Tuesday, March 27, 2018

God Made Them Male and Female

Human Sexuality and Sin, 
Part 1

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment [regarding divorce]. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:5-9).

My parish is hosting a presentation by a speaker from the Christian, pro-family organization Focus on the Family tomorrow (March 28, 2018). There has been a bit of controversy within the community over this. It manifested when the Chamber of Commerce removed from its Facebook page an advertisement promoting the presentation, after receiving some complaints from local community activists. Focus on the Family has an “anti-LGBTQ agenda” and activists are outraged that a member of the community would give voice to such a bigoted organization. In light of this, I thought it would be good to talk a little bit about how Christianity understands human sexuality and sin.

Fellow Christians, I hate to admit it, but Jesus never said the word, “Homosexual.” He never explicitly said anywhere in the New Testament, “Don’t go around having sexual intercourse with other people who are the same sex as you.” Before we go all #LoveWins, painting our LCMS church buildings in rainbow colors, and ordaining transgender pastors, however, perhaps we should give this some more thought. Just because the word “homosexual” wasn’t uttered by Jesus, doesn’t mean that he condones homosexuality. If that were the proper method for interpreting the Scriptures, we could do away with the doctrine of the Trinity, as that word is also nowhere to be found in the pages of the Bible.[1]

When asked by the Pharisees about divorce, Jesus appeals to the beginning of creation. He points out to them that, “God made them male and female,” a fact which was obvious to his audience. It is the natural created order. Or, if you are a Darwinian Naturalist, it is the natural law produced through millions of years of evolution. In this passage, Jesus defines what marriage is, and his definition makes it clear that gender is essential to it. He doesn’t have to continue on and say, “But God did not make them male and male; neither did He make them female and female, nor male and female and female, or…” All other combinations are excluded by the example which Jesus gives.

But Jesus can’t mean that marriage is supposed to be exclusively between one man and one woman, because the Bible is full of polygamy, adultery, and all other manner of what up-tight confessional Lutheran types call “sin.” Yes, the Bible does record many instances of polygamy. The Bible also records many murders, thefts, and other felonies, but this does not mean that God is giving mankind Carte Blanche to commit these acts. The Bible records that Cain murdered Abel, yet we don’t call for the legalization of murder because it’s “in the Bible”. The Bible records David’s adultery with Bathsheba, yet we do not claim that it is sanctioning such behavior by us in the present day. The Bible isn’t even sanctioning such behavior by the people about whom it reports. God specifically judges the actions of David, Solomon, and many others by commanding, “You shall not murder,” and “You shall not commit adultery.”

Likewise, the Bible records at least one instance of homosexual behavior in the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18 and 19 recounts the destruction of Sodom because of its wickedness: Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”[2] What was the sin of Sodom? Homosexual desire.[3]

Those passages about Sodom and Gomorrah are from the Old Testament though! They don’t apply. This isn’t exactly true. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God, with us; He is God incarnate. He is the image of the invisible God, by whom all things were created.[4] Jesus is the very God who created and sustains the world.[5] He told the Jews this and, when they heard him assert that he was the great I AM who told Moses his name through the burning bush, the God who spoke to Abraham, they were ready to stone him for blasphemy.[6] The Jesus speaking to the Pharisees in Mark 10:7 is the same person speaking the words recorded in Genesis two. That also makes him the God who commanded what is recorded in Leviticus 20: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.[7]

While Jesus in the Gospels does not use the word homosexual, the Apostle Paul does. St. Paul explicitly states that men who practice homosexuality with not inherit the kingdom of God.[8] Here St. Paul records a list of sinful behaviors, including homosexuality. His list is comprehensive; it includes every person. It’s like a buffet of sinfulness; everyone can find something that they like. St. Paul continues, however, reminding the Corinthians that, despite having once been sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, etc., they have been redeemed by Christ. St. Paul also takes Jesus’ thread from Mark 10:7 regarding the one-flesh union and explains it further, calling the Corinthians – and us today – to repent of our sins, flee from sexual immorality of all kinds, and glorify God in our bodies.[9]

It is clear, even to someone who is not a Christian, that the male body was not designed (either by God, or Nature, if you please) to mate with another male body; likewise with two female bodies. The fact that people crave such relationships proves that something has gone terribly wrong with creation.[10] That thing is sin, and no human being since The Fall has been immune to it.[11] We have all been utterly corrupted by sin from the time of our conception.[12] We are, by virtue of our utterly corrupt nature, objects of God’s wrath.[13] Man’s natural mind will not, and cannot, accept the things of God.[14] That corruption may not manifest itself as a desire to have sex with people of the same gender in some, but it does in many. Furthermore, those who do not struggle with homosexual desire most certainly struggle with something else. We are all in the same boat when it comes to sin, and our complete inability to overcome it.

The problem is that liberal Bible scholars and progressive social activists don’t believe that Jesus is God. They don’t believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. They don’t believe that St. Paul is an Apostle. They believe in moral relativism because that gratifies the desires of their flesh. They believe in the idea that every person has their own individual truth. Rather than freedom of religion and freedom of speech, they believe in the freedom of being protected from speech they find offensive. Nothing, short of God changing their hearts through the message of Christ, will change their darkened minds.[15] As Christians, we are called to abhor sin, and to flee from it. This also includes the sin of homosexuality. We must also remember that Christ shed his blood and died for all men. Christ took the sin of the homosexual, the idolater, the adulterer, the thief, the hypocrite, the murderer, the liar, onto himself, and atoned for that sin with His own blood, shed on the cross. A homosexual, like any other sinner, needs to hear God’s word of Law and Gospel applied to their life with the goal of repentance and faith.[16]

[1] If only progressive social activists would apply the same standard of interpretation to the US Constitution. That, however, is an article for another day.
[2] Genesis 18:20-21
[3] Genesis 19:4-5
[4] Colossians 1:15-20
[5] Hebrews 1:1-3
[6] John 8:48:59
[7] Leviticus 20:13
[8] 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
[9] 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
[10] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.
[11] Genesis 3
[12] Psalm 51:5
[13] Ephesians 2:3-5
[14] 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14
[15] Romans 10:17
[16] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Judgment of this World

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out (John 12:31).
Jesus predicts His death. He says that the hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. The people do not understand that Christ must die. How can an earthly king gain an earthly kingdom, which is what they were expecting of the Messiah, by dying? They do not understand that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.[1] He is not warring against flesh and blood, but against the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, sin, death, and Satan.[2] And, for Him to be victorious over Satan, Jesus must be lifted up from the earth, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.[3] Those who do not understand that Jesus is talking about his crucifixion, will understand presently. Satan also does not understand. Satan also thinks Jesus’ crucifixion means Jesus’ defeat. By inciting the world to kill Jesus, however, Satan wrecked his own domain.[4]
In the book of Job, we are shown the scene of God’s court. Satan, the accuser, comes before God to prosecute his case against men.[5] With the Christ’s death and resurrection, the world is judged, and the ruler of this world will be cast out. No longer does Satan have the right to accuse God’s people. Christ has cast him into the bottomless pit where he will be bound for 1,000 years. During that time, Satan can no longer deceive the nations.[6] The 1,000 years are now, when Christ reigns with His saints through the Gospel.[7]
Jesus, who had been baptized by John the Baptist, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by the voice of God the Father, proclaimed that the kingdom of God had arrived, and He was it’s sovereign.[8] Jesus’ baptism was a royal coronation. He would soon take his place on His throne at the right hand of God the Father. At His second coming, Jesus tells us that He will make all things new again. Creation will be restored to its perfect condition. Sin, death, and the devil will disappear forever. His mission, at His first coming, was to redeem mankind by His death and resurrection, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. At His second coming, His mission will be to judge mankind. The one who rejects Him, Jesus says, will be judged on the Last Day by the words Jesus has already spoken.

[1] John 18:36
[2] Ephesians 2:1-3
[3] John 3:14-15
[4] Lenski, R. C. H. Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Augsburg Fortress, 1961.
[5] Job 1:6-12
[6] Revelation 20:1-3
[7] Revelation 20:4-6
[8] Luke 4:16-20; John 18:33-37

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jesus Dies on the Cross

And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:37-39).

O sorrow dread! God’s Son is dead! The Lord Jesus drinks the cup which His Father has given Him to the dregs. After enduring injustice, torture, and ridicule at the hands of both Pilate and the Jews, Jesus is crucified. Mark records that even those robbers executed with Him reviled Him, along with the crowd of on-lookers. Come down from the cross, King of Israel! Descend from the cross that we may see and believe! But Jesus would not come down before His job was finished. Indeed, neither would the chief priests and scribes have believed in Him if He did. They saw Jesus perform many miracles. They saw Him perform signs as a witness to His teachings which identified Him as the Christ. These men were the teachers of Israel. They searched the scriptures diligently, but did not realize, or would not admit, that they testified of Jesus.[1] They did not believe the words of Moses; they could not then believe in Jesus, even if he performed a miracle. Now, though they do not know it, they witness what is perhaps the greatest miracle of all. The sinless Son of God becomes sin, forsaken of His Father on the cross, to save sinful man, His enemy.[2] At three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cries out, and breathes His last.

Oh sorrow dread!
God’s Son is dead!
But by His expiation
Of our guilt upon the cross
Gained for us salvation.[3]

Mark does not record all the signs which accompanied Jesus’ death. Mark tells us about darkness, and the tearing of the veil of the temple. Three hours of supernatural darkness came over the whole land as Jesus hangs dying on the cross. Darkness is often related to judgment in scripture; here it is a sign of God’s judgment against sin.[4]

Oh sinful man!
It was the ban
Of death on thee that brought Him
Down to suffer for thy sins
And such woe hath wrought Him.[5]

The darkness covering the land was God’s judgment against sin; the tearing of the veil of the temple was God ending the old covenant. The veil of the temple was no mere curtain, like the ones hanging from rods in front of your living room windows. It was a big, thick barrier between God’s presence in the Most Holy Place and the people. It was around four inches thick, 60 feet long, and 30 feet wide. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place once a year, and only with the blood of the sacrifice for the people’s sin. When the veil was torn, God proclaimed that the ministration of the Jewish high priest was at an end; the divine High Priest, Jesus, had now come and had entered in to the Most Holy Place of heaven itself with his own all-atoning blood.[6] Christ, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God. He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.[7]

Lo, stained with blood,
The Lamb of God,
The Bridegroom lies before thee,
Pouring out His life that He
May to life restore thee. Amen![8]

[1] John 5:39-47
[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:10
[3] Hymn 261, “O Darkest Woe”, The Lutheran Hymnal, stanza 2. Author: Johann Rist. Translated: Catherine Winkworth
[4] Wicke, Harold E. People's Bible Commentary: Mark. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2004.
[5] Hymn 261, “O Darkest Woe”, The Lutheran Hymnal, stanza 3. Author: Johann Rist. Translated: Catherine Winkworth
[6]Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Mark's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961; Hebrews 6:19; 9:3-15; 10:19
[7] Hebrews 9:11-15
[8] Hymn 261, “O Darkest Woe”, The Lutheran Hymnal, stanza 4. Author: Johann Rist. Translated: Catherine Winkworth

Monday, March 19, 2018

Test Yourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Judas Hangs Himself

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Jesus Predicts His Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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