Sunday, December 28, 2008

Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 2:13-18 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son." Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."

Today the church commemorates the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents--the baby boys who were killed in Bethlehem. Our minds immediately focus on the horrors that we see in our own day--the millions of babies aborted, children being treated as property, and all the miscarriages and stillbirths that we see around us. We cry out, "How could a good God allow such things?"

All death is a result of sin. But God's grace and love are far greater than all the evil of mankind. Jeremiah prophesied about these baby boys and tells us what will become of them.

Jeremiah 31:15-17 Thus says the LORD: "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more." Thus says the LORD: "Refrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, And they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future, says the LORD, That your children shall come back to their own border.

These baby boys are given God's salvation. These baby boys were killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. They died for Jesus. Jesus came to die for them. If the Lamb had not come they may have led a longer earthly existence but would suffer eternal damnation. Because the Lamb came they have been given eternal life. They died for the Lamb, the Lamb died for them.


Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Lord Jesus, our Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Article XII

And the Life Everlasting.


This is the last article of the creed. Biblically, life is more than existence. The anti-Lambians will continue in everlasting existence, but it will be an everlasting death. True life is only to be found in communion with God and the Lamb.

Followers of the Lamb cross themselves during this article as a reminder that it is only through the suffering of the Lamb on the cross that they receive the life everlasting. You cannot obtain the life everlasting any other way. If you follow any other path you will receive the neverlasting life.

Everyone seems to be striving for immortality. Through whatever the diet or drug of the day is, people are always trying to cheat death. Some may extend their earthly existence, but others do not. Jim Fixx helped to start America's fitness revolution and he died from a heart attack after jogging at the age of 52. "Health experts" make claims about foods and then say the exact opposite about them just a few years later. Something which was once thought to kill you is the new miracle food and vice versa. Far more disturbing are the movements that seek out immortality at the expense of the lives of others. Stem cell research kills countless people in order to continue the illusive quest for immortality.

Matthew 10:39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

This is the paradox of the Christian life. If you deny the Lamb in order to save your life you will lose your life and become just another heir of neverlasting life. If the enemies of the Lamb kill you because of your trust in the Lamb, you will receive everlasting life. You will receive everlasting life because you are in union with the everlasting Lamb.

The creed ends with Amen. Amen has been part of the liturgy since the time of the Old Testament and has not been translated. It means, "Yes! Yes! It shall be so!" It is not an expression of wish. It is an expression of confidence. You can have confidence when you say Amen because of the Lamb on the Altar.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Article XI

The Resurrection of the Dead

Isaiah 26:19 Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead.

Ezekiel 37:12 "Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.

Your life is not such that you live and die and then go on to live in heaven in some eternal spiritual way without a body. Your body is part of who you are and the Lamb has redeemed your body. Your body is important to the Lamb. All men will be resurrected. If you have received he mark of the Lamb, you will be resurrected and live in eternal bliss and communion with the Lamb. If you are an anti-Lamb and bear the mark of the Beast, you will be resurrected in a body that will experience eternal death and suffering.

You receive your body because the Lamb has accomplished your redemption, the Lamb has shed His blood for you. The Lamb has been resurrected for you. Because of your union with the Lamb, you too will be resurrected. If you are still living when the Lord returns He will transform your body, but it will still be your body. If you're reading this and you are already dead and the maggots have eaten your flesh and you have decomposed into the ground, do not fear. The Lamb created you out of the dust of the ground to begin with and He can certainly put you back together.

Perhaps the best place to be when Christ returns would be at a burial in a graveyard. The caskets would burst open and the dead would pop out of the ground. What a sight it will be to see! Praise to the Lamb for being the first-fruits, for conquering death and the devil, and for redeeming our bodies!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Article X

The Forgiveness of Sins

The Nicene Creed says One baptism for the remission of sins.

All forgiveness is through faith. Through Word and Sacrament you receive the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 1:4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Luke 3:3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,

Luke 24:46-47 Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10:43 "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins."

John 20:21-23 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Matthew 26:27-28 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Remission of sins is given to you through the preaching of the Gospel, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution.

Baptism is not some bare symbol. Baptism really does what God tells you it does because of what the Lamb did.

1 Peter 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us -- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Acts 22:16 'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

The Lamb is not trying to trick you. The Lamb is not telling you that water baptism is all fine and dandy but doesn't really do anything. The Lamb is not separating water baptism from some sort of mystical spirit baptism. The Lamb is Faithful and True. Baptism is not something you do. Baptism is something God does to you. The Bible does not speak of anyone baptizing himself. You are baptized. You are forgiven. You are adopted. Your sins are forgiven. Faith is not something you do. Faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). God can give faith to an embryo. It is His gift. God promises to give faith in baptism. Faith is not based on your cognitive ability. Faith is based on the work of the Lamb.

Treasury of Daily Prayer

I received the Treasury of Daily Prayer as a birthday present. Yes, it is as awesome as everyone says it is. Yes, you must buy it or find someone to buy it for you.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Article IX

The Holy Catholic Church

The Communion of the Saints/In Holy Things

Articles 9-12 are distinguished from the preceding articles in that we do not believe in them. We believe in God the Father and we believe in Jesus Christ and we believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We believe the Communion of the Saints. Do not separate these articles either, as if they are just some sort of ad-on. There would be no Holy Catholic Church and no Communion of the Saints without the Holy Spirit.

This One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is not to be identified with a single institution or denomination. All who believe in the Trinitarian God that the Apostle's Creed speaks of are members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That doesn't mean that outward unity is irrelevant. Disunity hinders evangelism. Pray fervently for the unity of the Church and desire maximum outward unity that the world may believe (John 17). Do not seek unity at all costs. Unity must be found in genuine agreement in the truth.

The idea of a single institution containing all members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church seems very attractive, especially when you see the countless denominations. After all, there are no denominations in the Bible. We don't find Paul setting up his Lutheran church across the street from St. James Catholic Church. But within the institutions which do claim to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church there is a great deal of disunity. Nobody knows what kind of nutty thing the American Catholic Bishops might come up with next. Eastern Orthodoxy does a better job at creating the illusion of unity than most but they have their fair share of problems as well. Orthodox monks from various branches of the Orthodox church get in fist-fights in the Holy Land. People from different communions have trouble having their ordination recognized. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox also use a number or loopholes in their own language and acknowledge that there are Christians outside of their own communions.

So we are left with the paradox of the One church that looks like anything but one. The Church is holy because she is washed in the blood of Christ. The Church is Catholic because she contains all believers from all over the world. The Church is Apostolic, not because of some questionable succession (although this is desirable) but because she maintains the Apostolic teachings.

The Creed goes on to say, "I believe the Communion of the Saints" or it could be translated "I believe the Communion in Holy Things." Perhaps more likely, it means both. All who are part of the One Holy Apostolic Catholic Church are part of the Communion of the Saints. You are part of a family and communion that is composed not only of believers who are now in your own church or now alive on the planet earth. You are part of a communion that includes more dead than living. You are part of a communion that includes every believer that ever lived.

You are part of the communion in holy things--the communion in the holy sacraments--especially the Sacrament of the Altar (Eucharist, Mass, Lord's Supper). You are part of the communion that partakes of the Lamb's body and blood. You are connected in communion to all believers because you are connected to the Lamb who shed His blood for you.

None of this should make you think that the visible church on earth is unimportant. The visible church on earth is where God brings us the Gospel and gives us the holy things. When we worship the Lamb in the local visible church, we join in worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Review: Boomtown

This is the second book I'm reviewing as part of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program. Boomtown is by Nowen N. Particular and is intended to be the first book in a series. Boomtown is told in first person from the perspective of a nondenominational pastor who moves into Boomtown with his family to pastor a small church. The people of the town enjoy nothing more than blowing things up. The story takes place between 1949 and 1950 and appears to be the author's vision of some kind of utopia where people of various races and backgrounds live in harmony with one another.

The book appears to be marketed to young boys and I am not part of that target audience but I thought the book was horrible. The main character is almost killed several times and I simply didn't care if he lived or died. The characters lacked the slightest amount of depth. There are photographs scattered throughout the book of the town and its characters and the pictures were the only enjoyable part of the book. Some of the pictures didn't seem to fit but they were still enjoyable.

Theologically the book is horrible. Sin, even in truly ghastly forms such as when people are putting the lives of others in danger, is laughed at. In fact, the book gives the impression that the main character's biggest flaw is his concern for his life and the lives of others. The message of the book is similar to that of many Disney films: parents simply aren't daring enough and set up too many rules.

There was a scene in the book where a man named Xian was put on trial. I thought surely Xian must be code for Christian but it really didn't seem to turn out that way. Xian was declared innocent because the town delighted in exciting sins (and the book seemed to think that this was a good idea). Books like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter show the true evil of sin and teach that some sort of substitutional sacrifice is the only way to defeat evil. Boomtown teaches that if you do something bad it's not a big deal and you should just try do counteract it with some good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Slappy Holiday!

Slappy holiday
Why not take the Santa Claus tradition a little further? by Gene Edward Veith

Santa Claus had his origins in St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor family's daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. And somehow he transmogrified into Santa Claus, who has become for many people the secular Christmas alternative to Jesus Christ.

But there is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.
During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture's increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls' stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap.

Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas.

This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean. On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake.

And we'll need new songs and TV specials ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap," "Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly," "Frosty the Gnostic," "How the Arian Stole Christmas," "Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus").

Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere "Happy Holiday," give them a slap.

This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!
Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.
Copyright © 2008 WORLD MagazineDecember 24, 2005, Vol. 20, No. 50

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hail Mary, Blessed is the fruit of her womb

Rev. Weedon had quite the homily, I just had to share it.

Funny how modern-day Lutherans start to squirm a bit with too much Mary going on. St. Elizabeth must not have been a modern day Lutheran, for she is overjoyed when the Mother of God enters her house. At the very sound of the Blessed Virgin’s voice, the child in old Elizabeth’s womb, St. John the Baptist, does a somersault of joy. Thus, even before he is born, he is announcing the arrival of the King and testifying to the little heart that was already beating beneath Mary’s own. The heart of a Child who is truly God.

Elizabeth teaches us to understand the blessedness of Mary. St. Luke is clear that St. Elizabeth spoke by the Holy Spirit. So these are not just words of some long ago saint, but they are words prompted by the Holy Spirit himself and so words given us to treasure, to which we do well to give great heed.

First, she announces: “Blessed are you among women.” Blessed indeed, for never again and never before would there be a woman who became a mother and remained a virgin. The type that Isaiah had foretold had a bigger fulfillment than anyone could ever imagine. A virgin conceives and bears a Son. The hymns of Advent and of Christmas never cease to invite us to marvel over God’s chosen way of coming to rescue us. “Here a maid was found with child, Yet remained a virgin mild. In her womb this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne.” (LSB 332:3) “Thou cam’st the Bridegroom of the bride, As drew the world to eventide, The spotless Victim all divine, Proceeding from a virgin shrine. “ (LSB 351:3) “Of her Emmanuel the Christ was born, in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn. And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say: Most highly favored lady, Gloria!” (LSB 356) Only in Mary do virgin and mother unite. Blessed among women.

But there’s more, and so St. Elizabeth cries out: “Blessed is the fruit of Your womb.” Do you get that one? The One promised so long ago to Abraham to bring blessing to all the peoples of the earth. The Blessed One is in Mary’s womb. The One who comes in the name of the Lord. The Blessed One is in Mary’s womb. She is the living Ark of God! For it is the Eternal Word of the Father who is growing day by day in her swelling womb. The heavens and the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, and yet in love for us, He deigns to take up residence in Mary’s body so that she could give Him the flesh and blood by which He would bring blessing to all – by suffering and dying in that flesh to destroy death, to wipe out sin, to raise it from death incorruptible and to seat that flesh and blood that came from Mary at the right hand of the throne of God as the firstfruits - for we shall surely follow. This is the blessing – to raise humanity to what God intended for us from the beginning – that we might be His children, His heirs, sharing a life that never ends. Blessed indeed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, our Lord Jesus.

But St. Elizabeth is not done. There’s more. John the Baptist in her womb confessing the advent of his Lord no doubt put her in mind of it. I always picture St. Elizabeth cutting her eyes at old Zechariah sitting silent in the corner, but with eyes sparkling, as she pronounces the last blessing upon Mary: “Blessed is she who believed.” Unspoken, then, the words: “Unlike you, you old goat! See how silly you were? This maiden’s faith has shamed you.” And I don’t doubt for a second that old Zechariah was laughing silently right along with the two ladies. When Dr. Luther reflected on St. Elizabeth’s words, he opined that perhaps it was the last blessing that is the most amazing. That Mary should believe it. That she should receive such a shocking and incredible promise from God and say to it her great fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to Your Word.” A miracle that a virgin should conceive. A miracle that the Child she bears is the Eternal Son destined for an Eternal Kingdom. But Luther thought perhaps the greatest miracle of the incarnation is that Mary believed it, said yes to it, gave space and time in her life to the God who begged entrance so that He might bring blessing to a world gone wrong.

People loved by God, do you see? The Holy Spirit doesn’t set Mary before you tonight for you to worship, for you to pray to and seek favor from. That would horrify her in the extreme. She is set before you for you to love. For as you love her Son, her flesh and blood, you cannot but help joining with St. Elizabeth in calling Mary blessed. Indeed, inspired by the same Spirit, the Mother of God would cry out: “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” Don’t worship her or pray to her, but do learn to love her. There is no need to fear her. She’s not in competition with her Son. But she is His mother.

Look at all the artwork of the Church from early years and you’ll see that they got it right. Invariably she holds forth her hand to her Son and directs all your attention from her to Him who made her blessed. Of all the gifts our Jesus gives us, we must not forget to bless and thank Him for His mother, and to ask that our faith might come to be like hers – a blessed faith that says “Yes, enter in” when God knocks.

Let us stand now and join the Mother of God in her hymn of praise, the Magnificat – for surely as He has done great things for her, so He has also done great things for us. And holy is His name. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Irrational animals...born to be caught and destroyed, speaking evil about matters of which they do not understand

2 Peter 2:12-17 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, speaking evil about matters of which they do not understand, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unstable souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.

I read this passage as part of my daily devotions today and was caught off guard. The passage speaks of men who behave like animals. How do they behave like animals? If you read further you will find some of the results of their animal-like behavior such as adultery but that is merely a result. They behave like animals which ought to be destroyed by acting out of instinct. They speak of things that they don't understand. They think that further investigation and use of reason is completely unnecessary. After a short observation they have trusted their instincts to form a judgment.

How prevalent is this today? How many times have you reacted negatively to something that you really didn't know anything about? How many times have you heard people in your church forming judgments about people or events that they didn't really know anything about? Have you spread these instinctual judgments to others and presented them as fact? How many times have you heard pastors speak condemningly from the pulpit about the practices of other churches that they really didn't know anything about? How many times have you heard the members of these congregations spreading these instinctual, beastly judgments?

If a person grows up in a church (regardless of what church that is), they regard the practices of that church as normal. Any deviation from their past experience is often determined to be wrong based upon instinctual reaction. But is this the way the Lamb calls us to behave? Do you think that the Lamb who gave His life for you wants you to behave as an animal that ought to be destroyed?

There is nothing neutral about worship. All practices must be evaluated in the light of Scripture. But you have to be careful. It's easy to confuse what you are used to with Scripture. When practices of a church appear to deviate from Scripture you should ask the pastor or another knowledgeable person from the church why such things are done. If you refuse to discuss the issues and condemn out of pure instinct you are a true heretic. Biblically a heretic is someone who divides the church. Your condemnation of a church body based on instinct is a heresy.

Condemnation based on instinct is the result of pride. Your pride convinces you that you must be doing everything right and that you as an individual are the true standard of all orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Instinctual judgment creates an idol of self and diminishes the personhood of the persons being judged. The error of the instinctual judger is the error of the Pharisee. Deep down the instinctual judger thinks that those he is condemning are disgusting and too big of sinners to be saved by Christ. But the Lamb did not come into the world to save instinctual judgmental people. The Lamb came to save sinners!

You are not the center of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The Lamb is at the center of everything! The Lamb gave Himself for you. The Lamb is so patient with you. Why won't you be patient with others? If your true desire is to live a life in which you receive the good gifts given to you by the Lamb, then why wouldn't you want to learn and discuss with others? Don't you want others to receive these gifts? Don't you want to receive them yourself? How do you receive good gifts and share them with others through instinctual judging? All you will receive is the praise of men. You have your reward. You cut yourself off from the good gifts of God.
If truth is the goal then there is nothing to be lost from discussion and nothing to be feared. Perhaps you will even find that YOU are the one acting unbiblically in YOUR worship.