Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jesus and the Religious Leaders

The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him. Then Jesus said to them, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” Then the Jews said among themselves, “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What is this thing that He said, ‘You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come’?” (John 7:32-36)

The more Jesus teaches, the more the people marvel. How does this man know letters having never studied? Jesus explains to them as He did before: My doctrine is not mine, but His who sent me. Jesus is simply doing the work His Father has sent Him to do. He is simply teaching the things His Father has given Him to teach. Or, put another way, Jesus is saying the words the Father has given Him to say. If the Jews had really believed in God, they would have recognized that Jesus’ teaching came from God. But they didn’t believe. As Jesus does and says the things given to Him by God, His Father, so the Jews, Jesus will later explain, do and say the things of their father, the devil.[1]

The people continue to argue over who Jesus is. Some of them from Jerusalem wonder if He is not the one whom the leaders seek to kill. They see Him speaking boldly in the temple. They muse that perhaps the leaders believe Jesus is the Christ after all. Is their inaction against Jesus their endorsement of Him? Surely, if this man were not the Christ, the leaders would put a stop to His public teaching. After all, He does not teach as the other rabbis, but as one with authority.[2] He makes Himself equal with God.[3]

This is probably only said mockingly, of course. The people have a strange theology. It was Jewish tradition that the Messiah would appear suddenly, and no one would know from where He came.[4] The people thought they knew Jesus. He was the son of Joseph and Mary. He was born in Nazareth, that one-horse town out of which nothing good comes.[5] This would certainly disqualify Him, in their minds, from being the Christ. Nevertheless, this discussion begins to worry the Jewish leaders and they again seek to kill Him. Jesus, however, cries out in the temple: You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.

Jesus tell the people that, yes, they know Him in an earthly sense; they do not know The One who sent Him. They may know that He lived in Nazareth, but they do not understand that He is the Son of God, sent by His Father to vanquish sin, death, and the devil. The Jews eventually get worried enough by the murmuring of the people to send officers to arrest Jesus. They are unsuccessful because, as Jesus said previously, His time had not yet come. I shall be with you a little while longer and then I go to Him who sent me. You will seek me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come. They surmise that Jesus intends to escape, and go to teach the Jews who live among the Gentiles. These people, who have eyes but cannot see, and ears but cannot hear, continue to judge Jesus using earthly standards.[6] Jesus is telling them that soon He will die, and rise and go to His Father in heaven. Since they reject Him, they cannot follow Him where He goes.

Following Jesus’ example, we say the words given to us to say. We confess that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again from the dead. And, when He had overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He sits at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father. We believe that He shall come to be our Judge. The teaching is not our own, but comes from Jesus, the Christ, the one by whom we are sent. We believe, teach, and confess that which we are given, because the one who gave it is true.[7]

[1] John 8:37-47
[2] Matthew 7:28-29; Mark 1:21-22
[3] John 5:17-18
[4] Baumler, Gary P. People's Bible Commentary: John. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.
[5] John 1:45-46
[6] Jeremiah 5:21; Mark 8:18
[7] John 7:28; Romans 3:4

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Many Disciples Turn Away

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:60-63).

Jesus is abandoned by many of His disciples. He has spoken to them hard sayings; He told them they must eat His body and drink His blood that they may abide in Him and have eternal life. But they are offended by Jesus’ words. In answer to His complaining disciples, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” Evangelicals who deny the validity and working of God through the Sacraments often point to this verse. Here, they say, Jesus explains that all those things about His flesh being real food were just symbols. Picture language! The flesh profits nothing! It is the Spirit that gives life.

The words that Jesus speaks are spirit and life. But Jesus isn’t negating what He has previously said. He here expands on His previous teaching. Just as bodies need spirits to live, believers need the Holy Spirit to make them alive; the Spirit is given through Jesus’ words.[1] Jesus connects His words, His promise of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, to the eating and drinking of His body and blood. This will come into sharp focus on Maundy Thursday when Jesus and His disciples eat the Passover, and He institutes the Lord’s Supper. Here, as Jesus answers His complaining disciples, He is speaking of the sinful human nature, unlike earlier in the chapter. Jesus says “the flesh” profits nothing, not “My flesh”.

Peter is indeed correct to answer Our Lord as he does. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Jesus’ words are spirit, and life. Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. Whoever now accepts these words, given and shed for you, and believes that what they declare is true has forgiveness.[2] We have a body and a spirit. Both body and spirit together make up one being. It is for this reason that God attaches His promise of forgiveness and life to physical things like water, word, bread and wine. Our physical being comprehends the physical element, and our spirit comprehends the spiritual element. Writing of Baptism in his Large Catechism, Martin Luther explains it this way: “For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism: the body - which can grasp nothing but the water - is sprinkled and, in addition, the Word is spoken for the soul to grasp. Now, since both the water and the Word, make one Baptism, therefore, body and soul must be saved and live forever. The soul lives through the Word, which it believes, but the body lives because it is united with the soul and also holds on through Baptism as it is able to grasp it.”[3]

Jesus’ words are spirit, and they are life. They must be taken at face value. Jesus tells us that we must eat His body and drink His blood in order to abide in Him. He gives us the means by which we can do as He says in the Lord’s Supper. Our eating and drinking of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is a communion with His body and blood.[4] Believing Jesus’ words, we have what He promises to those who eat His body and drink His blood: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

[1] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.
[2] McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht,. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.
[3] LC IV 45-46
[4] 1 Corinthians 10:16

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jesus the Bread of Life

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:53-59 NIV).
The Jews begin to grumble. They don’t like what Jesus is saying. He isn’t talking about restoring the glory of the kingdom of Israel. He isn’t organizing a rebel force to overthrow the Romans. He isn’t even talking about filling their bellies with loaves. The only bread He is talking about is the bread of life. He says that this bread of life that came down from heaven is He Himself! How absurd! We’ve known Jesus for a long time. We know His parents. He must be insane to say that He is the bread that came down from heaven!
Jesus goes farther. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Now they begin to argue sharply. How can we eat His flesh! That sounds like cannibalism. Jesus is steadfast: I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Jesus meant what He said. Real eating. Real drinking. He isn’t using the word flesh in a figurative way. He is not describing the sinful human nature, as St. Paul does in his letters. There is no getting around what Jesus is saying. His flesh is real food, and His blood is real drink. The one who feeds on Him will live. The Israelites eating the manna in the wilderness was a shadow of the true bread from heaven that was to come, Jesus.
The question asked is a valid one: How can this man give us His flesh to eat? We don’t know how it works, but we do know the means through which He gives it. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, “Take, drink ye all of it. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Jesus provides for us a means to receive His unmerited favor, by eating His flesh and drinking His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.
The Marburg Colloquy - Hoc Est Corpus Meum
Not a sacrifice re-presented to God, but the Bread of Life distributed to those who are His own. God’s word of promise, the forgiveness of sins, joined to physical elements of bread and wine for our benefit. Eating and drinking that bread and wine, we eat the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Believing Jesus’ words, we have what He promises: His body and blood, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Sacrament of the Altar is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself.[1] But here our wise spirits twist themselves about with great art and wisdom. They cry out and bawl, “How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith?” They hear and know that we do not say this about bread and wine. Because, in itself, bread is bread. But we speak about the bread and wine that is Christ’s body and blood, and has the words attached to it. That, we say, is truly the treasure - and nothing else - through which such forgiveness is gained.[2]
[1] McCain, Paul Timothy., ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord. Translated by W. H. T. Dau and F. Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2009. LC V 24
[2] Ibid. LC V 28-29

Friday, April 20, 2018

Jesus Walks on the Sea

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going (John 6:15-21).

The disciples cross the sea in a boat without Jesus. Jesus crosses the sea by miraculous means. He walks across the water. He comes near the disciples and they are frightened. One of the Evangelists records that they thought Jesus was a ghost.[1] But this is not ghost. It is a flesh and bone Jesus doing something that should not be possible. He speaks to the disciples to calm and reassure them. The NKJV[2] gives us, “It is I; do not be afraid.” The Greek is more telling. Literally translated, what Jesus said was, “I am. Do not be afraid.”[3] Jesus refers to Himself this way several times, and in significant situations. Theologians sometimes call these the “I AM statements”. At various times, Jesus says: I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life. This passage doesn’t record one of those statements previously mentioned; Jesus uses this scandalous way of referring to Himself at other times too, like in this instance of walking on the sea.

Another famous time He used I AM to refer to Himself was also recorded by John. Jesus speaks to the Pharisees. They argue with Him about whether or not they are sons of Abraham (No, Jesus says they are sons of Satan) and whether or not they are slaves (Yes, Jesus says they are slaves to sin). At the climax of their interaction, Jesus says, “Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”[4] At this they were incited to murder Jesus but He, miraculously, passed by though the midst of them. Why such an uproar over Jesus’ grammar? Were the Pharisees such sticklers for proper Greek that an improper conjugation could earn you a rock to the face? No. In making the I AM statements, Jesus was claiming to be the Great I AM: YAHWEH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in person, and in the flesh. That was a super big deal to the Jews.

When Moses fled to Midian after murdering the Egyptian, he tended sheep for his father-in-law. One day, while tending the sheep on Mt. Horeb, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. From this burning bush, the Second Person of the Trinity in His pre-incarnate form spoke to Moses: Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.[5] Moses tries to get out of doing this. His first tactic is to say that the Israelites won’t listen to him because he doesn’t know God’s name, and won’t be able to tell them when they ask. God’s reply: “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”[6] By applying God’s name to Himself, Jesus expressed the eternity of His being and His oneness with God the Father.

After arriving at the other shore, Jesus would declare to the people, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”[7] Jesus left the previous day because the people wanted to make him king by force. Now He speaks to the crowds who seek Him, not because they believe, but because they ate of the loaves and were filled.[8] They see in Jesus a miracle worker who will give them all their earthly wants. They fear, love, and trust their bellies, just as we do. Jesus wants to give them the true bread from heaven - Himself, literally, His flesh. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.[9] Jesus is I AM in the flesh. He is, literally, Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.”[10] He has come to save His people from their sins by giving His flesh.

[1] Matthew 14:26
[2] New King James Version
[3] Brown, Robert K., and Philip Wesley Comfort, trans. The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament: A New Interlinear Translation of the Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies Fourth, Corrected Edition with the New Revised Standard Version, New Testament. Edited by J. D. Douglas. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993.
[4] John 8:58
[5] Exodus 3:10
[6] Exodus 3:13-14
[7] John 6:35
[8] John 6:26
[9] John 6:32-33
[10] Matthew 1:23

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Life and Judgment Are Through the Son

Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for 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. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me (John 5:25-30).

When Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, the Jewish leaders were provoked to commit murder when Jesus defended His Sabbath-day healings by invoking God the Father: My Father has been working until now, and I have been working. This only made them angrier at Jesus than they had already been because of His alleged Sabbath-breaking. Jesus called YAHWEH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, His Father. Jesus was claiming to be God, just like YAHWEH. The Jews understood what Jesus was saying here, even if we don’t. That’s why they sought all the more to kill Him. Sometimes liberal theologians, who do not respect the authority of Scripture, teach that Jesus never claimed to be God. A common argument is that the concept of Jesus’ divinity developed over time; the Gospels were written many, many years after Jesus’ death, so there was plenty of time for a god-myth to develop around Jesus. Christendom understands the truth. The Gospels were written early; there are many logical and rational reasons to accept them as authentic and trustworthy. Much ink has been spilled to demonstrate this point. We don’t believe the things contained in Holy Scripture, however, because of good scholarship about it’s origins. We believe Holy Scripture because it is God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit has granted us repentance and faith, working through it.[1]

Evidence for the reliability of Scripture is good to know and present. We Christians are called to give a reason for our hope, with meekness and fear.[2] We must remember, however, that no one can be reasoned into the faith by an apologetic argument. Faith is a gift of God. And, while we give our reasons with meekness and fear, we are to confidently proclaim the Gospel: that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.[3] The Gospel is less a persuasive speech to be logically presented than it is a royal proclamation to be boldly declared. The Jews saw Jesus’ miracles. They heard His word. They rejected Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.[4] Just as everlasting life is God’s gift to those who hear Jesus’ word, and believe in Him who sent Jesus, those who reject Him will receive judgment and condemnation. The spiritually dead hear the voice of Jesus through water and the word and are made spiritually alive.[5] Their sins are washed away, and they are buried with Christ by baptism into His death; they will also participate in His resurrection, and be raised to eternal life, physically.[6] Those who reject Christ are already spiritually dead. They will be raised to everlasting death and condemnation.

I cannot, by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. The Holy Spirit must call me by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit must, through the means of the Gospel, God’s Word, gather, enlighten, and sanctify. The Holy Spirit, by the proclamation of the Gospel, builds the Christian Church as He sees fit. It is the Holy Spirit who, by His working through Water and Word, causes us to confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[7]

[1] Romans 10:17; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:25
[2] 1 Peter 3:15
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
[4] John 1:11
[5] Ephesians 5:25-28
[6] Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:35-54
[7] 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Man Healed at the Pool of Bethesda

Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:1-17).

Jesus visits the pool of Bethesda. There He meets a crippled man lying among the sick. The man is alone. He has no one to place him into the pool after the water is stirred by the angel so he can receive the miraculous healing. Jesus simply tells the man, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” Reaching out with the hand of faith, the man does as he is bidden. The Pharisees are not moved by the healing. They instead focus on the fact that this man, whom they recognize, is now carrying his bed on the Sabbath. He is sinning by doing work on the Sabbath day.[1] They may have been technically correct, according to the letter of the law. They were, however, turning a blind eye to the spirit of God’s law. They were so focused on earning God’s favor by their observance of God’s law, which they perverted by the imposition of their man-made regulations, they forgot that God desires mercy, and not sacrifice.[2] God gave the people of Israel the law through Moses to show them their sin. This was so they would repent of their sin, turn to Him and be healed.[3] God tells the prophet Hosea that, while He certainly wants to see his law obeyed, His commanded sacrifices were only pleasing to Him if they came from the heart, a heart of true repentance.

This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees. St. Matthew records Jesus’ Sabbath-day healing of a man with a withered hand.[4] On that occasion, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking God’s law by healing on the Sabbath. When they ask Him if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus turns the question back on them: What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.[5] Jesus, by his examples of “doing work” on the Sabbath, shows us that doing good takes priority over a legalistic interpretation of the Law.

Jesus later seeks out the man whom He had healed at the pool and talks with him.[6] Jesus calls the man to repentance. See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you. He directs the man’s eyes away from his physical health to his spiritual health. Jesus is not implying here that it is possible for man to become perfect. While we are in this fallen and sinful world we will continually remain in a struggle with our sinful flesh.[7] Jesus is calling this man to live in repentance and faith; to walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.[8] He calls us to do the same. If we walk according to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that we do not do the things that we wish.[9] But, repenting of our sins and trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of those sins, He heals our spiritual infirmities. Walking in the Spirit, we may do good works for our neighbors, and cause God’s mercy to extend to those around us.

[1] Exodus 31: 12-18
[2] Hosea 6:6
[3] Romans 3:19-20; 7:7; James 2:10
[4] Matthew 12: 9-14
[5] Matthew 12: 11-12
[6] John 5:14
[7] Romans 7:13-25
[8] Romans 8:1
[9] Galatians 5:16-17

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Savior of the World

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum - The Word of the Lord endures forever.
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word (John 4:39-41).

The Word is the thing. It is the tool God uses to create faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.[1] It was her encounter with the Incarnate Word which kindled faith in the heart of the Samaritan woman. It was the word of the Samaritan woman to her neighbors that brought them to Jesus; it was Jesus’ words, His teaching, which strengthened their faith and caused it to grow, so that they could declare that Jesus was the Savior of the world. This is the miracle: God created faith in the hearts of sinners, who were incapable of understanding the spiritual things of God, through His Word, by the working of His Holy Spirit.[2]

He works the same way with all people, including man today. Some believe a man must be convinced by logic and rational argument to believe in Christ; he must be reasoned into the faith and make a decision to follow Jesus by the power of his will. Others think, as the Pharisees did, that they can make themselves acceptable to God by following the Law, and doing good works of their own devising. Still others attempt to reach God through mystical experiences; they follow rituals and practices designed to manipulate emotions, and they look for signs and personal revelations from God. But the Word is the thing. God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken word and the Sacraments, which are God’s word and promise associated by Him with a physical element.[3]

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.[4] God’s communication with man has been concentrated down to Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. This message of Christ has been collected for us into the volume of Holy Scripture we call the Bible. When you read the words of the Bible, you hear God’s voice for it is God who speaks to you in the pages of Holy Scripture. When you hear faithful preaching, it is God’s voice you hear through the mouth of your faithful pastor. There is no need to search for personal revelation; God has already given you His revelation. God, however, does not use His Word only as a means of creating faith in unbelieving hearts. God has also given us the external Word so we can be certain of His promise of forgiveness and eternal life, even when we don’t feel saved. Bosoms will cease to burn. Inner illuminations will dim. Enthusiasm will wane. Our works will fail to measure up. The Word of the Lord, however, endures forever. When we remember what kind of rotten sinners we really are, we can look to God’s external Word. We find that Word in the Scriptures, in the preaching of a faithful pastor, in the Lord’s Supper or remembrance of our Baptism. By the external Word we have assurance that though we are sinners, God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and is faithful.[5]

[1] Romans 10:17
[2] 1 Corinthians 2:14
[3] McCain, Paul T., Robert C. Baker, Gene E. Veith, and Edward A. Engelbrecht, eds. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.
[4] Hebrews 1:1-2
[5] Klotz, Joseph D. "The External Word." The Hodgkins Lutheran. December 4, 2014. Accessed April 14, 2018.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Open for Business, Closed for the Gospel

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 (1 John 1:8-9 NIV).

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church is open for business. The Indianapolis church has launched an advertising campaign proclaiming that they are an “open community of Christians” (view their video message here). They want everyone to know that all people, especially the “beautiful-as-you-are LGBTQ community”, are loved, have a place to go, and will be embraced just as they are. Is this really love? Such an attitude is popular in American Christianity today. It feels good. It isn’t confrontational. It doesn’t make people angry, or hurt their feelings. It may also cause membership in your congregation to swell. This mind-set, however, is not one of loving acceptance, but rather a lawless catering to the sinful desires of the sinful human nature.

In his first letter, St. John talks about Love. He proclaims the message preached from the beginning: We should love one another.[1] He writes that we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers, and that anyone who does not love remains in death.[2] But is ignoring people’s sin the type of love St. John is talking about? No. This, according to St. John, is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.[3] Jesus wants us to use our lives so that our brothers might be blessed and saved; He wants us to use our earthly wealth to help our neighbors in need.[4]

Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.[5] Didn’t He embrace people as they were? Wasn’t He being inclusive and loving people who had been hurt by the religious establishment? Does not Jesus’ willingness to associate with these people, deemed sinners beyond salvation and marginalized by the religious leaders, demonstrate His love and acceptance of them just as they are? No. Jesus acknowledges that these sinners are in desperate need of what he has to offer, which is the forgiveness of sins. On hearing the protests of the Pharisees who saw Him eating dinner at Matthew’s house, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”[6] Jesus calls what he is doing merciful. He wants sinners to be included in His kingdom. It is the entire reason He has come into the flesh - to bear our sin and be our savior. This is His chance to call them to repentance and faith.

On another occasion, Jesus interacts with a rich young man.[7] Scripture tells us that Jesus loved the man, yet Jesus did not accept him as “beautiful”, just as he was. To the contrary, Jesus preached the Law to this man, and he was convicted of his sin. The rich young man was an idolater, guilty of fearing, loving, and trusting in his wealth, rather than God, above all things. He was filled with pride, believing that he had kept all of God’s commands. Jesus’ love for the man isn’t based in acceptance, but rather in repentance. He uses the Law to show the man his sin, and tells him, “Follow Me.”

Jesus did indeed come to earth to save all people. His blood, shed on the cross, is the atonement for all sin. In this way only does Jesus accept us just as we are. When He looked down on mankind, He saw wretched and filthy sinners; debtors to God, beyond all capacity to repay the debt. He accepted mankind just as we were and, while we were still His enemies, He died to atone for our sin, the just for the unjust.[8] To accept a person into your midst as the church while embracing and celebrating their sin may seem like the loving thing to do because it makes everyone feel good. It is not. It is the opposite of love. It is to withhold the means by which God creates faith in the hearts of men, and by which they receive the forgiveness Christ won for them by his death and resurrection, the efficacious Word of God. Without hearing the Law, they will not know their sin; without hearing the Gospel they will not know what Christ has done for them. What’s left is a lawlessness that delights in the sinfulness of the flesh masquerading as God’s love. This is blasphemy of the highest magnitude.

[1] 1 John 3:11
[2] 1 John 3:14
[3] 1 John 3:16-18
[4] Luke 10:36-37
[5] Matthew 9:1-13
[6] Matthew 9:12-13
[7] Mark 10:17-31
[8] Romans 5:6-11; 1 Peter 3:18-19

Friday, April 6, 2018

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

One of the publications of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb (Luke 24:36-42).

There are many organizations which claim to be the Christian Church but are, rather, non-Christian cults. They worship another Jesus. They proclaim a different gospel. St. Paul warns us to watch out for them.[1] We are to test what we are taught against the doctrines of Holy Scripture.[2] One of the most familiar of these non-Christian cults is the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), teaches that it is the true religion; it’s followers believe they have passed through the narrow gate and are now walking down the road leading to life.[3] But what do they teach? The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach many things which are contrary to the Christian faith; there are far too many to document thoroughly here. One of their most dangerous false teachings, however, has to do with the resurrection of Jesus. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus rose from His tomb bodily on the third day. They believe that God the Father supernaturally disposed of Jesus’ body after it was buried. They teach that what the disciples saw was not the resurrected Jesus with the same body that was so brutally treated on Good Friday. What they saw, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, was a spirit creature, not unlike an angel.[4] They teach that, when Jesus appeared to Thomas, Jesus took on a body with wound marks to bolster Thomas’ faith.[5] In other words, God lied. The root of this heresy is their mistranslation of 1 Peter 3:18. The verse reads: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (NKJV). They translate it in their New World Translation as, “...but made alive [resurrected] in the spirit.” They deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, and that Christ was God.[6]

St Luke, however, records the exact opposite of such nonsense. He writes that the disciples were terrified because they thought they saw a spirit. Jesus presents His body for inspection to prove otherwise. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. He eats food with them. Jesus wants His disciples to know that this body present with them is the same body which suffered on the cross, and was buried in the tomb. He does not lie. He wants us to know that we are not finished with our bodies when we die. Our ultimate goal is not to be a disembodied spirit in Heaven for all eternity. Our ultimate goal is the resurrection. Jesus is the first-fruits of the resurrection of the dead.[7] We will come out of our graves as He did, body and soul united again, on the Last Day.[8] Our lowly bodies will be made like His glorious body.[9] I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin has been destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold and not another.[10]

Christ’s resurrection is important because it proves that He is the Son of God.[11] What He teaches is true.[12] His resurrection is proof that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the sin of the world.[13] We were God’s enemies; we have been reconciled to Him by the death of His Son.[14] If Christ has not been raised, St. Paul says, our faith is futile, and we are still in our sins.[15] We are able to proclaim with certainty, however, on the authority of the infallible, inerrant, efficacious Word of God, that Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:1-15
[2] Acts 17:11; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Peter 1:10-11
[3] "Do Jehovah's Witnesses Believe They Are the True Religion? | FAQ." JW.ORG. Accessed April 06, 2018.
[4] "Jesus' Body-Was It Flesh or Spirit After His Resurrection? | Bible Questions." JW.ORG. Accessed April 07, 2018.
[5] ibid
[6] "The Resurrection of Jesus | Did It Really Happen?" JW.ORG. Accessed April 07, 2018.[search_id]=d3228437-e6ff-4aa8-9d87-14494c2127a9&insight[search_result_index]=0.
“Jesus is not God—whose name is Jehovah—but he is the Son of God. Jehovah resurrected Jesus from the dead. (Romans 10:9) One Bible scholar comments: It is unthinkable that anyone—even Christ—could raise himself.”
[7] 1 Corinthians 15:23
[8] 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
[9] Philippians 3:20-21
[10] Job 19:25-27
[11] Romans 1:4
[12] John 2:19; 8:28
[13] Romans 4:25
[14] Romans 5:10
[15] 1 Corinthians 15:17