Friday, May 25, 2018

The True Vine

Christ: The True Vine
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Jesus is the vine. The vine carries the nourishing sap to the branches, from which fruit will grow. We are the branches. In order to produce fruit, we branches must remain connected to the vine. Branches which are disconnected from the vine and do not receive sap do not produce fruit. God the Father, the Vinedresser, removes those dead branches. Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Just as branches must abide in the vine in order to bear fruit, we must abide in Christ to bear fruit. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Apart from Christ we are dead, fruitless branches. Such branches are broken off and cast into the fire.
What is the fruit of which Jesus speaks? Good deeds? Certainly. We know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[1] Certainly a disciple of Christ who abides in Him and keeps His Word will exhibit these fruits to a greater, or lesser, degree. A good tree, Jesus teaches, cannot bear bad fruit. One does not collect figs from thistles. But Jesus is not simply talking about doing good deeds; He certainly isn’t telling His disciples to do good works in order to merit, increase, or strengthen their connection to the vine. After all, it is the Vinedresser’s job to graft branches into the vine, and cleanse the vine by pruning it back.[2]
God does this grafting in and pruning through His holy Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.[3] God’s Word lives and abides forever, and through it men are born again.[4] The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.[5] Through His Word God shows us our sin; He brings us to repentance. In we who were spiritually dead and the enemies of God by our nature, He creates faith though the power of the Holy Spirit, working through His Word. Using His tools of word, water, bread and wine, He cleanses us from our sin and grafts us into the True Vine, where we receive the gifts of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We are still called to bear fruits worthy of repentance.[6] Our good works are evidence of our faith; faith without such works is dead.[7] You cannot separate faith from its natural fruit of good works. If you have one, the other follows naturally. And so, as St. Paul explains to the Philippians, we work out our faith in fear and trembling.[8] We cannot boast about all the good things we do; we cannot boast about our salvation. God’s action is the cause of both. And though we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we go about it doing the works which God prepared beforehand for us to do.[9] It is God who works in you, both to will and to do, for His good pleasure.[10]

[1] Galatians 5:22-23
[2] Romans 11:11-26
[3] Romans 10:17
[4] 1 Peter 1:22-23
[5] Romans 1:16
[6] Matthew 3:8
[7] James 2:14-26
[8] Philippians 2:12-13
[9] Ephesians 2:10
[10] Philippians 2:13

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Shepherd Knows His Sheep

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

Tell us plainly! Are you the Christ? What has Jesus been doing up to this point? Precisely what the Pharisees demand. He has shown them many great miracles from the Father. He has healed many people. He has taught in the temple and the synagogues as one who has authority. He has declared that the scriptures were fulfilled in Him. He casts out demons who testify to who Jesus is. He has called the Pharisees lying children of the devil, and Himself the Son of God. He has called Himself I AM, applying YAHWEH’s divine name to Himself. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd, the one come to search out the lost and scattered sheep, and rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered.[1] In calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is calling Himself YAHWEH. The prophet Ezekiel wrote that, because those who were supposed to shepherd Israel would neglect the responsibility given to them, God Himself would come among His sheep and be their shepherd Himself.[2] Jesus announces to the Jews here in John 10 that the long wait for their shepherd is over. He has arrived.

The Jews still reject Him. They are not His sheep, and therefore, do not hear His voice. They are the false shepherds who eat the fat, clothe themselves with the wool, slaughter the fat ones, but do not feed the sheep. They rule the sheep with force and harshness.[3] They try to charge Jesus with breaking the Law when He heals on the Sabbath.[4] After hearing Jesus read the scriptures and teach, they try to throw Him off a cliff.[5] They ignore the casting out of demons, and the restoration of people possessed by them, and say He colludes with the devil to cast out devils.[6] They have eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear. They have hearts, but do not understand.[7] Here, as He did just a short time before, Jesus tells them exactly who He is. He is one with the Father. Not merely one in will and work, but one in being and essence.[8] Jesus is telling us that He and the Father are one in essence, or nature, but they are not identical persons. As the Scripture says, the Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying. They took these words to be blasphemy and tried to impose the penalty for blasphemy prescribed in the law, though without due process.[9]

Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and, in so doing, gives us an indication of the intimate relationship He has with His followers, and the love that moved Jesus to die for them all. Sheep who do not listen to the voice of the shepherd are bound to wander away from the safety of the flock and be devoured by wolves. Like the shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, the God-man’s love for His own moved Him to endure the humiliating death on the cross to be the sacrifice for their sins.[10] Jesus’ declaration that He and the Father are one, and that no one can snatch His sheep from His hand should give all believers hope, no matter what they face. Believers can rest secure that they belong to Jesus Christ and will never perish; all of Jesus’ works affirm this truth.[11] Consequently, to reject Jesus as the Pharisees did, even in the face of the miracles Jesus did and the testimony of the Law and the Prophets, is to reject God Himself and His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life.

[1] Ezekiel 34:11-12
[2] Ezekiel 34:1-4; 11-12
[3] Lenski, R. C. (1942). The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press.
[4] Matthew 12:9-14
[5] Luke 4:16-30
[6] Matthew 12:22-30
[7] Matthew 13:10-17
[8] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. John 10:38
[9] Leviticus 24:16
[10] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House. Philippians 2:8
[11] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Your Best Life Now

Creflo Dollar: Word of Fatih Preacher
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

This is one of the favorite verses for prosperity gospel heretics to twist. Jesus, they say, wants us to have life abundantly. The more faith we have, the more God will bless us. He’s just waiting for us to give Him the go-ahead. Prosperity preachers, like Creflo Dollar, then try to convince people that Jesus’ plan was that everyone who believes in Him should have a happy and fulfilling life.[1] You see, God is a god of abundance. He wants us to enjoy life.[2] When we really believe in Jesus, and attune ourselves to Him, we get supernatural results.[3] That sounds fantastic! How can I get God to bless me like that? How do I have faith and attune myself to Him? Here is where the aptly named Dollar and his prosperity gospel preaching heretic friends step in. They can help you step out in faith. All you have to do is get your mind right by not allowing the wrong thoughts to enter into our minds, and dwelling on those thoughts, which causes us to think wrong.[4] We also have to sow a seed offering into one of their anointed ministries. Your blessings will be on their way, in size and speed directly proportional to the size of the seed (read: monetary offering) that is sown. If you don’t, by some chance, receive your miracle cure for that case of terminal cancer, your job promotion, or the monetary blessing, it’s your fault. You simply didn’t have enough faith. Maybe you need to be bolder, and sow another, bigger seed that really shows God you’re serious. The health and wealth preachers will be happy to accept your seed. After all, private jets are expensive to maintain.

This, of course is dangerous and heretical false teaching. Christ is not saying here that He wants us, to borrow a phrase, to have our best life now. Jesus explains that in the world, rather than peace and happiness, we will have trouble.[5] The reason we can be happy and take heart is because Christ has overcome the world by His death and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven. He is ultimately concerned with mankind’s eternal well-being, not how comfortable our lives are here on earth. He has not promised us physical healing, no matter how badly the prosperity preachers mangle Isaiah 53:5: But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and By His stripes we are healed.

Far from having happy lives, free from disease and filled with monetary blessing, Jesus promises His disciples that they will be betrayed by their unbelieving family members. They will be delivered up to be killed. They will be hated by everyone on account of His name.[6] Jesus calls His disciples to confess Him before men. He warns not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, but rather treasures in heaven, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[7] No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.[8] The word mammon means material wealth. Rather than using God as a magic genie to seek after material wealth, possessions, and long life, we are called to seek first the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches us to pray, not for an abundance of wealth, but for daily bread. We are commanded not to covet and steal our neighbor’s possessions, but to help and be of service to our neighbor in keeping his money and possessions.

Knowing that we are of more value than the birds of the air, who neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet are fed by our Heavenly Father, we recognize what is truly important, and sing with Martin Luther: And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife; Though these all be gone, Our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.[9]

[1] "Living Life to the Fullest." Creflo Dollar Ministries. March 27, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018.
[2] Dollar, Creflo. "Sow Your Seed Until You Reach Your Destiny." Creflo Dollar Ministries. August 01, 2014. Accessed May 10, 2018.
Let me ask you a question. Do you believe it is God’s will for you to be successful in every endeavor in life? If you don’t believe it, you should because that is what total-life prosperity means. Don’t allow religion to rob you and tell you that God doesn’t want you to be successful in every way. God’s will is that everything you touch prospers! He wants you to depend on and trust Him for your success. His grace is on your life for a reason—to bear fruit. God’s grace is what empowers you to have sweatless victory in life. If you’re sweating to produce something, you’re not yielding to God’s grace that’s been bestowed upon your life.
[3] "Living Life to the Fullest." Creflo Dollar Ministries. March 27, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2018.
[4] Dollar, Creflo. "Abundant Life to the Fullest." Creflo Dollar Ministries. January 22, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2018.
[5] John 16:33
[6] Matthew 10:22-31
[7] Matthew 6:19-21
[8] Matthew 6:24
[9] Luther, Martin. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." In Lutheran Worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986.
Stanza four; Composite translation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

I Am the Door

“All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-8).

Jesus is the door. The Pharisees did not understand what Jesus was telling them. Or, rather, they had some idea and they didn’t like it. Jesus’ words continue to be twisted and misunderstood to this day. Jesus is explicit. There is no other way to get to God the Father. Jesus is the door. He is the only legitimate access to a right relationship with God. A short time later in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus will again assert that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him.[1]

This offends modern sensibilities at least as much as it offended the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. The Jews did not like that Jesus was calling them illegitimate children of the devil, and sinners who needed repentance.[2] They believed that they had God’s favor by virtue of their blood line, which they could trace back to Abraham, and through their keeping of the Law. As John the Baptist reminded them, however, their human ancestry meant nothing. God could, if he wanted, raise up children for Abraham out of the stones scattered on the ground.[3] If they were truly Abraham’s children, Jesus tells them, they would do what Abraham did and believe in Him. We modern, enlightened, progressive Americans also dislike when Jesus makes statements such as, “I am the door.” We don’t like that Jesus is politically incorrect. The exclusivity of Jesus’ statement makes us uncomfortable. We modern Christians don’t like other people to hear about this Jesus; He’s not friendly. This Jesus is abrasive. He doesn’t validate the beliefs of all people, something our progressive American culture encourages. In the eyes of our sinful flesh, this Jesus alienates people and drives them away by asserting that He is the door. He’s not all-inclusive, at least in the way the world thinks He should be. Our flesh thinks it can reach God by avenues of our own choosing. We invent rules, and induce mystical experiences in order to try and connect and communicate with God. Modern multiculturalism preaches the “coexist” gospel which accepts all religions as valid, even though they are contradictory. This gospel, where men make mistakes but do not sin, and all religious paths lead to heavenly bliss, is a false one.

Jesus, however, did not come to bring peace, but a sword.[4] Christ brings division. This seems a strange thing for the Prince of Peace to say. He means, of course, that while He brings peace by reconciling mankind with God through His atoning death and glorious resurrection, there will be division on earth because some will hear the message and reject Him. Before His return, those who believe will be persecuted by those who do not. And, on the Last Day, those false teachers who prophesied, cast out demons, and did many wonders in Jesus’ name, but did not have faith, will be told, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”[5] You can’t come into the sheepfold by any other door. Jesus’ sheep, however, hear His voice. Jesus’ sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. They will not follow the thieves and robbers. Jesus’ sheep will enter by Him. They will be saved, and go in and out and find pasture.

[1] John 14:6
[2] John 8:37-59
[3] Matthew 3:9
[4] Matthew 10:34
[5] Matthew 7:21-23