Yesterday, the Son of Man traded places with the son of the father (bar Abbas) so that we may wear the Father’s robe and live in His kingdom. Tomorrow Jesus does what all the big brothers of Scripture failed to do…. He completes the work God sent Him to do — to seek and to save we who are/were lost — the younger rules over the elder. And yet Christ is both Adam’s younger brother, both being in the flesh sons of God, and His older brother, being begotten of God before all eternity. And if you look at the track record of brothers in the Bible, you see the theme of older/younger played out. Cain killed Abel. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, and chosen by God over Ishmael. Jacob ruled over Esau, taking his birthright. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Yet it was Joseph who saved his brothers from starvation. And David, Israel’s second and greatest king, was the youngest brother chosen by God over all of his brothers and anointed by Samuel. Are you starting to see the pattern?
Jesus, the firstborn of the resurrection, came in the flesh to live among us. God often told His children, “If you obey me and do all the things I have commanded, I will be your God and you will be my people. I will come to you and make my dwelling place among you.” Well, we chased him away through our sin, our idol worship, and self-indulgence. So He sent His Son, His one and only Begotten Son, to make us His people once again. He sent our Big Brother after us to drag us out of the bars, brothels, wars, movie theaters, sports arenas, fast boats, fast cars, fast planes, internet, hotels, motels, highways, homes, gutters, jails, pits, darkness, blindness. He sent Jesus to get us and bring us home. And Jesus gave up His birthright as the first born from before creation, not counting equality with God something to be grasped, in order to bring us home. He traded His life for ours, so that we may wear the white robe of righteousness, the robe of children of God, and stand with Him in His kingdom. And because of the work of Christ, Jesus calls us friends. He can call us that because He has entrusted to us as part of our inheritance, the work that God gave Him to do. And so now, because Jesus has overcome death, because He has given us life, we are able to carry out the work of Christ on earth as His hands and feet.
The Gospels do not spend much time at the empty tomb. In fact, the angels tell the disciples and the women who seek Christ at the tomb, you will not find Him here. But Jesus always told His disciples to find Him at the Cross, for that is where we truly and finally meet Him. The empty tomb remains our hope for eternal life, and our symbol of new life. But it is a life that requires us to be as Jesus, and go after our little brothers and sisters and bring them home. And we do that by taking up the Cross and bringing Christ to them.
Have a blessed, joyous, happy Easter. He is Risen!
Preached rightly, the Gospel does not change, but is timeless. 486 years later the Word preached should still apply to us today, otherwise it is not the Gospel of God. Below are some excerpts of a sermon preached by Martin Luther on Christmas Eve 1525. Luther addresses the Gospel hidden in the Christmas story, in the shepherds, the manger, the proclamation of Christ to the World from heaven itself. He notes that Christ must be preached in every proclamation of the Gospel — Christ for YOU and for ME, Christ for SINNERS. Christ must become ours and we His before we can take those steps forward in service to our neighbor to do any good work. And no work is good either if it does not benefit my neighbor. This is still the work of Christ, my work that is. For just as Christ serves me, so I serve my neighbor in the same way Christ does, giving everything in service to my neighbor.
May the peace, love, and joy of the Christmas season be yours, in Christ for YOU!
The Mysteries Hidden in the Gospel of Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-14
Excerpts from the 1525 Christmas Eve Sermon of Martin Luther
Faith – What is to be Believed
Christ For YOU
The first matter is the faith which is truly to be perceived in all the words of God. This faith does not merely consist in believing that this story is true, as it is written. For that does not avail anything, because everyone, even the damned, believe that. Concerning faith, Scripture and God’s word do not teach that it is a natural work, without grace. Rather the faith that is the right one, rich in grace, demanded by God’s word and deed, is that you firmly believe Christ is born for you and that his birth is yours, and come to pass for your benefit. For the Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that he did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here: “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11]. From these words you see clearly that he was born for us.
He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.” Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.” Again, this joy will not remain in Christ, but is for all people. A damned or a wicked man does not have this faith, nor can he have it. For the right foundation of all salvation which unites Christ and the believing heart in this manner is that everything they have individually becomes something they hold in common. What is it that they have?
I ran across this gem in Sunday’s readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer from Concordia Publishing House. It is a quote from Martin Luther’s Introduction to the Book of Romans. Here Luther describes in as beautiful and as straightforward a manner what FAITH is. We tend to think of faith simply as belief or intellectual assent to divine truth. It is often described as something within us that is part of our nature, something we inherently possess. And yet that could not be farther from the truth of the matter.
Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe”; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.
Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. Read the rest of this entry
Yesterday marked the beginning of a new church year. Advent, the season is named. Advent means “coming,” and points toward the Second Coming of our Lord Christ. Ironically, in the northern hemisphere, the season begins as death moves over the land. Leaves fall from the trees; the winds blow; the temperature drops. Animals retreat into warrens, burrows and dens to sleep for the winter. Crops are harvested and stored for future use. The land is barren, desolate. Nothing grows. Yet in this physical space and time, we are called to remembrance. The season begins with a warning from our Lord to watch, wait and pray. The times will be desperate, there will be trials and tribulations. Wars and rumors of wars. These are but the beginning of the signs of the end, culminating in that great and terrible day of the Lord.
Immediately following this warning, we are met with the last prophet of the Old Covenant, John, Jesus’ cousin. He calls us to repentance and faith. He prepares the way for Jesus preaching a baptism of repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins. In much the same way the law prepares our hearts for grace and the gift of faith which we receive from the incarnate Word. From there, it moves to the divine announcement of the coming of our Savior in the flesh. Gabriel visits the young maiden, Mary, betrothed to Joseph to proclaim the Good News of God’s gracious plan for salvation of the world. Mary, a woman, would be God’s chosen instrument to bring that Life into the world. All of this leads to the Feast of Christmas, the second highest and feast day in the church year.
The Reformation of the Church, ignited in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of the Theses on Indulgences, is and always has been about the proclamation of the pure Gospel as set forth in sacred Scripture. The “Treasury of Daily Prayer,” from Concordia Publishing House had as part of the readings for today a paragraph from Martin Luther’s sermon on John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God. The pure Gospel, as Lutherans and orthodox Christendom proclaims it – we have strayed from time to time from this proclamation – is and always has been Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. It is not an intellectual concept that can be grasped by man with his own faculties. Instead it is something that can only be received by faith, for faith, through faith. For Christ draws us into His story of the cross. His story becomes our story. His life, our life. His death, our death. His resurrection, ours too. His freedom, our freedom. For if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed. It is our eternal hope, and a promise to which must cling. It is Christ Himself.
I give thanks to God for the faithful who have gone before us to pave the way for the freedom we have in Christ. He gives His saints the courage to stand before kings and princes, in the face of great persecution to bear witness to the hope we have in Christ. I give thanks to God that He used Martin Luther “to hatch the egg that Erasmus laid,” and I pray that you do too. If you have not read any of Luther’s sermons, you should. Do not form your opinions of Lutherans on any crass opinions you have heard about Luther’s physical infirmities, or other fantastic insights into his psyche. Instead, read what he has to say for he points to Christ.
In the Sermon on John 1:29, Luther reflects on John’s proclamation of the Christ who approached the river Jordan to be baptized: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Here Luther gives the Gospel, the pure Gospel proclamation of Christ:
May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the monks stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me.
Such benefactions of God might well provoke us to love and to laud God and to celebrate this service in song and sermon and speech. It should also induce us to die willingly and to remain cheerful in all suffering. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin, yes, with the sin and the death of the entire world! He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. And who would not gladly die for Christ’s sake? The Son of Man performs the basest and filthiest work. He does not don some beggar’s torn garment or old trousers, nor does He wash us as a mother washes a child; but He bears our sin, death, and hell, our misery of body and soul. Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999).
Click to hear the Issues, Etc. discussion of this week’s Sunday School lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielsen.
This week we enter into the story of God’s redemption of Israel from out of the bondage of slavery into which it had fallen in the land of Egypt. God planted Joseph in Egypt to preserve his family. In the great famine that plagued the world for seven (7) years, all people were drawn to the land of Egypt, and to Joseph who was placed in charge of the land by Pharaoh working as God’s chosen instrument. God used Pharaoh in this way to make Himself known to Joseph’s family, especially his brothers. God once again uses Pharaoh to make Himself known. This time, however, it is to reveal Himself by His name, יהוה (yhwh) to all the world. For He is the God who kills to and makes alive, He wounds and heals. He is the one and only God, beside Him there is no other in all the world. Deuteronomy 32:39. And in using Pharaoh, God hardens his heart, that is God gives him courage and strength in opposition to Moses’ request. Exodus 9 tells of the plague of boils, oozing, horrible sores that afflicted man and beast throughout the land of Egypt. Until now, it was Pharaoh who had changed his mind, becoming more and more resolved not to let Israel go. Yet this time, the plague of boils affects even Pharaoh. The text does not tell us if he actually received the sores. It does tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not that Pharaoh hardened his own. The plague must have touched Pharaoh in some way to at least cause him to waver a bit. Yet God would have none of it. He would make his NAME known in all the world, that there is one God and one God only, and He would make it know through these slaves in the land of Egypt.
This is a strange work, foreign to the nature of God. To think that He would actually turn someone against His divine Will in order to reveal His name and who He is to the world. And yet, to make us alive, God must first kill us. Death and sin and killing were caused by man’s rejection of the Word of God, by our disobedience to His command. So God hardening the heart of Pharaoh should not seem so difficult to grasp. For He uses man as He is, sinful, opposed to God, and gives him over to his own sinfulness to wallow in it. See Romans 1. Sometimes God acts with us as He does with Pharaoh, hardening his heart even more than Pharaoh had done for himself. In our stubbornness, we refuse to heed His Word, rejecting it and steeling our hearts and minds in opposition to it. For we want to be in control of our own destiny, our own lives. God uses this stubbornness and opposition against us, gives us over to it. Sin is heaped upon sin until man is broken despairs of his own ability. And yet, all the while, God is at work using His Word to turn us to Him, to bring us to our knees in solemn repentance, begging for mercy, for forgiveness.
Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get our attention as in the case of Pharaoh. It shocks our consciences and senses to think that a good and gracious God would give us over to evil and to our own sin. It does not comport with our darkened sense of goodness and justice. And yet, because of our sin that has turned us completely away from Him, God works on us in ways that are strange and alien to His nature and to who He is. To we who are dead in trespasses and sin, God’s work seems wrong. For His nature is mercy and love. He is the God of creation, who creates and gives life. And yet when He kills, he does not take our lives away — He uses it to create new life within us. So what seems bad to us is God working on us for our good. And the suffering of the plagues of sin that we must endure is something good, for it disciplines us, corrects and rebukes us, and turns us back to God and, as we will see next week, the Cross of Christ.
Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk. The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there. Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically. Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?” And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:
The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.
Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.
Christocentric means Christ centered. Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world. It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood. Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors. It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away. For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior. And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world. Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.
Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians. He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage. This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity. Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:
The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.
The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.
The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality. Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world. He is not merely an idea from a book. Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure. No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever! God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God. Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin. And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way. Claiming to be wise, we become fools. Even in the church. Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest. Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world. Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.
So what is the Question of our time? Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually? Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something? Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today? Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?” What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Who is Jesus? My buddy? My friend? My coach? In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples? I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.
I have become a sermon junkie of late, seeking out good preaching to fill in quiet times. Preaching that tells us the whole story of God — the law and the Gospel — wrapped up in Christ. A couple of week’s ago, my wife shared a sermon from Rev. Jonathan Fisk of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, Pennsylvania with me on 1 Kings 22. This is an example of expository preaching on a particular text, preaching that is designed to draw out the meaning of particular passages of scripture and throw a clearer light on the meaning of the passage.
In this text, Ahab of the northern tribes of Israel meets with Jehoshophat, King of Judah to talk about joining forces to go to war with Syria to take back the land of Ramoth-gilead. Before doing so, Jehoshophat tells Ahab to inquire of the Lord whether they should do this or not. Ahab gathers his gaggle of prophets together, 400 of them, and they all support the king and his plan. One prophet is left out, Michaiah, because he does not tell Ahab what he wants to hear. This sets up an interaction between the false prophets of Ahab and the true prophet of God, Michaiah. Michaiah tells Ahab that he will be killed in battle. What makes this sermon so compelling is that it takes you where you do not expect. Normally, you would think that the lesson to be learned here is listen to the Word of God and do what it says. Ahab did not listen to God’s Word given through the prophet, he was killed in battle, and the northern tribes were thrown in disarray. Ahab listened to false teachers who led him astray, therefore, beware of false teachers. Not so fast. Rev. Fisk takes the listener through the story straight to Christ and shows how Ahab — yes Ahab — and Micaiah prefigure or are types of Christ in this story. The layers to Scripture are deeper than we can ever imagine. Scripture is broader than we can conceive. But it all, in the end, talks about that one thing needful, Jesus Christ. Click the link below to listen to the Sermon, you will not be disappointed.
Liturgy. It is a word despised. Tradition. Your mom and dad’s Oldsmobile. That stuffy old stodgy worship, filled with the “Thees” and “Thous” of Ye Olde Englishe, days of yore gone by and passed beyond our present contemporary expression. Stiff and wooden, the organ plays, reminding us of the wooden teeth of old George Washington. Days gone by, no longer relevant. We are sleeker. Cutting edge. No longer do multiple melodies reign in music. It is the thumping base… driving rhythms of the bass guitar… the sultry voice… moving…. pulsing… pounding… it is energy…
Liturgy… repetition… you speak, we respond… ordered… formal… stuffy… it does not speak to me. it is hard to understand. “make haste o God to deliver me.” but, i need to experience God, feel His presence… if i do not feel, experience for myself, it is not real… your tradition, i cannot relate to it…. your truth does not speak to my experience… i need it to be relevant.
We fear what we do not know. Reject what is outside of our experience. Yet we seek connection, common understanding…. we look for points where we can come together… do not turn me away from the table of the Lord… we commune together, despite our differences… Leitourgia.
“‘Liturgy’ is the name given ever since the days of the apostles to the act of taking part in the solemn corporate worship of God by the ‘priestly’ society of christians, who are ‘the Body of Christ, the church.’ ‘The Liturgy’ is the term which covers generally all that worship which is officially organised by the church, and which is open to and offered by, or in the name of, all who are members of the church.” Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy.
I have been basking in the glow of the Ascension of Christ and meditating on the mystery of this God-Man who has received all authority in heaven and in earth from God the Father. He now sits at the right hand of power, and reigns and rules over all creation and heaven as the only begotten Son of the Father. The right hand is not located in time and space, but transcends it. It is a mystery how this right hand of power can be at the same time in heaven, yet everywhere. For Christ cannot be truly God and man if He is limited in time and space. He would not then be part of the economy of the Trinity, being less than the Father and the Spirit. No, he IS truly God and truly Man, fully human. John describes this God Man, the risen and ascended Christ in his vision in the book of Revelation. Christ lives and rules and reigns in through and among us. To Him be all glory and honor and and power forever and ever! Amen!
Vision of the Son of Man
9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.