Tuesday, December 29, 2009
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Hebrews 6:4-6a
Likely all of us can recall as parents or children unwrapping all the gifts at Christmas and being so excited about playing with them for days or even weeks, and then not touching them again much at all.
Unfortunately, so it is with some and the greatest gift of all at Christmas, Jesus Christ coming to be our Savior from sin, death and devil. Many at first and for awhile (see Matthew 18-23 for the various links of time Jesus identifies here with believing) trust in the Gospel for their salvation and then put this gift on the shelf of their life, or give it back, or ignore it. We must all be on guard lest this happen to us as well. The temptation always is to fall back, fall away from faith life at church where the precious means of grace: the gospel preached in its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's mandate, are able to keep us in this one true faith.
If as parents we are upset with our children who so grieve and anger us by their "love it and use it" attitude with our hard earned Christmas gifts that they then ignore and don't use, how much more will our Heavenly Father be grieved and angered over those who ignore and don't use His gift of salvation?
As Martin Luther wrote, so let us pray: "Thanks be to God, however, for preserving us in the Word, in faith and in prayer! We know that one should walk in himility and fear in the sight of God and not presume upon our own wisdom, righteousness, doctrine and courage. One should rely on the power of Christ. When we are weak, He is strong; and through us weaklings He always conquers and triumphs. To Him be glory forever. Amen." AE 26:196
Monday, December 21, 2009
THERE WAS THE TRUE LIGHT WHICH, COMING INTO THE WORLD, ENLIGHTENS EVERY MAN.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born
Whether it's stringing Christmas lights or watching them pop up in my neighborhood or glimmering on the trees, that this marvelous Light invaded earth's and human's darkness to enlighten us comes to mind. Luther explained this enlightening so well in his explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles Creed: "I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith."
And this Light continues to radiate to all the earth through the pure preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments as Christ has mandated and the darkness still cannot "overpower" them. (John 1:5) Even though many resist the Spirit's efforts to permit this Light to call them out of the darkness and captivity of their sin, yet those given the right to become the children of God receive Him still throughout the world. (John 1:10-13)
May His Light continue to shine bright in you this Christmas Season and in the Year to come!
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means 'God with us.'" Matthew 1:22-23
We hear of this God coming to be with us, Emmanuel, in many Christmas carols and hymns this time of year such as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" or in the final words of "O Little Town of Bethlehem"--- "O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel."
God comes to be with us, for us and in us. He comes as one of us under the law as a human in order to buy us back. (Galatians 4:4) This redemption that Emmanuel earned for us He imputes to us by grace through faith with His Word. Thus, He is always with us through this powerful Word and Sacraments. And He promises to do this until the very end of time.
What a glorious name we have to cling to when times cause us to wonder and doubt if we are alone in this world of suffering and tears. Is Emmanuel still with us? For us? In us? The resounding answer of course is Yes! His presence with His people is constantly there where He is proclaimed to be the Crucified and Risen One for sinners.
God has intervened and revealed to us that He is "for us" in Jesus! Emmanuel is always "with us" in His Word and Sacraments! For "to us" a child is born, to us a son is given!
"O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ranson captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you O Israel!"
Monday, December 7, 2009
As it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet, "A voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every ravine shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
Only 17 shopping days left! So much too prepare for the holidays and not enough time! Doesn't' all this express that possibly these individuals are preparing for the wrong celebration? Who, why or what are they preparing for?
The prophet Isaiah foretold what John the Baptizer would proclaim: Prepare the way for the Salvation of God! This is something entirely different than what most people prepare for in December these days. For sure this prophecy is about the Coming Messiah, the Christ child Jesus. He would most assuredly bring salvation from heaven above.
Why do so many get this vital message lost amid so many other messages that should not merit our attention and preparation as the Coming Messiah should? The answer is given in verses 4 and 5: our valleys and mountains and crooked ways and rough places. In essence, this is describing the problem for which the Savior comes to earth to be born Our Savior: sin. Sin raises up mountains so high from God's holiness that no one could ever get over them back to God. Likewise, sin deceives us into thinking that we have valleys so low that God could never reach us, paths so crooked that will never reach our hopes and aspirations, paths so rough that we are convinced they are the norm, all that is possible for us. These all must be removed. And removed they are by this one whom Isaiah and then John the Baptizer prophecy will come and save us from them all: the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. His first Advent was to overcome each and every one of these sins by His perfect life being sacrificed on the cross as the acceptable punishment and way back to fellowship with God.
So prepare the royal highway for Jesus' Second Coming/Advent! Repent of your mountains, valleys, crooked ways and rough places, and turn to Jesus' forgiveness of sins in the Precious Gospel. "Prepare the royal highway; the King of Kings is near! Let ev'ry hill and valley a level road appear! Then greet the King of Glory foretold in sacred story: Hosanna to the Lord, for He fulfills God's Word!"
Monday, November 30, 2009
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
How many times will this Biblical passage be spoken this Advent season by children around the world reenacting the marvelous birth of Our Savior? However, how many will understand what is meant by this wonderful hymn of the Incarnation?
Heaven and earth are proclaimed to be united in this glorious peace which came in the Christ child's birth! It had already been angelically announced that the reason for this marvelous display before these shepherds is that "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (verse 11) has been born! This implies that there needs to be salvation from something and someone to achieve it. Peace necessarily implies there has been conflict, war, between two parties. We know that this conflict or war is sin which separates men from a Holy God and Jesus is this Christ born to achieve this peace. This peace is not anything close to what the world uses the word for as Jesus confesses in John 14:27. This peace is beyond comprehension by normal humans (Philippians 4:7) and is only understood when the human soul and mind is liberated by the Holy Spirit to understand that this is the reconciliation or peace won by this one born in Bethlehem (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)whose very name Jesus sets Him apart to save us from our sins.
When the angelic choir sings that God is "pleased with men" it would be more appropriate to translate it: "on earth peace among men of his favor." This correctly proclaims that not all humans will accept this Savior from sin but many will reject Him (2:34-35). But to those who receive the news of salvation in faith, they truly have God's peace and favor resting upon them! His perfect life, death and resurrection is for all humans who are sinful (2:10-11). Only those however enlightened by the Spirit of God to receive it depart this life and body in His peace as Simeon declares(2:29).
Once again this magnificent angelic declaration of God's marvelous work of salvation in Christ is offered to all people through His pastors, His ambassadors, who continue in the entreaty of Paul this Holiday Season: "we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled (be at peace) with God."
2 Corinthians 5:20
Monday, November 23, 2009
They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Psalm 78:18,19
The Psalmist recalls all of Israel's salvation history to put God's people's current situation in perspective. God had miraculously brought them out of bondage from slavery in Egypt only to have them start grumbling about the food and other things on their way to the Promised Land. They responded with ingratitude and lack of faith and trust in His goodness and therefore put Him to the test.
The church who is God's people today have been brought miraculously out of bondage to sin through the Passover Lamb, Jesus. We are being led through the wilderness of this sinful and hostile land to the true Promised Land of heaven itself. Do we continually show our gratitude and faith and trust in God's continuing love and providential care for us? Are we aware of just who provides us this time of year with the turkey, pumpkins and other wonders from the bountiful harvest He provides? Even more so, does He not continue to spread an amazing spiritual bounty before us every week as we meet with Him in worship together. As Jesus put it so well quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."
We Christians do not then just pause once a year to give thanks, but live a life of thanks. For God has opened our eyes to see His goodness all around us, and especially in our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him with the Father and Holy Spirit, be thanks and praise and glory forever. Amen. Blessed Thanksgiving in Christ!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Don't you just love Wedding Banquets! I do, most of them, that is. Especially do I love those held locally at a historic Motel where they perform the most magnificent serving of the food to the Head Table. It is a fun time of rejoicing around the best of food, drink and friends. Oh, to have an invitation and accept to these Wedding Banquets.
Jesus invited through his pastors everyone to His Wedding Banquet, the culmination of His marriage to the Bride, the Holy Christian Church. Everyone is invited, since the only qualification is to be a card carrying sinner, and everyone meets this requirement. Who would decline such a wonderful and gracious invitation? But the snag, you see, is that many will not admit their sin and decline the invitation. Oh, they have excuses that sound contemporary and important, don't they: business, real estate, family.
The Jews who first heard this story considered all those not Jews to be unclean and thus not part of God's people. Read here: He should never hang out with them, nor invite them to anything! Thanks be to God that His thoughts and ways are not like ours as Isaiah 55 attests! When Jesus heard this he got angry and thus sends His servants of the Word to the Gentiles as well.
The poor, miserable, blind and lame refer primarily to those who are the opposite of these Jewish Pharisees and scribes who arrogantly and incorrectly think they are fine with God by their actions. These outcasts know they are not and so look for redemption somewhere else other than themselves and find it in Jesus: The Groom, who loved them and gave Himself for their sins on the cross.
The Master of the Wedding Banquet in heaven will continue to fill it with these poor, miserable sinners who trust in Jesus' blood to clothe them for the Banquet in His righteousness and purity. And it will be full! Not one will be missing! Alleluia!
Monday, November 9, 2009
So everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven
November 9th, Lutherans throughout the world celebrate and give thanks for the life and faithful confession of Martin Chemnitz (1522-86). He is called "the Second Martin" because likely without him we would not remember Martin Luther. After Luther's death in 1546, the Lutherans became divided in their understanding of many doctrines and argued what Luther would or would not have taught, confessed and practiced. Chemnitz was a leader in bringing about reconciliation of this and uniting the Lutherans in the composition and signing of The Formula of Concord (1577). He was a prolific author including classics on the two natures of Christ and the Lord's Supper and many of his books have been translated into English by the late Dr. J.A.O. Preus. Chemnitz's monumental response to the Council of Trent (Examination of the Council of Trent, 4 volumes) shows his confession to be solely upon the Holy Scripture.
Thus, we thank God for this amazing Christian and churchman who provides us today with a wonderful model for unity: seek unity based on the Bible alone, not settling for common denominators or unified diversity or other unbiblical models. As well he provides us encouragement to seek to confess with our mouths, lives and church practice only what has been given to us in God's Word.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Why would anyone be ashamed of the gospel? Well, for starters it is offensive. It is the scandal of particularity, as it has been aptly called. It speaks of a powerful force which has come to destroy the offense of human sin before a sinless God. The Apostle Paul who wrote this verse inspired by the Holy Spirit knew of such scandalous offense. In Corinth he experienced Greeks who shrugged off the Good News because to them it was foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). And to Jews it was no less offensive. Even the great Apostle Peter was offended by it, at least for a period. He rebuked Jesus for proclaiming it to Him, as his words reflect: "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." (Matthew 16:21-23) As Paul summarizes all this so well in 1 Cor. 1:22-24: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
When Paul speaks of the gospel's power, the Greek word here and in 1 Cor. 1:24 is "dynamos," where we get our word "dynamite." The gospel is the explosive Word of God which is able to blast away the hardness of human souls who would naturally resist all attempts to be persuaded to believe it, as Paul argues with Biblical evidence in Romans 3:9-18. It overcomes such resistance and creates faith in its Good News which is "salvation." This means there is a radical deliverance from a desperate situation, estrangement from God and His care, love and protection. It creates a new creation, a believer and determines the whole, eternal future.
So, this gospel cannot be distorted, dumbed down or modified (see Galatians 1). Because it is the power of God to save everyone, it must be purely proclaimed, taught, confessed, believed and live. It must be at the heart and center of our worship and our faith, and all that the church does. For it is salvation, to everyone who believes! Blast away our resistance and rebellion and give us hearts to treasure its power, comfort, peace and salvation unto eternal life! Amen!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
In the same way also the cup after supper, saying: This cup is the new testament in my blood; keep doing this, as often as you drink it in my memory.
1 Corinthians 11:26
The reading of someone's last will and testament. What an exciting and often tense moment for those involved. Did the deceased leave anything of value to me? If so, what? How much? A multitude of thoughts could be pouring through one who is anxiously waiting for such a reading of the will might be experiencing. Did I do enough to merit anything of importance; what did the deceased really think of me and our relationship.
Apply this to our Lord's Last Will and Testament. I was encouraged by one of my Seminary Professors to say the Consecration of the Communion Wine this way, since some of the listeners are not knowledgeable about just what "testament" means as they are "will."
Michael Horton in his excellent new book: The Gospel-Driven Life, brought to my attention the thought that each and every week we who speak for Christ (in this "last will and testament" since, His attorneys) read this last will and testament each week in church. It is so broad and rich that a lifetime of reading does not exhaust all of its abundant blessings. The biblical word "grace" speaks of this. One way of defining "grace" is by using each letter: God's Riches At Christ's Expense. His body and blood were given into death sacrificially for our spiritual poverty so that through His becoming poor for our sakes (crucified for our sins) we inherit His riches. In fact, 2 Corinthians 8:9 states this very fact: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Horton in his new book puts this continuing encounter with the reading of Jesus' last will and testament in its proper function: "We must renounce the contracts we have entered that promised to make our life meaningful and say "Amen!" to the will as it is read to us."
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Apostle Paul writes of this in Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all godliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Is this legion of suppressors ignorant of the truth? No, they are anti-truth, they are anti-God. As one commentator says about this passage: "they are not ignorant but rebellious; not atheists, without God, but anti-theists, against God. For God has shown them the truth, Himself."
Jesus clearly taught that He was the Truth! And that as the Truth it would set whoever believed and trusted in Him free from the wrath of God against sin. Yes, suppression of truth is a dangerous and serious matter. Followers of Christ are controlled by it and its grace and mercy, and thus receive not their godliness or righteousness, but Christ's.
And they do this by faith in the gospel, the Good News that Jesus' death and resurrection has freed them from all truth suppression and anti-theism. They are free then to proclaim this truth, not suppress. They might seem like small, weak, lonely green arrows in a world of many reds, but they are pointed up to where the Truth will return to judge everyone based on their response to this Truth.
Amidst all the falsity and lies of our time, Jesus continues to call people out of their Truth Suppression to Him who is the Truth, the Light and the Life. For nothing is powerful enough to suppress the love of God in Christ Jesus to save His people (Romans 8:37-39).
CHRISTIANITY: COMFORTABLE OR COMFORTING?
Too many people today want church to be "comfortable." They demand it to be soothing, relaxing, inspiring, relevant, and easy on the mind and soul. A Christian writer by the name of J.I. Packer likened this to his first hot-tub experience; the water swirled around his shoulders and neck and relaxed his whole body. Jets of bubbles soothed and removed all tension. Does God intend Christianity to be a hot-tub experience, comfortable?
No, He intends it rather to be "comforting." For God describes this very emphasis in 2 Corinthians 1 as "God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share in abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."
The Bible is clear and focused throughout that this suffering and comfort of Christ's that we believers' share is none other than His sacrificial death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. This is to make us "comforted" that our sins are forgiven in Christ crucified and raised for them, rather than make us "comfortable." We are never to be comfortable with our sinful condition which persists even in the believer (see Romans 7).
While many today want and demand that Christianity be comfortable to them, it cannot be. The Apostle Paul writing to the Pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 says that this is the very sad and false condition many will find themselves in Christianity in the last days (verse 3-4). But not for real pastors and their flocks, Paul goes on in verse 2-5. It has to be "comforting" that sinners are forgiven their sins, not "comfortable."