Friday, November 26, 2021

Civil Disobedience

This is not something
the Founding Fathers would have worn.
Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:2)

It isn't wrong for Christians to engage in civil disobedience. That isn't what Paul is saying to the Romans.

If we aren't we should be doing so. We should be worshipping in defiance of gathering restrictions and masking mandates because these things are paving the way for further violations of our religious liberties.

We should obey God rather than men. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, it made sense to follow the government's recommendations. No one knew what we were actually dealing with and there wasn't any data to go by. After the BLM riots in June 2020, however, circumstances changed. When government officials encouraged the riots because systemic racism in American society was a bigger concern than COVID-19, the proverbial cat was let out of the bag. All of a sudden the governing authorities were not worried about mass gatherings of people without masks and social distancing. They weren't worried about super-spreader events.

That's because the pandemic restrictions were much more about controlling our thoughts, words, and deeds than they were about public health.

Before you point to Romans 13 and Paul's words about submitting to the governing authorities, remember that the Roman Empire in which Paul found himself and the United States of America aren't the same, regardless of what the Marxist history professors say. At the very least, they shouldn't be held up as a 1:1 comparison.

Our government isn't like the government of the Roman Empire. In our system, the people are the governing authorities. It's even written down in the Constitution. Our elected officials are supposed to protect the civil liberties which God has given mankind. When they fail to do this, the people have the right under the Constitution to alter or abolish that government. Usually, we do this by holding elections. Sometimes other actions are necessary.

The issue is that American Christians are looking for a type of persecution that is unlikely to come, and we're ignoring the creeping persecution which actually threatens us. We are waiting for jack-booted thugs to come to our doors and order us to turn over our Bibles at the point of a gun.

But the kind of persecution we are dealing with isn't harsh and violent yet. It's soft and bureaucratic.

Our governing authorities won't directly say "stop worshipping", not yet. Instead, they will progressively change conditions in society by passing laws that paint Christian beliefs and morality as fringe and racist. They will use the media to propagandize the masses into right-think, as they have done so successfully over the past decades until it becomes impossible to worship openly.

Mask mandates are a part of this process.

And, if we keep allowing this type of soft tyranny, it won't be long before the hard tyranny is knocking on our doors, figuratively and literally.

And before I'm reminded for the 56th time today, I know George Washington mandated smallpox vaccinations in the Continental Army. This is not the same situation as that was. 

Mask mandates should be defied because they don't stop transmission of COVID-19, and no thinking person actually thinks that they are protected while wearing a mask. What they actually do is create divisions between people. They make people suspicious of each other, and keep them separated. They make Christians hesitate when it is time to gather around word and sacrament. It is more than an inconvenience. They stifle worship.

Also, this disease is not smallpox.

Another part of Romans 13 that we also shouldn't forget about, however, is the part about the governing authorities bearing the sword for a purpose. If we engage in civil disobedience we need to be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions. The legitimate governing authorities may legally punish us for breaking the law. And, if they do, we must submit to that punishment including, segregation, ridicule, persecution, arrest, prosecution, imprisonment, and if it comes to it, death.

I'm not saying that we should volunteer to be thrown to the lions in the coliseum over compelled mask-wearing. Pushing back against an unjust mask mandate is relatively easy, though. If these circumstances are allowed to stand without opposition, things will only get worse. The next infringement will be more difficult to stand against.

If we aren't willing to push back now, we are less likely to do it when the stakes are higher. ###

Friday, November 19, 2021

Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)

Mark records what happened when Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. There is a lot packed into this brief account. Jesus stuns the people by teaching with divine authority. He heals a demon-possessed man. We might not immediately understand how these events relate to us today, but they serve the same function for us as they did for the people gathered with Jesus in person.

The events of Mark 1:21-28 happened right after Jesus was rejected at Nazareth, His hometown. That’s when He told the people gathered in that synagogue He was the fulfillment of the prophets, specifically a prophecy of Isaiah, and the people tried to kill Him for claiming to be divine. Mark didn’t record what Jesus taught in this instance, just what happened. It is, however, a pretty good bet it was the same message He proclaimed in Nazareth: The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe the Gospel.

Jesus was different. He taught with authority. That’s what drove everybody so crazy.

Jesus didn’t teach like the other rabbis of His time. He didn’t cite other teachers to support the things He said. He did not say “thus saith the LORD” like a prophet speaking on God’s behalf. He spoke like He was God Himself speaking directly to the people.

Because He is God in human flesh.

Jesus taught as the authority Himself. It is the difference between a physics teacher teaching a class about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and Einstein teaching it himself. Those two classes would sound different.

Jesus says that all the prophecies about the Messiah refer to Him. He is the God who created the universe and set up the plan of salvation for mankind. Jesus is saying He is the one who told Adam and Eve the first Gospel. He directed and inspired the prophets. Now He was there in the world. In the flesh.

But Jesus doesn’t just say He has divine authority, He demonstrates it. He casts out a demon from a possessed man.

The exorcism Jesus performs shows both Jesus’ compassion and His authority to say the things that He said. He does this a lot, like when He heals the paralytic, feeds the multitudes, and clams the storm.

The temporal salvation Jesus granted this man who was demon-possessed is a shadow of Jesus’ larger work for all mankind. Jesus came to free all mankind from sin, death, and the devil by sacrificing Himself to pay for all sins on the cross. And, like all of Jesus’ miracles, this exorcism testifies to the truth of Jesus’ message and the authenticity of His claims to be God.

Jesus ordered the demon which possessed the man in the synagogue to be quiet because Satan is not a proper witness. Satan is the father of lies. He is a murderer from the beginning. Jesus’ reputation would be suspect if He allowed Satan to vouch for who Jesus was through His demon minions. Moreover, if Jesus would have allowed the testimony of the demon to stand and to claim the title of Messiah openly at that time, the people would have tried to make Him king.

The time for that revelation was not right. The people, including the disciples, were looking for a political savior to lead a rebellion and establish an independent earthly kingdom.

We don’t need new signs and wonders to believe in Jesus. We don’t need personal revelations. We have the word of God which shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. We have Jesus’ words and the record of the miracles He performed. Scripture is a trustworthy record. We hear Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God has come in Him, and that He has come to pay for all our sins and give us eternal life recorded for us by the evangelists. We can rejoice that in Jesus, God’s promises are fulfilled, our sins are forgiven, and creation is restored.

We hear Him along with those people who heard Him in Nazareth and Capernaum.

Let’s repent of our sinful desire to reject Him, and believe the good news Jesus brings us. ###

Friday, November 12, 2021

Grains of Wheat

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it produces much grain (John 12:24).
Jesus is talking about death.

Specifically, He is talking about His death. He is the grain of wheat. He is the Seed that dies and bears much fruit. Like a seed, Jesus will be planted in the ground after He is crucified and killed. He will grow up out of the earth like a plant on the third day.

This is why Paul calls Jesus the first fruits of the resurrection. All those people who are in Jesus will also get planted in the ground like seeds when they die. Because we have been connected to Jesus in our baptism, the things Jesus has and has done belong to us. Because we are baptized into Jesus, when He was crucified, it is like we were crucified. It is the same for His resurrection. We are in Him, and He gives us what He has. His death and His resurrection are ours. We will come back to life when He raises us up on the Last Day. That resurrection will be the full crop of which Jesus was the first-fruits.

This promise of resurrection into a glorious body like the one Jesus has is one of the main reasons Christians bury their dead the way that they do.

We act according to the things we believe. Conversely, the things we believe shape the way we act. It's why Christians have, generally speaking, rejected the practice of cremation throughout history. The pagans burned their dead. If you were a pagan who believed your soul went to an underworld, and you wouldn't need your body anymore, cremation kind of makes sense. But if you believe that God will raise up that same body that went into the grave one day when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, if you believe you will enter into eternity in a newly-made creation free from sin and death in a now-glorified body that will last forever, as Christians believe, cremation makes less sense.

Your body is important. It is who you are. It is to be cared for, even in death. Your soul will be reunited with it one day.

Christian burial is symbolic of burying the seed, out of which new life will grow, in the ground. It is a confession of what we believe will happen. Our burial practices are a confession that we believe God's promise of eternal life in Christ.

At the grave, the pastor usually prays to God that He would keep the remains of the Christian until the resurrection. This doesn't mean that God can't or won't raise a Christian who was cremated, lost at sea, or eaten by a bear or something. We believe in a God who created the universe by speaking it into existence in six days. Our hope is His promise in Christ that He forgives our sins and will raise us from the dead to live forever with Him.

Why should it be so hard to believe that God could reassemble the atoms of our bodies long after they have been destroyed, or have decayed into dust?

In John 12, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His death on the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. They don't yet understand all of this, but they soon will. And, they will go from hiding in fear of the Sanhedrin to openly defying all of those who would threaten them with death for proclaiming the Gospel. Why? They saw the resurrected Jesus. They knew He was God in human flesh. They knew that, even if they were killed Jesus would make them alive again.

They had nothing to fear.

Neither do we. ###

Friday, November 5, 2021

Subject to Judgment

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:22).

I am super subject to judgment.

I spend a lot of time angry, as anyone who knows me will agree. A lot of the time my anger is amusing. It may or may not even be slightly amplified as part of a bit sometimes. Sometimes it is righteous, like when I'm battling corruption and injustice. Seriously though, there is a such thing as righteous anger. We all like to portray our own anger as that kind. But I digress. That isn't what we are discussing now.

Once in a while, however, it becomes really clear how hurtful and destructive my anger toward another person can be, and why I should get out of the habit of being comfortable getting angry.

Those times that we think our angry reaction is funny, justified, or just normal still ends up hurting people. Then, consider Jesus specifically says He doesn't want us to be angry with our enemies. We should forgive them the way He did. All of a sudden that, "Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect" standard seems less and less attainable.

That's one of the main points of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

The divine standard of perfection isn't attainable. We keep lying to ourselves and acting like it is. When we fall short of it, our reaction is not to admit our wrongdoing. We instead justify however we failed so that there is a good excuse for not hitting the mark. Sure, I lost my temper and got angry like Jesus warned me not to do, but I had a good reason. The person I yelled at said something stupid. They made me angry.

What a lie. The only person who makes you do anything is you yourself.

But, this is human nature after the Fall.

In fact, this is exactly what Adam and Eve did when God confronted them with their sin. Satan, in the form of a serpent tempted our first parents to disobey God. When God asked Adam about it He tried to blame his wife. When God confronted Eve, she blamed the serpent for tricking her. Sure, Satan is the cause of sin and death entering the world. But Adam went along with it. That's why Paul says death entered the world through one man, Adam.

What I'm trying to say is, they tried to deflect the blame for what they did. It didn't help.

The problem is sin in general, and with anger specifically, is with us. If we say that 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.

Not because we confessed our sins, per se, but because of the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.

We can't control others, but we can work to control ourselves. We can work to live by the Spirit. We can try to stop acting like we did when we were led by our sinful nature. We can cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul says, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:24-25).

And when we fall out of step with the Spirit and sin, we confess it. We repent of it. And we believe that we are forgiven because of Jesus. Jesus, working by the power of the Holy Spirit through His word makes us able to do this.

Before my confessional Lutheran brothers out there say it, I am not advocating works-righteousness. It isn't works-righteousness to try and act better. It is to remember baptism, to return to it, and to drown the Old Adam, who still clings to your flesh and wants you to act like an ass.

It is sanctification. Even the Lutheran Confessions say that the regenerate man can cooperate with the Spirit.

Something else important to keep in mind: Just because you feel sorry for what you did, acknowledge it, and maybe even apologize for it doesn't mean that other people will accept it. Your repentance may not fix the things that happened. In fact, it probably won't. You may have caused irreparable damage, and you may have to live with it. If a murderer murders someone and feels remorse for his crime, he may truly repent of his sin. If God works this repentance in him, his sin is forgiven and he will be raised to life with all the faithful on the Last Day. It won't bring back the victim, repair the broken lives, relieve the trauma, or get him out of being punished for his crime. There are real temporal and eternal consequences to sin.

And Jesus says that to be angry with our brother is to murder him.

He also told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you, "...that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. [God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:44-45).

That fact shouldn't discourage us, though. Jesus told us that in this world we would have suffering and trouble. We can be encouraged, though, because Jesus has overcome the world by His death and resurrection. ###