Saturday, March 30, 2024

Do Not Marvel, My Brethren, if the World Hates You

Do Not Marvel, My Brethren, if the World Hates You

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

Trans Day of Visibility Badge

At the end of March in 2023, President Biden signed a proclamation establishing March 31, 2024 to be the "Transgender Day of Visibility." Last week, the county board of Fairfax County, Virginia voted 9-0 to commend this designation. This weekend, since the festival of the resurrection of our Lord falls on March 31, the matter has gotten additional attention.

I suspect that Christians are being trolled by people who have a deep, albeit irrational, hatred of Christianity. It is the same kind of vitriol as was directed against Jesus Christ Himself.

Such people revel in doing and saying things in order to offend Christians. They hope to annoy, irritate, and aggravate Christians so as to provoke a vitriolic reaction. And if that happens, they will feel justified to ramp up the rhetoric to include injustice and injury.

Two reactions may be naturally expected from Christians: the rational and the visceral -- but neither will be ultimately effective or satisfying.

A rational approach is not often an immediately effective response because rational arguments have minimal impact on those who choose to act irrationally. One does not win arguments against the devil with reason. At one point, the disciples questioned Christ because the could not cast out a demon to which Jesus replied, "This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting," (Matthew 17:21).

A visceral approach, especially if it manifests itself in physical force, is not effective because in the minds of those who hate Christians, it justifies and invites an elevated response in kind. Christianity is neither well-prepared nor well-disposed to engage in a protracted battle based on the projection of force.

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4). Rather, our armor consists in such things as faith, love, truth, righteousness, peace -- all established by the living Word of God.

This is not to say that Christians are necessarily prohibited or restrained from the use of either cerebral or visceral engagement. However, the hope of Christians is not well founded when it is set upon such things.

In his Gospel, the apostle John records the words of Jesus:

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

John echoes this in his first epistle:

"Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you." (1 John 3:13)

Christians do not fight fire with fire. Our goal is not to defeat enemies of the cross (Satan is already defeated), but to win enemies of the cross to Christ.

As such, we need to consider the lost from various perspectives. For example, do people ever feel the emotion of anger when they stub their toes on the bedpost in the middle of the night? Anger which is the reaction to pain is different than a premeditated anger which arises from malificence -- and each type of anger calls for a differentiated response.

What I mean is this: if people have felt sharp pains because they have been raised in broken families -- if they are hurting because they have not known true care and love from their parents and siblings -- they might express their pain by anger. There are tens of thousands of such people in our world today brought about by the demise of the family.

Anger which was conceived in pain, may, by transference, be conveyed to others through meanness and hatred. So, for example, a husband who has been mistreated and frustrated at work may come home and take it out on his dear wife, even though she has done absolutely nothing to deserve any verbal or physical abuse.

When the world strikes out with hateful and hurtful words and deeds, we ought not have a knee-jerk reaction or spout off clever but unkind remarks. That only causes more hurt and fuels the fire. It is important to listen intently to see if we can discern what really is at the heart of such hatred and respond appropriately with Law and Gospel.

Those who are familiar with C.F.W. Walther's work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, know that great harm can be done when the Law is proclaimed in a situation where the Gospel should have been predominant -- and vice versa.

For example, if someone is overwhelmed with guilt for doing wrong and is repentant, THAT is NOT the time to recount and rehearse the Law in an attempt to make sure the person is sufficiently sorry for his sin. Rather, the Gospel in all its sweetness should be applied by God's words of forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

Conversely, if someone feels absolutely no remorse for living contrary to God's will and Word, that person should hear not a single sentence of the Gospel, but must be confronted with the Law so that they repent and turn from their sin -- at which time the Gospel may be freely and lovingly applied.

St. Paul's epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians provide a nice comparison. The Galatians were rather legalistic, imagining that faithfulness was achieved by following the letter of the Law. The Corinthians were rather open-minded, thinking that being indulgent and permissive about sin was the way for Christians to be loving and evangelical. Both were grievously in error.

Ultimately, the endeavors of those who try to live against God's Word will come to naught. For one, it can be rather difficult and exhausting to maintain a lifestyle which strives against the nature created by the Lord. Any number of them may at some point tire of it. For another, Judgment Day is coming. But in the meantime, the devil and the world will scowl as fierce as they will. They, however, can harm us none. They're judged, the deed is done by Christ's victory over sin and death -- His resurrection and ascension!

The prophets of Baal entered a showdown with Elijah (1 Kings 18). They lost. The children of this world have chosen Easter Sunday to attempt a showdown with Christ people, and with Christ Himself. They will be exposed and disappointed -- but we prayerfully hope that they will repent and be saved.

Rather than resort to responses based on human reason or gut reactions, we will learn from the prophets and apostles how to address the ungodly with the Word of God. We pray for our enemies with the intent that they may repent and know the faith, hope, love, peace and joy of being redeemed by crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

True, we may learn with Jeremiah to see foreign lands as exiles. We may learn with Paul and Silas how the acoustics of a jail cell can be made to resound with hymns. "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,"(Romans 8:37).

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Fifth Word: Thirst

Thoughts on the First Word from the Cross

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

christ crucified on the cross fresco blue background bowed head orthodox icon
John 19:28 – “I thirst!”

The fifth word from the cross actually was just one word (it takes two words in English to translate διψω). Though it is the shortest of Christ’s sayings from the cross, it is by no means insignificant.

First of all, the Scripture had to be fulfilled (John 19:28). “They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21). Jesus would not let a jot or tittle pass from the law till all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:18) . . . and just before He spoke the words, “It is finished,” He was also fulfilling the Scriptures.

And there is more.

Roman soldiers were the most crude and cruel of men. We may see the depth of their depravity as they nailed Jesus to the cross, raised Him up, and stood around the crucified Christ. Cicero, the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher had written that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society: “Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.” (Cicero, [106 - 43BC], Pro Rabirio 16). But Roman soldiers demurred not one bit from crucifying hundreds -- or even thousands -- of men at a time.  For example, in 4 B.C., the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews.

The lictor had given Jesus forty stripes minus one with a whip of leather strands having pieces of sharp bone at the end which did not merely give welts, but ripped the flesh from His back. They put a purple robe on that back which had the flesh ripped off, they mocked Him – and later they ripped the blood soaked robe from His back in which the blood had no doubt begun to coagulate. They had blindfolded Jesus and struck Him asking Him to prophesy who had hit Him.

And their cruelty did not end there.

A bit earlier, Jesus had refused the drink they had prepared. Jesus had been offered sour wine mingled with gall to drink. “But when He had tasted it, He would not drink” (Matthew 27:34).

But Jesus had a second opportunity to quench the kind of thirst which accompanies the shedding of one’s life blood. He initiated it by saying, “I thirst.” And then we read: “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth” (John 19:29).

People generally don’t give much thought to this or ask, “How was it that the Roman soldiers happened to have sour wine, a sponge, and a hyssop stick?” but it is noteworthy. The Roman soldiers carried no toilet paper in those days. Archaeology has discovered the xylospongius or tersorius, also known as a “sponge on a stick.” Uncovered in ancient Roman latrines, these wooden sticks with a sea sponge fixed at the end were often cleaned in vinegar. The soldiers likely carried a tersorius in their kit as they traveled about on their various assignments, including the one to Golgotha. They had them on hand, in this case, to add just one more insult and indignity to all the others they had already heaped upon the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world.

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper the previous day, Jesus had said that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God. On the cross, Jesus received the sour wine as He was opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

With that, we come to another noteworthy aspect of Jesus saying, “I thirst.” It is not uncommon today to see a glass or bottle of water on the pulpit. A pastor’s mouth can dry out while preaching. So, too, for our Lord.

Jesus said, “I thirst,” because He still had something important to say – words for our comfort, joy, and peace. When He had received the sour wine to His parched lips, He was enabled to say audibly, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)

And now, we who with the apostle Paul “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), who have been “crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20), who have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and who “boast . . . in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucifed to [us] and [we] to the world” (Galatians 6:14) – we thirst.

We exclaim with David who, when he was in the wilderness, composed these words: “My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1b). Jesus, who knew thirst, invites us: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). And is it not this very same Jesus, who is the One speaking in Revelation 21:6, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”

We thirst. And we drink the fruit of the vine with Him in the kingdom of God -- not sour wine or vinegar with gall, but His precious blood shed and His true body given for us in His death on the cross. Thus, when we go to the Lord’s Supper, we go as if going to our death – and when we go to our death, we may go as if to the Lord’s Supper where He “satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9).

Thoughts on Jesus' Seven Words from the Cross: The First Word

Thoughts on the First Word from the Cross

by Rev. Joel A. Brondos

The Crucifixion, by Bellini

Being retired, I rarely preach anymore, but after some 40 years of preparing sermons (I graduated from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis in 1984), I still ruminate on various texts. Here are some thoughts I would have shared on Christ's seven "words" from the cross (in Greek and Latin, "word" can refer to thoughts and sentences).

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34)

With these words from the cross, our Lord showed what was on His mind while He was suffering on the cross.

His thoughts were not about anger, retribution, vengeance, or justice -- but forgiveness. It was for forgiveness that He was nailed to the accursed cross. He had not come to condemn the world of sinners, but that the world through Him might be saved [John 3:17].

Those who sneered while looking upon Him used their words to mock, blaspheme, and ridicule Him. They, too, were included among those for whom He was giving His life. The ones right under His nose, turned up their noses and held Him in contempt -- yet He did not respond in kind.

He did not threaten them in reply, saying, "When I rise from the dead, you guys are in for a world of hurt! I'm going to kill you!" but rather, "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).

Christ's enemies did not know what they were doing. Now, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the Law. Any sheriff can tell you that, but the thought is also expressed in the Old Testament (Leviticus 5:18; Ezekiel 45:20). And yet, there was a sense in which they had to be ignorant. Who would have driven nails into the hands and feet of Jesus utterly convinced that He was both true God and true man. Those who had come to arrest Jesus in the garden got a glimpse that Jesus was the great I AM, and they fell back when they heard Jesus say, "I am He." Or as we read in Colossians 2:8, "which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."

The hatred and invectives of those enemies of the cross did not stop at Golgotha. When they no longer had Jesus to kick about, they went after His disciples. They went after Stephen.

Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,5), never had the opportunity to read any of Paul's epistles. The words which Paul wrote to the Philippians were never read to Stephen: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . [who] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

Nevertheless, Stephen had the mind of Christ, forgiving those who were stoning him to death, crying out with a loud voice, out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin," calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" as he knelt down and "fell asleep."

But even though Stephen never knew anything about Paul's letters, Paul (who at that time was Saul) had the opportunity to hear Stephen. Saul had consented to the stoning of Stephen. He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. In Acts 22:20, Paul himself confessed: "when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him."

If anyone was an "in" + "amicus," literally, "not a friend" -- if anyone was an enemy of the cross -- it was Saul. But in the forgiveness of Christ's cross conveyed through the words on the dying lips of Stephen, Paul came to know "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10) and again, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled" (Colossians 1:21).

Today's world spends billions of dollars to have vengeance and retribution streamed onto their 84-inch smart screens or to read about such things on their tablets. Writers and directors set us up in the beginning of movies and novels to be shocked at some abhorrent evil or injustice. By the end of the movie or book, we expect to see the antagonists die a most gruesome death. We expect the enemies to get justice from a wide array of implements of destruction. It is not likely that the same amount of revenues could be collected in a story which ends with the enemies being forgiven (though there are a few).

We, by nature, are not friends of the Lord God almighty. We demonstrate this by our selfishness, our carelessness, our lusts, our pride, our complaints, our wasted time, our willfulness -- our sinfulness. We justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. We cannot plead ignorance, but with the apostle Paul, we confess, "For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

And yet by the grace and mercy of our crucified Lord, we do not come to a bitter end. We do not face the holy and righteous justice of the almighty Lord God. Jesus faced that bitter end for us on the cross.

Christ died for enemies like us. And by His grace, mercy, and peace through faith, through Christ's words of forgiveness from the cross, we, too, are enlivened to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).

You Are Right in Saying I Am A King

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?" "Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?" Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18:33-37).

Who would have thought that anti-semitic non-Christians would start using the phrase "Christ is King" as a way to intimidate and slander Jewish people?

Not me, that's for sure.

Imagine my surprise when on one of my regular podcasts, for an entire hour, this was the topic of discussion.

The host explained how Candace Owens, recently separated from Ben Shapiro's "The Daily Wire" used the phrase in a post on X back in November 2023. She was called out for anti-semitism by other members of the Daily Wire. Some of them posted about how the phrase is anti-semitic, and that Jesus' name should never be used to slander the race from which Jesus came, God's chosen people, the Jews. I think Andrew Klavan's response is worth reading/hearing

For sure Jesus' name should never be used to demean others. To do so is to violate the Second Commandment. But it also got me thinking. The leftist media is going to have a field day showing hypocrites who call themselves Christians who are taking Jesus' name in vain, using it for the vile purpose of trying to disparage another human being because of their so-called race. It won't be long before there are stories in the mainstream media asserting that saying "Christ is King" is hate speech, and orthodox Christianity is a right wing hate group.

First, let's get this out of the way right off the bat. Anti-semitism is wrong. Like racism of all other varieties, anti-semitism is sin. Christianity, in fact, doesn't recognize the concept of race as it is understood in the American socio-political context.

As trite as it may sound, the saying is true: there is only one race - the human race. All people, being descended from our common parents Adam and Eve, are all part of the same human family. We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourself. To hate him because he is of a different ethnicity than we are is the opposite of that command, and therefore we must repent. Moreover, as St. Paul says to the Galatians, all of us who are a part of the body of Christ are united in a way that supercedes all earthly differences:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

In spite of this, some might be tempted to say that Christians should stop using the phrase "Christ is King" because it has been tainted with bigotry. The racist white supremacist Nick Fuentes has been using "Christ is King" in some of his speeches.

The impulse to not sound like these distasteful individuals, or to be associated with their evil movements is understandable. Indeed we should not want to sound like them. We must be careful, however, that we don't overcorrect and slip into doctrinal error because we don't want to be called racists.

More importantly, we must not let evil men steal from us our doctrine.

This is just another way for Satan to get us to be ashamed of the Gospel message. We must instead declare with St. Paul that we are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, first for the Jew, then for the Greek. Satan would like nothing more than to silence Christians from proclaiming the Gospel truth that Jesus, true God in human flesh, Savior of mankind, is King of the universe.

Despite who says it, or who it makes angry, and what their reasons are, Christ is, indeed, King. He has died for the sins of the world. He has risen from the dead for the justification of those who believe. And He will come again in glory, as King, to be our judge. We Christians are to proclaim this message of the cross, and that there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for all who repent of their sin and believe in Christ.

No matter what, people are going to be offended by the Gospel. It is, as St. Paul says, a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles. But to we who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

However, maintaining this doctrinal truth in America is not easy. It is difficult to walk the narrow road between the ditch of being labled an anti-semite on the one side, and denying what Christ says about Himself being the only way of salvation for all mankind on the other.

Ben Shapiro shared a post from Robert P. George on X which gets something very wrong regarding Christianity's teaching on Jews and Judaism, and illustrates just what the problem is. The post says:

"For Catholics and other Christians, Holy Week is a time of spiritual preparation for Easter. It is also a time to recall the rootedness of our faith in that of our 'elder brothers' -- the Jewish people, 'whose covenant with God is unbroken and unbreakable.'"

White supremacists saying "Christ is King" in order to encourage the defamation of Jewish people is wrong. That wrong, however, doesn't make what Ben Shapiro posted in response to this controversy true. We Christians must be careful not to go too far in the other direction and act as though we are part of the same religion, or worshipping the same God as the religious Jews. We are not, and we do not. God's special relationship with the physical nation of Israel ended with the coming of Jesus and their rejection of Him.

Jesus teaches plainly of the impending rejection of the nation of Israel by God (Judisch, 1978):

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce it's fruit" (Matthew 21:43).

Jesus makes this point in His parable of the Great Banquet as well. The Great King prepared his banquet, but the invited guests rejected the invitation and refused to come. The servant reported this to the master, who sent the servant out to the streets and alleys of the town to invite the poor, the cripled, the blind, and the lame:

"'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet" (Luke 14:22-24).

God, the Great King, sent the invitation to His great banquet to His chosen guests through Moses and the prophets. John the Baptist came as the herald, announcing that the time had come. The kingdom of God, the preaching of Christ, was at hand. All the invited guests should come to the banquet (Kretzmann, 1921). But Israel, as a whole, rejected the invitation. Jesus turns from the Jews, though He longed to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks, because they refused to be gathered. He invites the spiritually blind, poor and lame, tax collectors, sinners, and Gentiles to fill His house.

In Christ all those who repent and believe the good news, Jew and Gentile alike, are united into one body, which is Christ's. Christ's Gospel is indeed the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. And, in Christ, we are Abraham's seed and part of the Israel of God where there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. We are heirs to God's promise of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation in Jesus.

The good news is that Christ came to die as the propitiation for the sin of the whole world. That includes everybody, including Jewish people. He offers that forgiveness for sin, life, and salvation to all people through His word and by His sacraments. To say that the Jewish people have a special relationship with God because of their ethnic heritage is a false teaching. What is worse is that it makes people of Jewish heritage feel secure because of their blood line when they are outside of the body of Christ. It gives them hope where there is none, in their flesh. But Jesus says faith in Him is man's only hope:

"...Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe (John 6:61-64).

Definitively Jesus declares:

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," (John 14:6).



Judisch, Douglas. 1978. "An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts." Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. The Purpose of the Prophetic Gifts, p. 43.

Kretzman, Paul E.. 1921. "Popular Commentary on the Bible: New Testament Vol. 1." St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, pp. 346-347.

Robinson, William C Harrison, Everett F., et. al., eds. 1999. "Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology." Church. Peabody: Hendrickson Pub.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Christian Will Never See Death

"I am not possessed by a demon," said Jesus, "but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death." (John 8:49-51).

Jesus said that anyone who keeps His word would never see death. What does He mean? The Pharisees call out Jesus on this, and it seems like they have a point. Everyone dies. We are all subject to death. From Adam, through whom death was introduced into creation; through Abraham, and the patriarchs; through the prophets and kings, including king David. Everyone dies. They witnessed it during Jesus' ministry. They could point to David's tomb. So what was Jesus talking about?

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sin of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28).

It is indeed appointed for man to die once, and then to face the judgment. Men are subject to death because all men are sinners. Paul tells us plainly that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 5:12). In other words, death is what we have earned for our work of disobeyeing God. (Pieper, 1953) But don't forget that there are three kinds of death. There is the first death, the physical (or temporal) death. There is also a second death, the spiritual death. Physical death is the unnatural tearing apart of body and soul. Spiritual death results in the third kind, which is eternal death. (Pieper, 1953) Eternal death is the separation of the person, who is composed of that rational soul and human flesh combined, from God forever by being cast into hell.

At the time of physical death, body and soul are separated. This is something unnatural that was not intended to happen. The dust of the body returns to the ground. The body is buried and experiences decay. The spirit returns to God, who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The body "sleeps" while the soul goes to heaven to be with the Lord. Paul, writing to the Philippians, explains that his death is desirable to him, because it would mean that, though Paul would be physically dead, he would be with the Lord in the heavenly paradise. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:23-24).

Jesus also promises the thief on the cross next to Him, not that he will be dormant in the grave, body and soul, until the judgment. He assures the man, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Jesus tells us that those who are in Him do not need to worry about the physical first death. This death could not hold Jesus. And, if we keep His word as He says, it will not hold us either. This is what Jesus meant when He said:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28).

That one who can destroy both body and soul in hell is Jesus. And He would demonstrate His power over death when He rose from the dead after His death on the cross.

But Jesus actually does demonstrate His power over death before His resurrection. Jesus calls Himself the Resurrection and the Life. He has the power to bring back to life those whose souls and bodies have been torn apart by death. He did it for the widow's son; for Jairus' daughter; for Lazarus. Reversing physical death is short work for Immanuel, God with us, the One by whom all things were made. So we don't have to worry about physical death. Jesus will undo it. From our perspective, He has undone it by His cross and empty tomb. And if we don't have to worry about physical death, even if we have to experience it, we also don't have to worry about spiritual or eternal death.

Jesus saves us from the second death as well. In fact, that is the entire reason Jesus came to earth; the reason He took on flesh in the Virgin's womb; the reason He lived a sinless life, and went to the cross. He bore the guilt of our sin on the cross, paying the debt. He rose to life again for our justification.

Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) That is because in our baptism, Christ connects us to His death and resurrection. In baptism He gives us those things. We get the credit for His death; we get the promise of being raised to life in a resurrection like His.

Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore baptized into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

Indeed, baptism does now save us by the resurrection of Jesus. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism that all people will be raised and will stand before Christ on the Last Day. (Luther, 1986). Christians will rise to eternal life. Christ will transform their bodies to be like His glorious body, though God's word does not give a lot of information about what that will be like. People who do not believe in Jesus will be told to depart into the eternal fire. Believers will experience life everlasting. Unbelievers will experience everlasting death.

For the Christian, death has been transformed into a portal through which they pass into life. According to Pieper, the fear of God's wrath is what made death terrible. (Pieper, 1953) Since Christ has made atonement for sin, that fear disappears. Without having to fear God's wrath and punishment, the Christian can look at death as a slumber from which we will awaken at Christ's return and enter into eternal life.

That is what Jesus means when He says that those who keep His word will never taste death.



Concordia Publishing House. 1986. "Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation." St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. Apostles' Creed: IV. The Resurrection of the Body, 187-189.

Pieper, Francis. 1953. "Christian Dogmatics, vol. 3 Temporal Death." St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election

As a Confessional Lutheran living in what some in the Lutheran blogosphere have called the "desert of American Evangelicalism," one gets accustomed to being ignored. No one quite knows what to do with Confessional Lutherans. Consequently, we usually get left out of the debates, and our doctrine is not well-known. We look like Roman Catholics, most of the time. We talk about baptism a LOT, and how salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Most American Evangelicals don't know what to do with us, if we're even on their radar at all.

Mostly, we are not.

This is evident when the discussion turns to something like the doctrine of Election. You've got your Calvinists, and you've got your Arminians; your predestination people and your free will guys. Either God has predestined everybody for where they're going or we all have to make a decision for Jesus and pray the sinners prayer.

Then there are the Lutherans. We don't fit into either of those categories.

We acknowledge that man has free will, but only in matters that do not pertain to salvation. Where conversion is concerned, we acknowledge that scripture teaches we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1ff.).

We also understand that God has predestined the elect to salvation in Christ before the foundation of the world. However, - and here's where we lose the Calvinists - we acknowledge that scripture teaches that a believer can fall away.

Calvin wrote that salvation is not preached to all people equally. The reason why, he says, is a mystery. Calvin defines predestination as the doctrine that some people are chosen by God to be saved, and others are chosen by God to be damned. This is quite different from how the doctrine of election is understood from Holy Scripture by the Lutheran reformers. Calvin admits that this teaching might sound scary and confusing at first, but it is, in fact, "useful and pleasant." (Calvin, 1526) Calvin writes that the doctrine of election shows man that salvation is truly monergistic. To him, the fact that God gives salvation to some and withholds it from others, Calvin says, simultaneously glorifies God and humbles man. (Calvin, 1526)

Calvin and the Lutheran Confessions both agree that the doctrine of election is, in Calvin's words, "useful and pleasant"; that it is intended to be a comfort, and to showcase the glory of God. But Christianity does not teach fatalism. Fatalism is the idea that nothing you do makes any difference because everything is pre-ordained. Christian faith is knowing God works all things, even the ones we think are bad, for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose in Christ. And here we come to the first and greatest difference between a Reformed and a Confessional Lutheran understanding of election: it can only be understood in Christ.

Calvin says that God reveals His will to men, and that we must not seek that which God has kept hidden. Calvin says that we find the revealed will of God in God's word. This is true, and the Lutheran Confessions agree. Calvin, however, seems to go beyond what Scripture says when he teaches that God has created some men specifically for damnation.

To Calvin, God is the cause of salvation to those who are saved; God is also the cause of damnation to those who are damned. This is what Calvin means when he writes that all are not "created on equal terms." (Calvin, 1536) In other words, Calvin teaches that God created some people specifically to be saved, and other specifically to be damned. Those so created have no chance either to fall if they are the elect, or to be saved if they are the reprobate.

Calvin cites Deuteronomy 32:8-9 to show that God does not reveal the reason He saves certain people and damns others. As God declared to the Israelites through Moses, Calvin says, God chose the Israelites because He wanted to; it was not because of anything God saw in them, or that they merited God's favor. Calvin says that here God keeps the reason the elect are chosen a secret, but this isn't entirely true. God does indeed reveal how and why the elect are saved: they are saved by God's grace through faith in Christ alone.

Moreover, scripture also declares that the lost are damned because of their lack of faith, not because God predestined them to be lost and condemned.

When discussing eternal election, the Lutheran reformers make a distinction between God's eternal election and God's eternal foreknowledge. God's foreknowledge means simply that God sees and knows all things before they happen. Foreknowledge applies to all creatures. Election does not apply to all creatures. Election only applies to those people who are in Christ. (McCain, 2005)

God's eternal election simply means those whom God has predestined to salvation in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Election, therefore, does not include the wicked. On the contrary, it only includes the godly, i.e. those people who have faith in Christ. Those who are predestined to salvation are those who are in Christ.

Here we enter the territory of another fundamental difference between Reformed and Confessional Lutheran theology: paradox. Confessional Lutheran theologians do not feel the need to resolve paradox when it is found it Holy Scripture. Reformed theologians make the rational argument that if God chose one group of men to be saved, then that means he chose the remaining group of men to be damned by default. That is not, however, what the Bible says. In short, Scripture teaches the following paradox: 1) God wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth; 2) God is completely responsible for working repentance and faith in men by the means of His word; 3) Some men reject God's gracious gift and are not saved; 4) Those men who are lost are responsible for their own damnation, not God.

Part of the problem is that Calvin does not seem to recognize that the lost are lost because of their own sin; because of their own failure to believe in Christ, and not because God decreed them to be reprobate. Consider the fact that Non-Israelites could become a part of the nation of Israel. People like Rahab the prostitute were accepted as part of God's chosen people, not because of their bloodline, but because of their faith. Again, consider Saul. He was the annointed king of Israel, yet he was rejected by God  because he was unfaithful.

Calvin sees the choosing of Israel by God as a sort of general election. The explanation he gives for why most of Israel fell away even though they were part of the elect nation and only a remnant remained is troubling. Calvin explains that, while God did elect the entire body of Jacob's descendants, He did not immediately give all of them the Holy Spirit. According to Calvin, this withholding of the Spirit is why most of elect Israel fell away and only a remnant was caused to persevere. (Calvin, 1536) 

Where Calvin found such a horrifying notion is anyone's guess. It does not come from Scripture.

But Calvin continues, asserting that God is not unjust to choose some men to reprobation. Indeed, He would not be unjust if that were the case. All men are, after all, in a fallen state. God would have been justified in destroying the entire fallen creation, and starting over again. But Calvin also ascribes man's corrupt and fallen state to God's will. (Calvin, 1536)

Scripture tells us that isn't the case. God is not the source of evil, nor is God the cause of sin. Rather, Adam's will and the will of the devil are the cause of mankinds fall, and the introduction of sin and death into creation.

God may not be the cause of man's fall into sin as Calvin says. God did, however, allow the Fall to happen. And, along with everything else, God works those things to the good of those elect in Christ.

Calvin says that God issues His call to faith by the preaching of the Gospel. According to Calvin, however, though the Gospel goes out to the elect and to the reprobate alike, God only makes it effectual in those whom He has elected. Those who are reprobate, therefore, do not have the opportunity or the ability to believe; God, according to His will, has rendered the power of the Gospel ineffective in them. (Calvin, 1536)

Predestination is not a trick. God does not say outwardly that salvation is for all people, but secretly not mean it. This would mean that God had two contradictory wills, which cannot be because Scripture tells us so. (McCain, 2005) God punishes such duplicity. He does not reward it.

God would indeed be a liar and a hypocrate if His invitation was extended to all people through His word, but secretly in His heart He knew there were some people He would damn anyway, no matter what. God condemns this type of wickedness (Psalm 5:9; 12:2-4). Man is, on the contrary, responsible for his own damnation by resisting and rejecting the Holy Spirit as He works through God's word.

God reveals His will by His call to preach the Gospel to all people. He works through that word to enlighten, convert, and save. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation; God wants men to receive, believe, and obey His word. Christ merited the redemption of the entire human race on the cross. Through word and sacrament Christ gives us the benefits of what He has merited. That is to say that the Holy Spirit working through those means works conversion; works repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins in us. Moreover, the Spirit will justify, sanctify, and protect those in whom He has done such work if we do not abandon Christ and His Word. (McCain, 2005)

He will save eternally at the Resurrection on the Last Day those who persevere. ###


Works Cited

Calvin, John. 1536. "Institutes of the Christian Religion." Chapters 21-24. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

McCain, Paul T., et. al., eds. 2005. "Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord." First Edition. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration XI. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.