (Murray, 2002). Here, we see the beginnings of what would develop into Gospel Reductionism in the Missouri Synod in the coming decades.

By 1960, LCMS theologians were criticizing the "dead orthodoxy" of Pieper and Walther. They were moving toward a theology that was "personal and dynamic" (Murray, 2002). This movement, influenced by existentialist thought, leads to a weakening of objective truth. In existentialist theology, only subjective experience is of value. Such thinking, suggests Murray, would eventually lead to abandoning the Third use of the Law (Murray, 2002). It would also develop into Gospel Reductionism.

Gospel Reductionism is a term coined by John Warwick Montgomery in 1966 to describe how theologians in the LCMS were using only "Christ and the Gospel" as the rule for determining doctrine rather than the whole council of the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God as we have it in the Bible (Harmelink, 2024). These professors viewed the Bible through the lens of Higher Criticism. They believed that the Bible, rather than being the Word of God, merely contained the Word of God. Our job was to sort out which bits were God's word and which were not. They reduced everything down to the Gospel. Doctrines that did not impact the Gospel did not need to be kept.

Harmelink explains that Gospel Reductionism abandons divine inspiration, inerrancy, and the authority of Holy Scripture. Instead, doctrine is subject to the Gospel only. This might sound okay on the surface. In reality, it is a way to grant permission not to believe in difficult or troublesome teachings.

Gospel Reductionism makes man the judge of Holy Scripture when it should be the other way around. The Bible is not subject to our reason (the magisterial use of reason); instead, our reason should be subject to the Word of God (the ministerial use of reason).

Gospel Reductionism uses "Christ and the Gospel" to do away with other teachings the Gospel Reductionists see as problematic while keeping the Gospel, or so they claim. Without a divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God as a foundation, as Harmelink says, it is impossible to hold on to the Gospel. The Word of God delivers Christ and the Gospel to us.

Thankfully, with the Walkout of the faculty majority who taught these things from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis 50 years ago this past February and the firm line taken by the faithful and confessional leadership of Synod at the time, Lutheran Orthodoxy decisively won the Battle for the Bible.

But we must realize that, though we may have won the battle, the war is far from over. It will continue as long as Jesus tarries and we live in this fallen creation.

What must we do to stop the theology of the world from regaining a foothold and regaining ground? I do not have the answer. I can tell you what we absolutely must not do, though: drop our Bible and Books of Concord so we can embrace this world's philosophies. The instant we forsake the preaching of Law and Gospel, and the authority of Scripture, we are finished as a church body. We will no longer be part of Christ's body; we will have fallen from grace.

We must realize that this stance might mean some uncomfortable times for the LCMS. We might have to shrink the scope of what our Synod does. We might have to endure some ridicule from the culture at large. We might have to think about our priorities in terms of funding, in terms of where mission work is done, what it looks like, and how we train our pastors. Our institutions may need to get smaller. Maybe our universities are not accredited through secular institutions, and they focus on church work. Maybe we spend more effort encouraging our families to choose the one thing needful and send their children to faithful Lutheran schools instead of the government schools, so that they may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe we should start by encouraging Lutherans to get married and be open to having the number of children that the Lord will bless them with; to be fruitful, and multiply; to fill the earth and subdue it.

Yes, embracing these things may mean rejection and persecution by the world. But it will mean that, if those children we have and raise in the church persevere in the faith, they will receive a crown of life when Christ comes again.

And He is coming soon. ###

Works Cited

Harmelink, D. (2024, February 19). It’s All About the Gospel . . . Isn’t It? The Lutheran Witness. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from

Murray, S. R. (2002). Law, Life, and the Living God [Kindle]. Concordia Publishing House.,+Life,+and+the+Living+God&hl=&cd=1&source=gbs_api

Schmidt, R. (Director). (n.d.). Lutheran School Statistics. In LCMS School Ministry. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from

Stone, L. (n.d.). Those Who Are Being Saved: Report on the Results of the 2023 Lutheran Religious Life Survey. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from

[1] The statistics that follow in this paragraph are taken from the LCMS School Ministry report summarizing Lutheran school statistics from the 2014-2015 through the 2021-2022 school years.

[2] The statistics that follow in this paragraph are taken from the LCMS School Ministry report summarizing Lutheran school statistics from the 2014-2015 through the 2021-2022 school years.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

What Do You Say Scripture Is?

Icon of Jesus holding the Scriptures.

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:6-9).

All the arguments we have about Higher Criticism, about Gospel Reductionism, about Justification; they all have at their central point the same kernel: What is Scripture?

Either the Holy Scriptures are the divinely inspired and inerrant word of God, or they are corrupted. Either the Bible is the product of the omniscient God who created the universe, and spoke to mankind through men as He moved those men by His Holy Spirit, or it is just a collection of texts, created by men, out of which we might be able to extract some kind of significance if we do the right kind of mental gymnastics. Either the Holy Scriptures are the source of all Christian doctrine, and the norm for evaluating that doctrine, or they aren’t. And, if they aren’t, then the only source for doctrine is the devil and the human heart.

Those are our options, as I see it. It will do no good arguing about fine doctrinal points with someone who does not believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant. That person, even if he doesn't recognize or admit it, has no standard for doctrine. He may come up with anything he likes. The only limit to his creativity is his own intellect. Personally, that terrifies me. I think, however, that this is what is so attractive about modern theological and philosophical schools of thought. The higher critics abandoned the things that limited their thought, and they were free to search out what God really said in the human work of scripture. But that was the whole point of God giving scripture to us in the first place. It serves as an objective standard. It is supposed to be our limiting principle.

And I am at once suspicious of men who look at the word of God and ask the question, “Did God really say?”

But how do we know that scripture is divinely inspired and inerrant? Well, it tells us that it is. That isn't the simplistic argument that it seems. Scripture tells us that it is the product of God inspiring human writers to record His revelation to mankind. It records the movements of people groups; it describes wars and other events of human history. And we tend to find the archeological remnants of those people and their activities where the Bible tells us we will. Alas, secular scholars will dismiss what the Bible tells them about what they have found simply because the information comes from the Bible. But the archeological evidence, as Joel Kramer describes it, is like having five pieces of a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle. The only way to make any sense of those pieces is to look at the picture on the box. The Bible is, for us, that picture.[1]

Moreover, its revelation was accompanied by miracles to confirm the authenticity of its message. The most important proof to an old “Biblicist” such as myself is that Jesus taught the divine character and perfection of the word of God, and He proved that He was God by rising from the dead, so we should pay attention to what He said.

Jesus said that the Bible was about Him. He is the center of all Holy Scripture. After His resurrection when He taught two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained this to them:

He [Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

When Jesus declares to the Pharisees in John 10:25 that the Scriptures cannot be broken, he is declaring that the Scriptures are true and correct; that they are the source from which all teachings are derived. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares that He came to fulfill the Scriptures:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).

Jesus did not set up a new religion. From Genesis to Malachi there is one primary message: all people are sinful because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience; all deserve God’s wrath because of our corruption. But God promised to send a Savior to deliver us from sin and death. Through faith in that promise, of which Jesus is the fulfillment, people living before the time of Jesus received God’s forgiveness and salvation.

And then, Jesus showed up, said that He was God in human flesh who came to die as the atoning sacrifice for sin, and rose from the dead after He was crucified to death. I'm going to listen to what He says.

But the higher critics won’t. My argument is, to them, a quaint remnant of a less enlightened time. The mere mention of miracles, actions that defy the laws of physics, would have them laughing in my face. They subscribe to the idea that nothing supernatural can be taken at face value. That's why you see higher critical scholars trying to explain Jesus’ walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee by some anomalous weather event that caused ice to form and provide a platform for our Lord to deceive the disciples.[2]

And that means all miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus. Modern scholars will twist themselves into knots talking about a “spiritual” resurrection. They will twist the scriptures any way they have to, to deny that Jesus actually rose from the dead. With St. Paul, however, I say that if Christ is not raised from the dead our preaching is useless, our faith is useless, all the dead are lost, we are still in our sins, and we are the most pathetic people of all:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

I do not, however, believe that the ESV Bible in the pew racks at your church is the divinely inspired inerrant word of God (That would be the NIV 1984, of course.../joking). It is generally taught that the autographs, those original copies which the divinely inspired authors produced, are the inerrant copies.[3] The manuscripts copied from those autographs certainly have errors in them. They don't, however, have errors as the modernists would like you to believe.[4] They will tell you that there are thousands of discrepancies, called textual variants, found between manuscripts![5] How are we to know the truth! So many differences! This might sound impressive until you realize that those so-called variants are incredibly minor. They are things like word order and spelling differences in manuscripts. And the other thing they won't tell you is that literally none of the thousands and thousands of textual variants affects a single point of doctrine.[6]

We have thousands and thousands of manuscript copies of the New Testament going back to the first generation of the Christian Church. They all say the same things. All of them. This wasn't some cosmic game of telephone where God told one guy something, and that guy whispered it to someone else and wasn't allowed to repeat the message, causing errors to creep in, until the final message bore no resemblance to the original one.[7] No, they copied the autographs. Then they checked the copies. Then they copied the copies. Then they checked those copies against the earliest copies they had. And they continued doing this for two millennia. Even today, when someone faithfully translates the Bible into modern language, they go back to the earliest sources available to make sure they are getting it right.

That’s not even considering the Old Testament, and how its text was faithfully preserved.

So, as far as Christian doctrine is concerned, scripture must be the source of it. Francis Pieper, another “Biblicist” who repristinates “dead orthodoxy” put it like this:

“It is impossible to separate these two functions of Scripture: to be the source of the Christian doctrine and to be its norm. The Holy Scriptures are the norm of the Christian doctrine only because they are its only source” (Pieper, 1950).[8]

We read what Scripture says about creation and mankind, how we were created perfect by a gracious God, and how we rejected that perfection by disobedience to His Law. We learn from Scripture the depth of our corruption by sin; that it is complete; so complete, in fact, that while we might realize that something isn't right with us, we can't recognize the problem in its entirety, let alone solve it. We must be taught that we are sinful creatures, lost and condemned. And, to set things right, God took on human flesh, was born of a woman, lived a sinless life and died as the vicarious atonement for the sins of the world.

It is through the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of God’s word, that He creates faith in Christ in us, giving us the gifts of His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Pieper, again, says it better than I could:

Every theologian should be able to see that we are here confronted with an [sic] aut-aut. Either we accept Scripture as God's own Word and, emphasizing it as the sole source and norm of theology, teach doctrinam divinam, or we deny that Scripture is God's infallible Word, distinguish in it between truth and error, and teach, in God's Church, the “visions of our own heart,” the doctrina humana of our Ego. The divine authority which we take away from Scripture we necessarily assign to our own human mind. We are adrift on the sea of subjectivism. Human opinion occupies the rostrum in the Church. Theology is no longer theocentric, but has become anthropocentric” (Pieper, 1950).[9]

And, if we were to do that, we would be doing the devil’s will. ###

End Notes

[1] Kramer, Joel P. 2020. “Where God Came Down: The Archaeological Evidence.” Introduction, p. 8. Brigham City: Expedition Bible (an imprint of Sourceflix Inc.).

[2] Borger, Julian. “Jesus Was Walking on Thin Ice, Claim Scientists.” the Guardian, February 22, 2017.

[3] Koukl, Greg. “‘Misquoting’ Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman,” n.d.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Barnett, Tim. “Textual Variants: It’s the Nature, Not the Number, That Matters,” n.d.

[6]Koukl, Greg. “‘Misquoting’ Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman,” n.d.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Pieper, Francis. 1950. “Christian Dogmatics,” vol. 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[9] Ibid.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Meditation on Sin, Guilt, and Salvation

The Crucifixion, early 1920s
Georges Rouault
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness...He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:8-9; 2:2).

For those who do not believe the Gospel, the point of disconnect between them and those who are a part of the body of Christ is usually the doctrine of Justification.

What I mean is, those who have not repented of their sin and do not trust in Jesus' vicarious atonement for the forgiveness of their sin just don't understand how forgiveness works. They may be aware that something is wrong. They may feel that they are not right with God in some way. They may even want to correct this. The problem is that they don't know how. Their efforts to make themsleves right with God manifest in just that way...efforts to make up for all the wrongs they have done. It isn't until they hear and believe the Gospel that Christ died to atone for the sin of the world that we are brought to realize just how worthless our efforts to "make things right" are.

But what if you are a Christian and still troubled by your sin?

If by troubled you mean something like you are worried you committed a sin that is too terrible to be forgiven, there is an answer. Your brethren in Christ, and your faithful pastor have been given you by Jesus to hear your confession, and declare the good news that Jesus death has paid for all your sins, no matter what they are. In the case of your faithful pastor, he is there to hear your private confession; to give to you individually and without equivocation the forgiveness that Christ has won for you on the cross.

What if, however, you are troubled in a different way?

What if you already believe that your sins have been paid for by Christ, even the really, really terrible ones? What if, instead of being worried about not being forgiven, you are tormented by the fact that you committed terrible, maybe even unspeakable acts; that you harmed others? You know that you are forgiven by Christ, but you are sad beyond words that you have so greviously harmed your neighbor. You know that the guilt of your sin has been wiped away where God is concerned, but the remorse still presses upon your heart until it is crushed into despair.

Perhaps this despair is part of the suffering we must endure as part of our being a Christian.

Is the guilt and despair really due to fear of possible temporal consequences?

So, where is one to turn when one finds himself in such a situation?

I suspect the right answer to that last question is the same as it is for when one is worried about their salvation: Jesus.

When we are distressed, scripture encourages us to bring our troubles to God in prayer. Paul writes the following to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your eharts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).

Paul exhorts us to rejoice, rather than to continue wallowing in the despair of our sin and guilt. Our sin has been atoned for, and our guilt has been taken away. That is a great reason to rejoice. When we keep this fact foremost in our minds we can't help but be joyful.

In the Passion story scripture shows us two kinds of remorse. The kind that Judas had, and the kind that Peter had. Both Judas and Peter committed sin by betraying Jesus. Judas took money to sell out Jesus to the corrupt authorities. Peter, when faced with the prospect of either confessing Jesus before men and possibly suffering the same gruesome fate as Jesus, or denying Him and getting to live another day, Peter chose the latter.

Scripture tells us that they both felt remorse. Judas felt bad for what he had done to Jesus. His answer was to try to make it right. He went back to the temple, told the Pharisees that he had betrayed innocent blood, and tried to give the money back. Of course, having served their ends, the Pharisees had no further use for Judas, so they dismissed his confession and sent him on his way. Judas even threw the money back into the temple, but he wasn't able to undo the sin he had committed. In the end, the wages of his sin manifested as death by his own hand.

Peter, after he denied Jesus three times and the rooster crowed also recognized that he was guilty of a terrible sin. After all, Jesus did say that if we denied Him before men, He would deny us before the Father. That is precisely what Peter had done. He certainly recognized the state that he was in because scripture tells us that, after his denial, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Both Judas and Peter were disciples of Jesus. Both men fell away from faith as Jesus foretold. Yet Peter was restored to faith, and Judas was lost. Why? What was the difference between the two situations?

In a nutshell, Peter repented of his sin. Judas may have felt badly for doing the terrible thing that he did, but he did not repent.

Repentance has two parts: Contrition and faith. Both Peter and Judas had the first part of repentance. They both felt sorry for what they had done. But only Peter would wind up having faith that his sin was atoned for by the blood of Jesus. Judas tried to make up for what he had done. Going back to the temple, you might say that Judas went to the Law looking for forgiveness. But the law doesn't offer forgiveness. It only condemns. It's first and primary purpose is to show us our sin, and therefore our need for a redeemer. That is certainly what happened to Judas. When he confessed his sin to the Pharisees, Judas got a sharp rebuke in return. "What is that to us?" they said. All the weight of Judas' guilt was brought to bear on him by this declaration of the law. He was responsible for what he had done; no one else on earth could take that away. And the law certainly did it's job on Judas. Instead of turning in faith to the one who could forgive his sin, however, he instead took his own life.

Peter showed his contrition as he wept bitter tears following his betrayal of Jesus. But Peter also has faith. He remains with the other disciples. They still gather together in the upper room following Jesus' crucifixion. And, when he goes to the tomb on Easter morning, he sees and believes. He knows that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And when Jesus comes to him and asks Peter three times if Peter loves Him, Peter says yes. He doesn't make excuses. He confesses his faith.

This is the difference between Peter and Judas: Repentance.

So, feel sorry for your sins, but also believe the good news of the Gospel. Believe that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

And there may be temporal consequences for our sin. That is something we must deal with. When we sin we hurt others. The result of that may be broken relationships, loss of credibility and trust, loss of our vocation, or any number of other things. Accepting and living with the temporal consequences of our sin may not be easy. It is certainly suffering. Jesus did promise us that, in this world we would have trouble.

Continue to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, even in the face of temporal consequences for sin.

Our circumstances in this world do not determine our salvaion. Jesus also said that we should take heart, because He has overcome the world. Our feelings of sadness over the terrible things we may have done don't cancel out what Jesus has done to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. That's why we don't fear the one who can merely kill the body. We fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell, because He is the one who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at right hand of the throne of God.

Confess your sin and do it without holding back. Ask God to also reveal anything that needs to be confessed that you may not realize or remember. If it is possible, make restitution following the example of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8). This restitution is not penance to earn God's favor, but rather an example of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:9). (Got Questions, 2006) God forgives our sin because of our faith in Jesus, and for no other reason.

If you continue to feel guilt even after confession and restitution, it is natural. We feel guilty for our sin because we are indeed guilty. However, Satan's job is to be our accuser. Don't allow him to drag you into despair. Christ has made us into a new creation. (Got Questions, 2006) And if your sin is exposed and the whole world hates and shuns you because of it, don't forget that you who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death and resurrection. He no longer remembers our sins. They are blotted out. We are washed clean by the waters of baptism and clothed with Christ.

Bibliography How should a Christian deal with feelings of guilt regarding past sins?" August 5, 2006.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Do Not Marvel, My Brethren, if the World Hates You

Do Not Marvel, My Brethren, if the World Hates You

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

Trans Day of Visibility Badge

At the end of March in 2023, President Biden signed a proclamation establishing March 31, 2024 to be the "Transgender Day of Visibility." Last week, the county board of Fairfax County, Virginia voted 9-0 to commend this designation. This weekend, since the festival of the resurrection of our Lord falls on March 31, the matter has gotten additional attention.

I suspect that Christians are being trolled by people who have a deep, albeit irrational, hatred of Christianity. It is the same kind of vitriol as was directed against Jesus Christ Himself.

Such people revel in doing and saying things in order to offend Christians. They hope to annoy, irritate, and aggravate Christians so as to provoke a vitriolic reaction. And if that happens, they will feel justified to ramp up the rhetoric to include injustice and injury.

Two reactions may be naturally expected from Christians: the rational and the visceral -- but neither will be ultimately effective or satisfying.

A rational approach is not often an immediately effective response because rational arguments have minimal impact on those who choose to act irrationally. One does not win arguments against the devil with reason. At one point, the disciples questioned Christ because the could not cast out a demon to which Jesus replied, "This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting," (Matthew 17:21).

A visceral approach, especially if it manifests itself in physical force, is not effective because in the minds of those who hate Christians, it justifies and invites an elevated response in kind. Christianity is neither well-prepared nor well-disposed to engage in a protracted battle based on the projection of force.

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4). Rather, our armor consists in such things as faith, love, truth, righteousness, peace -- all established by the living Word of God.

This is not to say that Christians are necessarily prohibited or restrained from the use of either cerebral or visceral engagement. However, the hope of Christians is not well founded when it is set upon such things.

In his Gospel, the apostle John records the words of Jesus:

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

John echoes this in his first epistle:

"Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you." (1 John 3:13)

Christians do not fight fire with fire. Our goal is not to defeat enemies of the cross (Satan is already defeated), but to win enemies of the cross to Christ.

As such, we need to consider the lost from various perspectives. For example, do people ever feel the emotion of anger when they stub their toes on the bedpost in the middle of the night? Anger which is the reaction to pain is different than a premeditated anger which arises from malificence -- and each type of anger calls for a differentiated response.

What I mean is this: if people have felt sharp pains because they have been raised in broken families -- if they are hurting because they have not known true care and love from their parents and siblings -- they might express their pain by anger. There are tens of thousands of such people in our world today brought about by the demise of the family.

Anger which was conceived in pain, may, by transference, be conveyed to others through meanness and hatred. So, for example, a husband who has been mistreated and frustrated at work may come home and take it out on his dear wife, even though she has done absolutely nothing to deserve any verbal or physical abuse.

When the world strikes out with hateful and hurtful words and deeds, we ought not have a knee-jerk reaction or spout off clever but unkind remarks. That only causes more hurt and fuels the fire. It is important to listen intently to see if we can discern what really is at the heart of such hatred and respond appropriately with Law and Gospel.

Those who are familiar with C.F.W. Walther's work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, know that great harm can be done when the Law is proclaimed in a situation where the Gospel should have been predominant -- and vice versa.

For example, if someone is overwhelmed with guilt for doing wrong and is repentant, THAT is NOT the time to recount and rehearse the Law in an attempt to make sure the person is sufficiently sorry for his sin. Rather, the Gospel in all its sweetness should be applied by God's words of forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

Conversely, if someone feels absolutely no remorse for living contrary to God's will and Word, that person should hear not a single sentence of the Gospel, but must be confronted with the Law so that they repent and turn from their sin -- at which time the Gospel may be freely and lovingly applied.

St. Paul's epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians provide a nice comparison. The Galatians were rather legalistic, imagining that faithfulness was achieved by following the letter of the Law. The Corinthians were rather open-minded, thinking that being indulgent and permissive about sin was the way for Christians to be loving and evangelical. Both were grievously in error.

Ultimately, the endeavors of those who try to live against God's Word will come to naught. For one, it can be rather difficult and exhausting to maintain a lifestyle which strives against the nature created by the Lord. Any number of them may at some point tire of it. For another, Judgment Day is coming. But in the meantime, the devil and the world will scowl as fierce as they will. They, however, can harm us none. They're judged, the deed is done by Christ's victory over sin and death -- His resurrection and ascension!

The prophets of Baal entered a showdown with Elijah (1 Kings 18). They lost. The children of this world have chosen Easter Sunday to attempt a showdown with Christ people, and with Christ Himself. They will be exposed and disappointed -- but we prayerfully hope that they will repent and be saved.

Rather than resort to responses based on human reason or gut reactions, we will learn from the prophets and apostles how to address the ungodly with the Word of God. We pray for our enemies with the intent that they may repent and know the faith, hope, love, peace and joy of being redeemed by crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

True, we may learn with Jeremiah to see foreign lands as exiles. We may learn with Paul and Silas how the acoustics of a jail cell can be made to resound with hymns. "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,"(Romans 8:37).

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Fifth Word: Thirst

Thoughts on the First Word from the Cross

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

christ crucified on the cross fresco blue background bowed head orthodox icon
John 19:28 – “I thirst!”

The fifth word from the cross actually was just one word (it takes two words in English to translate διψω). Though it is the shortest of Christ’s sayings from the cross, it is by no means insignificant.

First of all, the Scripture had to be fulfilled (John 19:28). “They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21). Jesus would not let a jot or tittle pass from the law till all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:18) . . . and just before He spoke the words, “It is finished,” He was also fulfilling the Scriptures.

And there is more.

Roman soldiers were the most crude and cruel of men. We may see the depth of their depravity as they nailed Jesus to the cross, raised Him up, and stood around the crucified Christ. Cicero, the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher had written that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society: “Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.” (Cicero, [106 - 43BC], Pro Rabirio 16). But Roman soldiers demurred not one bit from crucifying hundreds -- or even thousands -- of men at a time.  For example, in 4 B.C., the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews.

The lictor had given Jesus forty stripes minus one with a whip of leather strands having pieces of sharp bone at the end which did not merely give welts, but ripped the flesh from His back. They put a purple robe on that back which had the flesh ripped off, they mocked Him – and later they ripped the blood soaked robe from His back in which the blood had no doubt begun to coagulate. They had blindfolded Jesus and struck Him asking Him to prophesy who had hit Him.

And their cruelty did not end there.

A bit earlier, Jesus had refused the drink they had prepared. Jesus had been offered sour wine mingled with gall to drink. “But when He had tasted it, He would not drink” (Matthew 27:34).

But Jesus had a second opportunity to quench the kind of thirst which accompanies the shedding of one’s life blood. He initiated it by saying, “I thirst.” And then we read: “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth” (John 19:29).

People generally don’t give much thought to this or ask, “How was it that the Roman soldiers happened to have sour wine, a sponge, and a hyssop stick?” but it is noteworthy. The Roman soldiers carried no toilet paper in those days. Archaeology has discovered the xylospongius or tersorius, also known as a “sponge on a stick.” Uncovered in ancient Roman latrines, these wooden sticks with a sea sponge fixed at the end were often cleaned in vinegar. The soldiers likely carried a tersorius in their kit as they traveled about on their various assignments, including the one to Golgotha. They had them on hand, in this case, to add just one more insult and indignity to all the others they had already heaped upon the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world.

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper the previous day, Jesus had said that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God. On the cross, Jesus received the sour wine as He was opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

With that, we come to another noteworthy aspect of Jesus saying, “I thirst.” It is not uncommon today to see a glass or bottle of water on the pulpit. A pastor’s mouth can dry out while preaching. So, too, for our Lord.

Jesus said, “I thirst,” because He still had something important to say – words for our comfort, joy, and peace. When He had received the sour wine to His parched lips, He was enabled to say audibly, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)

And now, we who with the apostle Paul “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), who have been “crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20), who have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and who “boast . . . in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucifed to [us] and [we] to the world” (Galatians 6:14) – we thirst.

We exclaim with David who, when he was in the wilderness, composed these words: “My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1b). Jesus, who knew thirst, invites us: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). And is it not this very same Jesus, who is the One speaking in Revelation 21:6, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”

We thirst. And we drink the fruit of the vine with Him in the kingdom of God -- not sour wine or vinegar with gall, but His precious blood shed and His true body given for us in His death on the cross. Thus, when we go to the Lord’s Supper, we go as if going to our death – and when we go to our death, we may go as if to the Lord’s Supper where He “satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9).

Thoughts on Jesus' Seven Words from the Cross: The First Word

Thoughts on the First Word from the Cross

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

The Crucifixion, by Bellini

Being retired, I rarely preach anymore, but after some 40 years of preparing sermons (I graduated from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis in 1984), I still ruminate on various texts. Here are some thoughts I would have shared on Christ's seven "words" from the cross (in Greek and Latin, "word" can refer to thoughts and sentences).

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34)

With these words from the cross, our Lord showed what was on His mind while He was suffering on the cross.

His thoughts were not about anger, retribution, vengeance, or justice -- but forgiveness. It was for forgiveness that He was nailed to the accursed cross. He had not come to condemn the world of sinners, but that the world through Him might be saved [John 3:17].

Those who sneered while looking upon Him used their words to mock, blaspheme, and ridicule Him. They, too, were included among those for whom He was giving His life. The ones right under His nose, turned up their noses and held Him in contempt -- yet He did not respond in kind.

He did not threaten them in reply, saying, "When I rise from the dead, you guys are in for a world of hurt! I'm going to kill you!" but rather, "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).

Christ's enemies did not know what they were doing. Now, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the Law. Any sheriff can tell you that, but the thought is also expressed in the Old Testament (Leviticus 5:18; Ezekiel 45:20). And yet, there was a sense in which they had to be ignorant. Who would have driven nails into the hands and feet of Jesus utterly convinced that He was both true God and true man. Those who had come to arrest Jesus in the garden got a glimpse that Jesus was the great I AM, and they fell back when they heard Jesus say, "I am He." Or as we read in Colossians 2:8, "which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."

The hatred and invectives of those enemies of the cross did not stop at Golgotha. When they no longer had Jesus to kick about, they went after His disciples. They went after Stephen.

Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,5), never had the opportunity to read any of Paul's epistles. The words which Paul wrote to the Philippians were never read to Stephen: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . [who] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

Nevertheless, Stephen had the mind of Christ, forgiving those who were stoning him to death, crying out with a loud voice, out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin," calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" as he knelt down and "fell asleep."

But even though Stephen never knew anything about Paul's letters, Paul (who at that time was Saul) had the opportunity to hear Stephen. Saul had consented to the stoning of Stephen. He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. In Acts 22:20, Paul himself confessed: "when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him."

If anyone was an "in" + "amicus," literally, "not a friend" -- if anyone was an enemy of the cross -- it was Saul. But in the forgiveness of Christ's cross conveyed through the words on the dying lips of Stephen, Paul came to know "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10) and again, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled" (Colossians 1:21).

Today's world spends billions of dollars to have vengeance and retribution streamed onto their 84-inch smart screens or to read about such things on their tablets. Writers and directors set us up in the beginning of movies and novels to be shocked at some abhorrent evil or injustice. By the end of the movie or book, we expect to see the antagonists die a most gruesome death. We expect the enemies to get justice from a wide array of implements of destruction. It is not likely that the same amount of revenues could be collected in a story which ends with the enemies being forgiven (though there are a few).

We, by nature, are not friends of the Lord God almighty. We demonstrate this by our selfishness, our carelessness, our lusts, our pride, our complaints, our wasted time, our willfulness -- our sinfulness. We justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. We cannot plead ignorance, but with the apostle Paul, we confess, "For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

And yet by the grace and mercy of our crucified Lord, we do not come to a bitter end. We do not face the holy and righteous justice of the almighty Lord God. Jesus faced that bitter end for us on the cross.

Christ died for enemies like us. And by His grace, mercy, and peace through faith, through Christ's words of forgiveness from the cross, we, too, are enlivened to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).