Thursday, July 26, 2018

Victory over the Amalekites

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8-16).

The People of Israel are rescued by Yahweh in spite of their constant rebellion. He brought them out of Egypt by His mighty hand; they can claim no part in making Pharaoh let them go. Yahweh defeated the Egyptians in the Red Sea when pursued Israel; it could not be claimed that their escape and the Egyptian’s defeat came about by the force of their arms. God provided food for the children of Israel in the wilderness; no one could claim that Israel was self-sufficient. In fact, they ran out of provisions. They complained to Moses and longed for the rather romanticized life they had in Egypt, where they sat around pots full of meat. God provided them water from a most unlikely source when they had no water to drink. They dug no well; they found no stream. They complained. Yahweh, through the working of Moses, gives the children of Israel water to drink, gushing forth from a rock. This was not dead water from a stagnant pool that would make them sick and die, but living water, flowing forth from the rock that Moses was told by God to strike. And that rock, St. Paul tells us, was Christ.[1] Being struck by the rod of the Law, Christ provides living water to refresh and nourish His people in the dead and dry wilderness.

Now Amalek, descendent of Esau, came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Now they must defeat the enemy themselves. Moses sends Joshua. “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand,” Moses says. He will pray; the mediator making intercession for his people to Yahweh. The people may be fighting a battle but it is Yahweh who wins it for them. Moses stands on the hill, arms outstretched in prayer. When Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed. The Israelites were fighting, but Yahweh was the source of their strength and victory.

So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. Here we see another shadow of Christ: Joshua, who will eventually succeed Moses as the leader of Israel. Moses will give them the Law and show them their sin. Joshua, or Yeshua, which is anglicized as Jesus, will do what Moses cannot do. Joshua will lead Israel across the Jordan into the Promised Land. He will defeat Israel’s enemies with the edge of the sword. Christ, the Joshua who is the fulfillment of this shadow, has defeated Israel’s enemies, once and for all, on the cross; He has purchased and won us from sin, death, and the devil with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death on the cross. He rose from the dead on the third day, having conquered death and the grave, and ascended into heaven. He will come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead. In righteousness He judges and makes war. John describes Him in Revelation:

His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He was clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:11-16).

We have been rescued by God’s might hand from our slavery to sin. Though we were by our nature children of wrath, God loved us. Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ, by His grace.[2] Even though we continue to rebel against Him by our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, He grants us repentance and faith through His means of Word and Sacrament. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We Christians are the Israel of God, wandering in the wilderness, making our way to the Promised Land. We are following the true Joshua, Jesus Christ. We have been enlisted into His army. We have been washed clean from our sin, not by passing through the Red Sea, but in the waters of Holy Baptism[3]. We have been given robes of clean, fine linen. And we must be strong in the Lord and the power of His might, not our own. And though we must fight in the wilderness, we must know that it is by Christ’s work on the cross, not our own working, that our enemies of sin and death have been defeated. We must put on the whole armor of God so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. We gird our waist with truth, which is God’s Word of Law and Gospel; we put on the breastplate of righteousness, which is a righteousness that comes from Christ and is not our own; we shoe our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; we take the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God;[4] a sword which is sharp enough to pierce even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart.[5] And we pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests, being alert and praying always for all the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ.[6]

[1] 1 Corinthians 10:4
[2] Ephesians 2:3-5
[3] Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5-8 1 Peter 3:18-21
[4] Ephesians 6:14-17
[5] Hebrews 4:12
[6] Ephesians 6:18

Criteria for Hymn Selection: Scriptural

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:16-17).

This Bible passage stands on the page facing the first hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal. The strongest hymns will not only be based on the truths of God’s Word, but will contain clear biblical references that help the faithful rehearse again and again those truths. Such hymns put into their mouths what has first been put into their ears. Clear allusions to the Word of God echo from throughout hymnody that is biblically rich.

It is not the fact that it is possible to misunderstand or interpret the text in a way which is contrary to Scripture and the Confessions which would cause a hymn to be excluded, but whether such a misrepresentation is likely. Neither would hymns be included because it is possible to read a text with “Lutheran eyes” — a type of corrective vision. In matters of the church’s practice, clarity of doctrine is of paramount importance so as to not mislead.

In this light, we may rightly choose to reject hymns which have become closely associated with practices and traditions which are antithetical to the Gospel, such as altar calls. If the singing of certain hymns has the effect of blurring distinctions between the orthodox confession of the faith and heterodox beliefs, we are obliged to abstain.

God’s Word is Our Great Heritage

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age 
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Criteria for Hymn Selection: Incarnational

The philosophy of Plato, which filtered into the church through Augustine’s neo-Platonism, may be briefly described as an idea or ideal towards which one strives to arrive. 

The Gospel is not concerned with ideals. The Gospel does not talk about with how we get closer to Jesus. Rather, it announces how Christ graciously comes all the way to us. The Christian confession is not at its best when it contemplates the kingdom of God in terms of lower to higher, closer or nearer, comparatives and superlatives. At issue is not that we become more and more like God, but rather that He became like us, taking on our flesh and yet was without sin. 

It is not that we go to God, but rather that He comes all the way to us through the means of grace. He does not come to us through symbols or imagery but through Word and Sacrament. Luther put it this way:

Although [God] is present in all creatures, and I might find him in stone, in fire, in water, or even in a rope, for he certainly is there, yet he does not wish that I seek Him there apart from the Word, and cast myself into the fire or the water, or hang myself on the rope. He is present everywhere, but He does not wish that you grope for Him everywhere. Grope rather where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of Him in the right way. Otherwise you are tempting God and committing idolatry. For this reason He has set down for us a definite way to show us how and where to find Him, namely the Word. (AE 36:342)

That which is not incarnational is most likely allegorical. Can sinners be saved by figures of speech? People may enjoy symbolism, metaphors, and illustrations as interesting, inspiring, enlightening or even entertaining, but there is no power in allegories to save. Figures of speech might provide some sense of stimulated elation wherein the audience imagines that it is getting closer to God, but this is at best an illusion.

In the same vein, the Lord God does not love in a way that admits of degrees: more or less or so much. He loves entirely and completely in a way that is so vast that we cannot comprehend or describe it. It is not that we love Him but that He loves us – and His love in Christ is not measured by degrees, lesser or greater, comparatives or superlatives.

O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee

Love caused Thy incarnation,
Love brought Thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling,
That led Thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race!

Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o'er joys departed
And tremble at your doom.
Despair not, He is near you,
Yea, standing at the door,
Who best can help and cheer you
And bids you weep no more.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Criteria for Hymn Selection: Christocentric

“The righteous live alone by God’s grace, work, Word and might reveal in Christ which is their preaching, hymn, praise and song.” Martin Luther, The Good Confession of Psalm 118 (1530; Erl. 41:57-58).

It has been popular to use the hyphenated “Christ-centered” as a compound adjective to describe such things as education, marriage, or counseling. Perhaps it would be better to say solus Christus, "Christ alone," rather than “Christocentric.” Saying that Jesus is at the center does not necessarily address that which may lie at the periphery. Thus, the Scriptures do not speak of a Christ at the center but rather: "Christ is all and in all." (Col 3:11b), as is also echoed in other passages of Scripture emphasizing the "all things" from and through and by Christ alone.

In Thee Alone, O Christ, My Lord

In Thee alone, O Christ, my Lord, 
My hope on earth remaineth;
I know Thou wilt Thine aid afford,
Naught else my soul sustaineth.
No strength of man, no earthly stay
Can help me in the evil day;
Thou, only Thou, canst aid supply.
To Thee I cry; On Thee I bid my heart rely.