Friday, January 26, 2018

Sending Out the Twelve

And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite[1], and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food. Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:1-16).

Jesus, going through the cities and towns, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, sees the multitudes. He is moved because He sees that they are weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus commands His disciples to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. He then grants their prayer by sending. The disciples, now called Apostles, or sent ones, are given power to cast out demons, and to heal sickness and disease, and sent out as laborers into the harvest. He gives them specific instructions as to how they should conduct themselves. They are to go among the lost sheep of Israel. They will preach the same message that Christ preached. The kingdom of God which will rescue man from sin and death, and crush the devil’s head, is coming. In Christ, it has arrived. Jubilee! It is the year of the Lord’s favor.[2] Since they are going out with Christ’s authority, preaching His message, they will also be treated as He is treated. He tells them to be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves. This is dangerous work. They are sheep among wolves.

Jesus sends his Apostles to Israel first. They are, after all, the ones who should recognize the message and accept it. They should be the ones who recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of Scripture. Of course, we know that the Christ is also a light to lighten the Gentiles.[3] That will come later. For now, the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed to Israel alone. And just as Jesus demonstrated the authority of His preaching through the miracles He performed, His Apostles will do likewise. Since the closing of the Apostolic age, however, there is no need for such authentication by miracle. We have the external, written Word.[4] Holy Scripture is the rule by which all messages are to be judged, even if a messenger comes performing miracles. In fact, Christ teaches us that false christs and false prophets will rise up and do great signs and wonders.[5] We learn from Paul that the devil masquerades as an angel of light. He has his own false ministers and false apostles.[6] On the contrary, it is the doctrine, or teaching, that matters. Jesus wants us to judge preachers based on their message, and he wants teachers to teach all that he has commanded. If they teach what Jesus and His Apostles taught, the miracles of Christ and the Apostles continue to authenticate the message.

We learn here that we should continue to pray that the Lord would send workers into the harvest. We should not be surprised to find that He is constantly answering this prayer using we, His people, through the vocations in which He has placed us. We must proclaim the same message as Christ and His Apostles: That the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Scriptures are fulfilled. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried and rose again the third day.[7]

[1] Cananaean
[2] Luke 4:16-30; Isaiah 49:8-9
[3] Luke 2:25-35
[4] Hebrews 1:1-2
[5] Matthew 24:24
[6] 2 Corinthians 11:5-15
[7] 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Build on the Rock

The Sermon on the Mount - Carl Bloch
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Matthew 7:24-29).

Jesus ends His Sermon on the Mount by comparing those who hear these sayings and does them to a wise builder who builds his house on a firm foundation of rock. To be the wise builder, we must hear and we must do. But does this not contradict St. Paul? He told us that it is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and not by works, lest any man should boast.[1] And here is Jesus telling us we must “do” his words if we want our house to be built on the firm foundation. This is not the only time Our Lord tells us to “do”. When asked by the Jews what they must do to be saved, Jesus tells them that they must do the work of God - they must believe in the one God the Father has sent.[2] They must “faith”; that is the work of God. And working is a part of “faithing”.

But we also learn from Holy Scripture that faith without works is dead. Like the body without a spirit is dead, so is a faith without works dead.[3] A true and living faith in Christ will manifest itself in good works. We can’t see faith; the works we do are evidence of it. This is how Our Lord can say, “...he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment,”[4] and also that we will, on the Last Day, be judged by what we have done. The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.[5] The Lutheran Confessions affirm this when they say that good works certainly and without doubt follow true faith.[6] The words of the Athanasian Creed testify to this scriptural truth when they say that at Christ’s coming, all men will rise again with their bodies and will give an account of their own works. And they that have done good will go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic, that is universal, faith which, except a man believe faithfully and firmly he cannot be saved.

Faith and works fit together like this: Good works are a physical, tangible manifestation of the gift of faith. They spring forth naturally from a living faith, which is graciously given by God through the means of His Word. On the contrary, an absence of works, or evil works, testify to an absent, or a dead, faith.

Think of the sheep and the goats.[7] The sheep, when judged by what they have done, are surprised to hear that they have done anything at all. The goats protest that they neglected nothing, did nothing wrong, omitted nothing commanded. Their works, or lack thereof, testify to their faith, or lack thereof. But don’t get the order wrong. We cannot do works in order to please God. Faith produces the works, not vice versa. A faith without works is a mere intellectual acknowledgement and assent. Such faith is the faith of demons.[8] If we hear, and believe, then we will do. Our house of life will be built on the foundation of Christ’s Word, firm and secure against all the perils and torments which the devil may throw at us.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9
[2] John 6:29
[3] James 2:26
[4] John 5:24
[5] John 5:24-30
[6] FC Ep IV 6
[7] Matthew 25:31-46
[8] James 2:14-20

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Beatitudes

Sermon on the Mount - Carl Bloch
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:2-12).

The beginning of Jesus’s Galilean ministry begins with preaching, teaching, and healing. Great multitudes followed him. Jesus, seeking to withdraw from the multitudes as he often would, went up on a mountain. His disciples went to him, and he taught them. The Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus’s words recorded in Matthew, chapters five through seven have come to be called, is the most famous sermon in all of history. It is also, arguably, the most misunderstood. We must understand to whom Jesus is speaking, and what he intends to teach, if we are to understand what he is saying. Though there are multitudes of people clamoring to get near Jesus, and some certainly heard his words, Jesus directed his teaching to his disciples. This message is for Christians. What Jesus is actually teaching becomes more apparent when this fact remains in mind.

This most famous sermon begins with the equally famous Beatitudes. Throughout the secular world, not to mention American Evangelicalism, the Beatitudes are often understood as a quid pro quo. If you are poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, so work really hard to be as poor in spirit as you can. If you do this, then you get that; or this thing will happen to you. Jesus, however, is not declaring here an ethical demand of his followers by laying out a law of behavior or attitude. The Beatitudes are not so much a mountain of law which one is to climb to be a better Christian, or to qualify for blessing and eternal life, but rather it can be seen – particularly by your “old” man – as a mountain of law under which one is to be totally crushed.

Make no mistake, Jesus is certainly also assuring his disciples of God’s goodness, and the future blessings in store for them. In fact, the blessings Jesus describes in the Beatitudes are ours already, in Him. And, as we are sanctified by the working of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, we will grow in these blessings more and more. The crushing weight of the law, however, must first bring us to see our sin and to repent of it. This repentance and forgiveness comes as the gracious gift of God through the Gospel. The Christian is simul justus et peccator – simultaneously justified and sinner. The new man hears in the Beatitudes assurance of God’s goodness and future blessing; the old man hears law and judgment. When we recognize our own spiritual poverty, when the Lord leads us to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, when He makes us pure in heart so that we seek to worship only the true God, then we are blessed, now and forever.[1]

[1] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Satan Tempts Jesus; Jesus Begins His Ministry

Temptation of Christ on the Mountain - Duccio
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:12-14).

The way has been prepared by John the Baptist. The one who has come in the spirit and power of Elijah[1] has preached and baptized repentance in the wilderness. The message has been sent and received. All the land, Mark writes, went out to him, confessing their sins and being baptized. Jesus comes to be baptized. But why? John hesitates; Jesus reassures. It is to fulfill all righteousness.[2] John obeys. Jesus, the sinless one, God in human flesh, is baptized by John. He who has no sin identifies with sinful mankind and becomes sin.[3] The Father sends His Spirit to Jesus in the form of a dove. The Father claims and acknowledges His Son, putting His stamp of approval on the work Jesus is doing. The Father is well pleased.

Into the wilderness now; Jesus is driven by the Spirit. Forty days Jesus wanders in the wilderness, fasting and praying. He is in the desolate places among the wild beasts. Satan, the accuser, comes to tempt Him. Jesus is walking the path of God’s people. He is Israel. Jesus is putting right what God’s people have gotten so wrong since that business so long ago in the garden with the forbidden fruit. Jesus wanders but is not lost. He is tempted but does not sin. He rebukes the Devil with the words of Holy Scripture. Satan is driven back by God’s Word; the angels minister to Jesus.[4]

Jesus is God’s people, Israel, reduced down to one. He is the promised Seed over whom Abraham rejoiced.[5] Jesus has entered the covenant through circumcision.[6] He has identified with God’s people and assumed the responsibility for their sins in John’s baptism. He has corrected Israel’s sinful missteps through His own exodus. And, He begins His proclamation of the Good News, a ministry which will ultimately end with Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, by His perfect sacrifice for sin - His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension. We who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death, and we will also, therefore, take part in His resurrection.[7] Through baptism, we take part in Christ, and are thus made part of Israel. Wild olive shoots, we are grafted into the True Vine by the grace of God, through the gift of faith, created in us through the Word.[8] There is room enough for all in Christ. The time is fulfilled! The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe the Gospel!

[1] Luke 1:17
[2] Matthew 3:13-15
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[4] Matthew 4:1-11
[5] Galatians 3:16; John 8:58
[6] Genesis 17:10-14; Luke 2:21
[7] Romans 6:1-11
[8] John 15:1-8; Ephesians 2:1-10