Sunday, January 31, 2010

Have Evangelicals Gone Beyond Luther or Are They Running the Opposite Direction?

Within certain sectors of evangelical-land "Catholic" is a four letter word. It's thought of as just about the worst thing you could possibly be. It is an insult that is intended to frighten people away from certain teachings and practices.  Most evangelicals still confess a belief in the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Christ, and other things that Roman Catholics also teach. But many other teachings are dismissed simply because of their association or perceived association with the Roman Catholic church.

There are many within the broad landscape of evangelicalism (and other churches) who have some appreciation for Martin Luther but think that he did not go far enough. They think that Luther was still too Catholic and maybe if he had lived longer he would have come to some of the same conclusions that these evangelicals have. Laying aside the fact that Luther himself wrote against many of the ideas that modern evangelicals are promoting with lots of Scripture to back it up and no sign of changing course, let's consider what it is that modern evangelicals throw away in the name of being too Catholic and what they retain.

What exactly was Martin Luther writing against? It started with the dispute over indulgences. Neither Lutherans nor evangelicals sell indulgences or claim to have the power to grant them. The Roman Catholic Church no longer sells them, but still claims to have the power to grant them. However, both evangelicals and Roman Catholics tend to promote tithing and usually use the same passages from Scripture. Tithing and indulgences are not exactly the same thing but they are often tied by both evangelicals and Roman Catholics to a transactional relationship with God. Tithing is seen as a way to manipulate God. They both make use of the passage from Malachi and tell people that if they are not being blessed its because they aren't tithing and so you better give your 10%. Both groups fail to notice that tithing is not something that the New Testament church is commanded to do. Tithing was done to support both the government and the priesthood under the Old Testament theocracy and actually added up to closer to 30%. In regards to tithing evangelicals are more "Catholic" than Lutherans are.

Both Roman Catholics and evangelicals tend to be big on transactionalism. Evangelical books and preachers like to talk about life principles and make claims about how if you do 'a' then God will do 'b.' Evangelical movies are most often about someone who was not a Christian and was an alcoholic or was a in a bad marriage and having all kinds of bad things happen to them. Then the character says a sinner's prayer and everything starts working out for them. He no longer has a desire to sin and everything is hunky dory. They talk about leading the victorious Christian life. This is in stark contrast to theology of the Scriptures and Lutheranism. Both Lutherans and the Scriptures teach that becoming a Christian often means a harder life in which you will face persecution. You will come to know your sin more and more as a Christian but will not become sinless. In this case, evangelicals have not gone farther than Lutherans but have run past Rome in the opposite direction.

One of the errors of Roman Catholicism is its teaching that the law is doable. This is the same error at the Pharisees taught and the same error of many evangelicals. Most evangelicals will say that man cannot save himself but post-conversion, the believer is treated to sermons in which the law passages in Scripture are presented as something that is doable. This is not a progression beyond Luther but a move back to Roman Catholicism. Paul refers to this as preaching the law unlawfully. There is great variety in evangelical preaching and there some variety in Roman Catholic preaching but generally speaking if you were to randomly select sermons and compare, they are actually very, very similar. The difference is usually that the Roman Catholic sermons tend to mention Jesus more. The Roman Catholic sermons generally just set Jesus up as an example but at least they speak of Him more often. Confessional Lutheran sermons are focused on Christ's work for you, most Roman Catholic sermons are focused on Jesus as moral example, and most evangelical sermons are focused on Biblical principles derived from Scripture. So in this case as well evangelicals have not gone beyond Luther but have run the opposite direction passing up Rome.

Many evangelicals are not opposed to all images of Christ. They like the one where Jesus looks a little effiminate and is looking off into the distance. But they are opposed to crucifixes. Evangelicals absolutely hate them. At first glance this would appear to be a way in which evangelicals have gone beyond Luther because Luther did not go far enough. But why do evangelicals hate the crucifix? Usually the answer that they give is that we worship the resurrected Christ. Laying aside the fact that an empty cross is still the symbol of crucifixion and not resurrection, this also shows that they are running in the opposite direction of Luther (and St. Paul). Evangelicals don't like the crucifix because it draws attention away from the victorious Christian life. Following Jesus is supposed to make your life happy and successful. But that's not the message of the crucifix. St. Paul said that all he preached was Christ crucified. Roman Catholics have crucifixes and have historically remembered especially those martyrs who have died for their Christian faith. But Luther realized that the problem in the church of Rome is not that it is too focussed upon the cross but that it's not focussed enough. In the Roman Catholic Church "taking up your cross" could mean a variety of different things that were not mandated by the Scriptures and those things were viewed as ways to gain merit with God. Luther took the focus off of the crucifixion of the self and put the focus back on the crucified Christ. So once again, the removal of the crucifix is not a way to run away from Rome and pass up Luther. It's a way to run away from Luther and pass up Rome.

What about the liturgy? Evangelicals haven't just cleaned up the liturgy like Luther did, they've completely done away with it so certainly they must have advanced beyond Luther, right? Not really. Luther recognized the value of the historic liturgy. From its earliest days, the Christian church has been liturgical. Jewish worship was liturgical, and Christians modified the liturgy, first by adding baptism and the Lord's Supper. The liturgy developed in such a way that everything pointed to Christ and His work and ended with the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Over time, unbiblical ideas that distracted people away from Christ and what He did worked their way into the liturgy. So Luther purged those false ideas out of the liturgy. In a very superficial way you could argue that throwing the liturgy out entirely goes beyond Luther but in reality it's another case of running the opposite direction. Luther purged out those things which distracted us from the work of Christ. The evangelical throws out the liturgy and usually replaces it with 19th century (or newer) hymns or modern praise and worship songs. In either case the focus of the songs is generally on the worshiper and not on Christ. "We bring the sacrifice of praise" and all that. So we once again find evangelicalism running in the opposite direction of Luther.

And instead of the Lord's Supper, at the end of the service we more frequently find the altar call. There is no altar call in Scripture. Luther believed that the Lord's Supper should be celebrated more frequently than it was being celebrated in his day. So less frequent celebration means running in the opposite direction of Luther. The Lord's Supper is all about Jesus giving His body and blood for me. The altar call is all about me having an emotional experience. The altar call was developed by Charles Finney in the 19th century. He believed that the Holy Spirit was unnecessary for conversion and that given the right emotional manipulation you could convert anybody. At least the Roman Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit must get the conversion process going.  The altar call has less Scriptural support than praying to the saints and the practice is much newer. The altar call is an example of running as far away from Luther as you possibly can. You're running so fast at this point that the Roman Catholic church doesn't even see you whiz by and you find yourself sitting next to Pelagius and other rationalists.

What about what the Lord's Supper actually is? Lutherans hold to that crazy Roman Catholic idea that you receive the body and blood of Christ in communion. Haven't evangelicals gone beyond Luther and rejected this crazy Roman Catholic teaching? Although Lutherans teach that the body and blood of Christ is really present in the Lord's Supper, they do so for different reasons than the Roman Catholics. Roman Catholic dogma in regards to the Lord's Supper is based on Aristotelian metaphysics. The Lutheran position is based on what Jesus said the Lord's Supper is in Scripture. So in order for a group to go beyond Luther they would have to base their position on what Jesus said even more. But instead they run the opposite direction. Jesus couldn't possibly have meant what He said. Jesus never says "This symbolizes my body."

But what about baptism? Those crazy Lutherans believe that people's sins are actually forgiven in baptism and that babies can be baptized just like those crazy Roman Catholics. Surely, baptism is an instance where evangelicals have gone beyond Luther in this instance. But once again, Luther based his position on Scripture. So in order to go beyond Luther you would have to get more Scriptural. We never read in the Scripture that baptism is the believer's first act of obedience or any of the other jargon that gets thrown around. The Bible says that baptism is for the remission of sins. But what about babies? The Bible never says to baptize babies. The Bible doesn't specify ages at all. Households were baptized and certainly Jews would operate under the assumption that if circumcision was administered to babies so would baptism. Babies are part of the nations that Jesus said to disciple by baptizing and teaching. Babies are people to. When the Bible says "Thou shalt not murder" you can't say that it doesn't apply to 37 year olds. But baptism is a work and we are not saved by our works. Baptism is not our work. Baptism is never said to be an act that we do to ourselves. God baptizes us. We get baptized. The Bible speaks of the preaching of the Gospel, baptism, and the Lord's Supper as being for the remission of sins. Most evangelicals would have no problem with the idea that the preaching of the Gospel is for the remission of sins but for some reason they don't think that baptism and the Lord's Supper can possibly be for the remission of sins.

There are a variety of issues that Lutherans and evangelicals would agree that the Roman Catholic church is wrong about. But the Romaphobia of Evangelicalism seems to strangely cause them to embrace the actual teachings of Roman Catholicism. Several statements by Billy Graham make it clear that he had a very Roman Catholic understanding of salvation. Many evangelicals are convinced that Roman Catholics believe that we are simply saved by our works. The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that we are justified by faith formed by love. Is that any different than when Rick Warren says, "Faith is not enough. You need transforming love too"?

Septuagesima: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 20:1-16 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who was the master of a household and who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a salary of one day's wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Later, he went out when it was about the third hour and saw other men standing idle in the marketplace. He told them, ‘You too should go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ And so, they went their way. Again, he went out when it was about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour, he went out and still found others standing idle. He asked them, ‘Why do you stand here all day, doing nothing?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us!’ The master told them, ‘You too should go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is right.’ When evening came, the lord of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.’ When those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came, they each received a day's wage. Now, when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more, but they each likewise received a day's wage. When they received it, they grumbled against the master of the household, saying: ‘These last workers have spent one hour, and yet you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!’ But the master answered to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong! Did you not agree with me for a day's wage? Take what is yours, and go your way. What if I wish to give to this last one just as much as to you! Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with what I own? Or is your eye evil, because I am good?’ And so, the last will be first, and the first last! Indeed, many are called, but few are chosen.”

God is represented here by a man who owns a vineyard. At about 6am He goes to the place where the laborers gathered and agreed to pay them a standard day's wage--let's say $115. About 9am He realizes that He's going to need some more workers. So he finds some other men who haven't been hired by anyone else yet and agree to pay them "what is right" if they will come and work in His vineyard. He does the same thing at noon and 3pm. He comes back again at 5pm with one hour left in the workday and does the same thing. The quality of the workers must have been declining as the day went on. The master of the vineyard hired the guys that nobody wanted to hire and brings them in to work for one hour. Each group assumed that they would get paid a certain amount based on how much of the day they worked. Those who came in at 6am probably expected to get paid about $115. Those who came in at 9am expected to get paid about $87. Those who came in at noon expected to get paid about $57. Those who came in at 3pm expected to get paid $29. And those who came in at 5pm expected to get paid about $10. They may have even expected less--these guys had a hard time getting anyone to give them a job. They were probably lazy and slept in because they were hung over from the night before.

When the work day is over, the owner of the vineyard tells the manager to pay the workers. He pays them in reverse order of when they started working. So he calls the guys in who had only worked for one hour and pays them $115. Not only were they guys who started at 6am surprised, they started calculating how much they thought each group of people were going to get. If this guy is paying $115 an hour, they should get $1380. That's what any rational employer would do.

But instead he gives everyone $115 and the guys who started work first are ticked off. It's the amount that they agreed to but they had spent all day working in the hot sun and never dreamed that the owner would pay people who only worked an hour the same amount as them. The master tells them to take what is theirs and get off his property.

If you want what you deserve you will get it. If you want a god who is bookkeeper, that is the God who will meet you on the judgement day. If you want what is yours, if you want what you've got coming to you, you will receive it by suffering in hell in eternal separation from the gracious God who gives of His grace in a crazy way.

How often do we act like God is unfair in His dealings with people? It's easy to think that the kindly old lady down the street from you is going to heaven. But what about the murderers and prostitutes? Jesus came to die for real sinners. Jesus invites everyone to the party. The only way you get kicked out of the party is by trying to claim that you earned your way in and trying to get Jesus to kick out the riffraff.

Jesus gives us above and beyond anything we ever expect. He does not bestow His blessings based on our yearly review. It's all grace. It's all mercy. It's all love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Blessing of Christmas

My pastor lent me a copy of The Blessing of Christmas by Pope Benedict XVI (written back when he was Joseph Ratzinger). I've read a few books and encyclicals by him already. Generally, I get a little irritated with him. He usually says something mildly profound but does not carry the thought through all the way and his writing gets bogged down in all kinds of philosophical ideas. But that's not the case with this book. The Pope points us to the true meaning of Christmas and Advent and offers lots of deep theological reflection. Not only is it deep, it's actually a pretty easy read and I didn't find any real theological problems with it. If I were being nit-picky I'm sure I could pick out a couple sentences here or there but overall it's a very theologically solid book. The book would make a nice gift. It's beautiful--lots of color pictures and a ribbon marker.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Feast of St. Titus: A Devotional Commentary

Acts 20:28-35 28 Therefore, keep watch over yourselves and over the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers! Be shepherds of the Church of God which he has purchased with the blood of his own Son. For I know that after my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you and they will not spare the flock. From among your own group, men will arise who will speak perverse things in order to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, keep watch! Remember that for a period of three years, I did not cease night and day to warn everyone with tears. Now, brethren, I entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace which is able to build up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver, or gold, or clothing. You yourselves know that these, my hands, served my needs and those who were with me. In all things, I have given you an example, that by this kind of hard work you should support the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, as he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive!’

Titus 1:1-9  Paul, slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, for the purpose of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth which is for the purpose of godliness,  on the basis of the hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,  but has revealed His word at the proper time in preaching, with which I was entrusted in accordance with the command of God our Savior;  To Titus, a true child according to a common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.  For this purpose I left you behind in Crete, that you might put in order the things that still need doing and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you -- if anyone is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of debauchery or rebellious.  For the bishop must be irreproachable, since he is a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not greedy for money,  but hospitable, loving what is good, prudent, righteous, holy, self-controlled,  holding fast to the faithful preaching which is in accord with the teaching, so that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to rebuke those who speak against the sound doctrine. 

Luke 10:1-9 After these things, the Lord also appointed seventy others and sent them two by two ahead of himb into every city and place where he was about to go. Jesus said to them, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your ways, but be aware that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. Do not carry a purse, a wallet, or sandals. Do not greet anyone on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a follower of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in that house, eating and drinking what they will give you, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever town you enter and if the people welcome you, eat whatever is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you!’

Today is the feast of St. Titus. Titus was a Gentile convert from heathenism. He was one of the companions of St. Paul to the Council of Jerusalem and a fellow-laborer on many of Paul missions. Paul gave Titus the responsibility of helping to collect money for the Jerusalem church and appointed him as bishop in Crete and died there at the age of 97.

One of Titus' repsonsibilities was to appoint elders in every city. Paul gives Titus a list of qualifications for these elders. Some of the most popular pastors of our day don't seem to live up to most of the qualifications. Some of the mega-church pastors have made it very clear that they have no interest in getting to know their flock--they could hardly be called hospitable. The mega-church model itself seems to make it impossible for a pastor to know his flock. Several of these churches have even moved to a satellite church model where the sermon is broadcast to other churches throughout the country which makes it even less likely that the pastor would know his flock. Paul does not say that the pastor must be "passionate" or "dynamic" or any of the other current buzz-words. Certain types of "passionate" pastors may not fit the catagory of "self-controlled" that Paul requires. There's nothing here about the pastor being a good CEO or business leader.

According to Paul, the pastor should be "irreproachable." The pastor should be dedicated to the well-being of his wife and children. This seems to rule out some of the self-appointed evangelists throughout history who have abandoned their family and the calling as husband and father that God has given them. The pastor shouldn't be someone who gets angry easily or a drunk. The pastor should not be seeking his own fame but should always be acting as a servant in a self-sacrificial manner.

Not only should the pastor be morally respectable, he must also be theologically knowledgeable. There is no excuse for any pastor to say "I'm no theologian." If being a theologian is a above his pay-grade then he has no business serving as a pastor. The pastor must stand firm in the Apostolic teachings handed down to him. Creativity may help a pastor present these truths to his flock but there should be nothing creative about his theology. The teaching must not change. The faithful pastor must not only be able to present the true teachings to his flock, he must also be able to refute those who speak against the true Apostolic teachings.

Moral respectability and the ability and willingness to teach the Apostolic doctrines are necessary because the pastor is "God's steward." He is not called to be an amateur comedian or self-help guru. He is not called to be a motivational speaker. He is called to bring the message given to him by God and not live a life that causes others to doubt that message. If the pastor lives an immoral life, he leads people to believe that he doesn't really believe what he preaches. The pastor stands in the place of God and so if the pastor preaches false doctrine he attributes lies to God.

The pastor must guard and watch over his flock. In order to do this he must know his flock. He must know what lures them away and what is out to get them. He must not try to get people to follow himself but to follow Christ. He must be able to heal the spiritually sick in his flock by applying the Gospel directly to them and giving them the sacraments.

The qualifications should humble any pastor. They are entrusted with the Church of God that He has purchased with the blood of His own Son. It is not the duty of the flock to be hyper-critical of their pastor but to pray for him. If your pastor brings you the Gospel and the sacraments you should praise God. Praise God for faithful ministers like Titus who faithfully brought the Gospel of Christ-crucified to their flock and gave them the medicine of immortality.

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The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul: A Devotional Commentary

Acts 9:1-22 But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest. He asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, giving permission that if he found anyone who belonged to ‘the Way,’ whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As Saul was on his journey and approaching Damascus, a light ffrom heaven suddenly shone around him. He fell on the earth and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now arise, go into the city, and there you will be told what you must do.” The men who were travelling with Saul stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he could not see anyone. His fellow-travelers led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. Saul was without sight for three days, and he neither ate nor drank. Now, a certain disciple named Ananias lived in Damascus. In a vision, the Lord said to him, “Ananias!” Ananias answered, “Behold, it is me, Lord!” The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judah for someone named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him, so that he might receive his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard about this man from many, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. Here, he has authority from the chief priests to bind all those who call upon your Name!” But the Lord said to him, “Be on your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my Name before nations and kings, and to the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for my Name’s sake.” Ananias departed and entered into the house. Laying his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me, so that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit!” At once, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized, and after taking some food, he was strengthened. After staying for several days with the disciples who were at Damascus, Saul immediately went in the synagogues to proclaim that Christ is the Son of God. All who heard him were amazed, and asked, “Is this not the man who did such damage in Jerusalem to those who called on this Name? And had he not come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul grew even more in strength and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

Galatians 1:11-24 As regards the Good News which I preached, I proclaimed this to you, brethren, that it is not of human origin. I did not receive it from man and I was not taught this Good News by man, but it came to me through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard about how I used to live in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure, and how I ravaged it. I advanced in the Jewish religion beyond many of my own age among my countrymen, as I was more extremely zealous for the traditions of my forefathers. But when it was the good pleasure of God, (who had set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles), I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood: I did not go up to Jerusalem to visit those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia. Later on, I returned to Damascus. Then, after three years, I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and I stayed with him for fifteen days. However, I did not see any of the other apostles,a except James, ‘the Lord’s brother.’ Now, regarding the things which I write to you, you can see that I am not lying before God. After that, I visited the districts of Syria and Cilicia. My face was still unknown to the Churches of Judea which were in Christ; they only heard, “The one who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith that he once tried to destroy!” And they glorified God in me.

Matthew 19:27-30 Then Peter said, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I tell you that you who have followed me, at the recreation, when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or lands for my Name’s sake will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first!”

Today we commemorate the conversion of St. Paul. In pietist circles, the conversion of St. Paul is considered the norm for conversion to Christianity. Some will even question whether or not you are really a Christian if you have not had a Damascus road experience. Laying aside the fact that even pietist conversion stories rarely if ever involve a visible encounter with Jesus that causes them to go blind, Paul's conversion seems far different than the conversion stories that are told when people give their testimony.

The modern "Damascus road" testimonies generally involve people going to some event and not being able to sleep and saying some sort of sinner's prayer and then feeling all tingly. Sometimes the person talks about how they used to be an alcoholic or drug addict but now that they said the sinner's prayer they no longer have the desire to drink or use drugs anymore. We should certainly praise God whenever God frees someone from alcoholism or drug addiction. But freedom from drug addiction is not the Gospel. There are plenty of people who have managed to stop drinking and doing drugs without ever becoming Christians. And Christians have had a variety of conversion experiences. Throughout history, most were raised in Christian homes and cannot remember a time when they did not know the Lord. Paul does not go around telling everyone that they have to have a conversion experience like him. Jesus says that adults must become like babies in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Salvation is not dependent upon cognitive ability and babies are able to receive the gift of faith from God. When the baby is given faith he's not going to start telling you about how he used to go out drinking every night.

Paul was not the the typical guy telling his conversion story about how he was raised in a dead church but went to a crusade and became radical for Jesus. Paul was on fire. Paul was Ablaze. Paul was a Pharisee. Jesus said that the Pharisees would cross see and land to gain a single convert. Paul was radical for God. Paul was obsessed with the expansion and preservation of Judaism Inc. He wasn't one of those guys who just went to synagogue once a week. He was passionate, he was missional, he had a heart for the lost, he had a vision, he was authentic.

Also, Paul was not some drug addict or prostitute. If you were a Jew and looking for the guy in your community that did the best job of keeping God's law you would probably point to Paul. From all outward appearances Paul was as godly as you could get and that was his problem and that's your problem. If you were a Christian at the time you're opinion of Paul might not have been very high but if you were a member of the Jewish religious establishment and you were looking for someone who exemplified righteousness you would point to Paul. Many of the Jews believed that the Messiah would come after the Jews had attained a certain level of righteousness. Beating down and killing those heretical Christians would be a great help in making sure the law didn't get messed with. Paul was a great hero of the Pharisaic faith. He wasn't going to take this unrighteousness lying down.

But Jesus had other plans for Paul. Jesus appeared to Paul and instructed Paul in the Christian faith. When Paul went around preaching the Gospel it was not the message of his personal testimony that he brought with Him but the Gospel of Christ crucified. When Paul met with the other Christians he certainly had to tell them what had happened. He had to give some explanation as to why he would want to join the church and convince them that he wasn't just sneaking in so that he could kill them all. He also brought up his conversion story when he saw the Judaizers bringing the false teaching that we are saved by our works into the church. But his conversion story was not the message that he brought with him everywhere. The message that he preached was not himself but Christ crucified.

Prior to his encounter with Jesus, Paul would have stayed away from sinners. Now Paul realized that he was a  sinner. Although he appeared to be a devout Jew--he was the chief of sinners. Paul continued to wrestle with his sinful nature after his conversion but he no longer trusted in his ability to keep the law to save him.

There is a Judaizer living in each one of us. We see the guy down the street and think that Christ could never possibly save a guy like that and show that we trust our own works to save us and don't believe that Jesus came to save real sinners. We show our Judaizer every time we trust in something other than what Christ has done to save us--whether it's our personal testimony, a prayer we said, our ability to theologize, or membership in a particular denomination. We show our Judaizer when we think that others who confess Christ have only an intellectual faith and not true saving faith. Praise be to God that Christ has paid for all these awful sins!

We remember the conversion of St. Paul because it teaches us not to trust in our works but Christ-crucified!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Feast of St. Timothy: A Devotional Commentary

1 Timothy 6:11-16 But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I command you in the presence of God who gives life to all things and Christ Jesus who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, to keep the commandment unstained, irreproachable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will display in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of the kings and Lord of the lords, who alone possesses immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no person has seen or can see, to whom is honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Matthew 24:42-47 Therefore, watch, because you do not know in what hour your Lord is coming. However, know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore, be ready, for it is at an hour which you do not expect that the Son of Man will come. Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his mastere has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. Amen, I tell you that he will set him over all that he has.

Timothy's father was a pagan. But Timothy's mother, Eunice, was born an Israelite and had accepted the Christian faith. She committed Timothy to be raised by her mother Lois, who was also a Christian. Timothy was catechized by his grandmother and Paul was his spiritual father. Eventually Timothy was ordained a bishop by Paul.

Paul warns Timothy of those who have used the Gospel as a means to make lots of money and have departed from the faith handed down by the Apostles. Paul tells Timothy to flee from these things. Instead, Timothy is to pursue a way of life that is in accord with God's will and pleasing to Him. Timothy is to pursue of piety and godliness. Timothy is called to trust in God and to love both God and his neighbor. Timothy is called to patiently endure persecution and wait for Christ's return. And Timothy is called to live a life of gentleness. Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight of faith. The true faith is not welcomed by the world and often not even by the church and so it meets opposition. Paul tells Timothy to take hold of eternal life. Although eternal life in its fullest sense will only happen when Jesus returns, Timothy is called to take hold of it now.

Paul reminds Timothy of the good confession that Timothy made in the presence of many witnesses when Timothy was ordained. Paul commands Timothy to "keep the commandment"--the entire body of Christian doctrine handed down to him without taking anything away from it or adding anything to it until Christ returns regardless of the opposition he will face. This is no trivial matter. Timothy's master is not some earthly king who can be tricked. Timothy's king is the Sovereign, Immortal, Invisible, King of kings and Lord of lords. And He could show up at any moment. He could show up while you're calling upon Him to damn your computer.

The charge that Paul gives Timothy should certainly be humbling for any pastor. Who lives up to that? It's a passage worth reading when deciding who to call as a pastor to your church. It should certainly keep the Perry Nobles and the prosperity-Gospel guys off your list of pastors to call.

I suppose you could sit down and write out a list of how your pastor is not doing all these things that he is supposed to do. Maybe when you spent an hour complaining about how awful he is you didn't receive a very gentle response. But the application of this passage goes beyond ordained clergy. Because if you are a Christian you have been ordained as well--not in the narrow sense, don't go around and start holding you own little Lord's Suppers or anything. But in baptism you were ordained as an ambassador of God. You are to be Christ to your neighbor. You are called to exhibit these same qualities that Timothy was called to exhibit. And that's pretty scary if you think about it.

Hopefully reading this passage will keep you from being one of those guys on the internet who just runs around yelling heretic at everyone. But it should also show you how sinful you are in not fulfilling these things. The list is pretty straightforward and simple. The ordination that Jesus received and the testimony that He gave before Pontius Pilate was certainly a more difficult and burdensome road than our own. He had the sins of all the world weighing upon Him and He did not fail in His calling. He suffered for your unrighteousness, your ungodliness, your doubt, your hatred, your impatience, and even your obnoxiousness. He fulfilled His calling for you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Feast of the Confession of St. Peter: A Devotional Commentary

Mark 8:27-9:1 Jesus went out with his disciples into the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others yet say that you are one of the prophets.” Jesus said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ!” Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone who he was. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the presbyters, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke to them openly. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But Jesus, turning around and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus called the multitude to himself with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Indeed, whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will save it. What does it profit if someone, to gain the whole world, loses his life? For what will someone give in exchange for his life? Whoever will be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I tell you that there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Reign of God come with power.”

Just like today, when Jesus walked the earth people had all kinds of ideas about who He was and what He came to do. Some thought He was John the Baptist brought back from the dead. Some thought He was Elijah. Others thought He was just a random prophet. But Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is. Peter says, "You are the Christ!" Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone. Why wouldn't He want the disciples to tell everyone? Because just about everyone had false ideas about what it meant to be the Christ. They wanted a Christ that would give them their best life now. They wanted a Christ that would destroy the Romans and stick it to the Caeser-man.

And so did Peter. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ but Peter didn't really know what that meant. Jesus starts telling them about His upcoming crucifixion and Peter pulls Jesus aside, "Whoa! Jesus, I'm not sure you understand what the Christ is supposed to do." Jesus says, "Get out of my sight Satan!"

In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to be a crossless Christ. Now Peter does the same. All the false religions of this world have crossless christs. When bad things happen many in the church would just like to ignore them and focus on the positive. If death or some type of horrible suffering is brought up, people change the subject. They don't want you spoiling their illusion of what the world is like and what it really means to be a Christian. When people die they want to have a celebration of life. Even those in the pro-life camp often treat miscarried and still born babies as if they weren't real people. Don't mourn their loss, look at your other kids you have and count your many blessings. Refuse to acknowledge that any of these bad things really exist. With the way some Christians talk you would think they were all Scientologists. Popular Christianity is all about a crossless Christ. Often, people object to the crucifix with the dead Christ hanging on it on the grounds that we worship the resurrected Christ. An empty cross is still a symbol of the crucifixion. The cross would still be empty if Jesus were never resurrected. But we like to fool ourselves. We certainly do worship the resurrected Christ and celebrate the resurrection every Sunday. But our resurrection is still future. Our resurrection comes when Christ returns. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are living the resurrected life now in its fullness but only by identifying ourselves with the false christs of this world. To be a true Christ-follower in our current setting is to worship the crucified Christ. To be a Christ-follower in this present age means to live a life of self-denial and to take up your cross. Our self-identification at this time must always be with the crucified Christ. Anything else is a lie of Satan. Through baptism we are joined to Christ and partake in His sufferings.

Jesus warns those who deny Christ when being a Christian is inconvenient for them. If you deny Christ, Christ will deny you. Then Jesus tells the disciples that some of them would not die until after they saw the kingdom of God coming in power. But this happened in an unexpected way as well. This happened in a way that was the exact opposite of what the religious types wanted. Those Jews who wanted a crossless Christ who would destroy their enemies would be utterly devastated. The disciples who were still living at the time saw the Reign of God come with power in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The crucified Christ is the only real Christ. He is the only one who could fulfill the law and He ushered in a new age.

Just before the crucifixion, Peter denied Christ three times. Peter was ashamed of Christ. Peter would not have been ashamed of a christ who came to give him power and destroy his enemies. Peter was ashamed of the real Christ who acted in a completely opposite way from the false christs. Peter was ashamed of the crucified Christ. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you hide our faith. But you also show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you speak of the Christian life as one in which real Christians are "happy all the day." You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you choose to ignore your neighbor's burdens rather than bear them. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you expect everyone to pull himself up by his bootstraps. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you value political ideologies above your faith. You show that you are ashamed of the crucifed Christ when you demand your rights. You show that you are ashamed of the crucified Christ when you choose to do something else instead of receiving Christ's body and blood in the sacrament. All these things are of the Devil. The Devil wants nothing more than to keep us as far away as possible from the crucified Christ and he usually succeeds. Every time you sin you deny the crucified Christ who says that He has washed you clean.

Where can you find hope since you are such a miserable Christ-denying sinner? The same place that the Christ-denying Peter found hope--in the crucified Christ. Peter was restored after the resurrection and proclaimed the Gospel of the crucified Christ boldly. His restoration did not result in a life of ease. Peter was crucified upside down for his proclamation of the crucified Christ. The crucified Christ is certainly worth getting crucified for. Because Christ was crucified for you and has given you something worth even more than your life.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Epiphany 2: A Devotional Commentary

John 2:1-11 The third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the wedding. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.” Now, six water jars made of stone were set there, meant for the rites of purification of the Jews, and they each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water!” So they filled them up to the brim. He then said to them, “Now, draw some out, and take it to the chief steward of the feast;” and they did so. When the chief steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine (not knowing where it had come from, but the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and after the guests have drunk freely, the inferior one. But you have kept the good wine until now!” This, the beginning of his signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

On the third day God brought forth plants and vegetation and trees from the earth to feed man by speaking the Word. In this Gospel reading, on the third day the Word provides wine for man by speaking the Word. Jesus shows that He is no ordinary man but God Himself. Jesus doesn't just produce some bargain grocery store wine. Jesus makes the very best wine simply by saying it. Just as God the Father spoke the Word and created a mature earth, so God the Son turns water into a mature wine simply by saying it.

This wedding was not held in Jerusalem in the land of the Jews but in Cana of Galilee in the land of the Gentiles. And the mother of Jesus was there. John never refers to Jesus' mother as Mary in his Gospel. Instead, out of respect, John refers to her in regards to the great blessed calling that God gave her. He calls her the mother of Jesus. What greater blessing could any person receive than to bear the Christ?

Mary demonstrates her faith in Jesus. She tells Jesus that all the wine is gone. She says no more but Jesus knows what she's getting at. Jesus knows that Mary knows that Jesus is more than capable of creating wine. Jesus had not performed any miracles up to this point but the mother of Jesus remembers the words spoken to her by God through the angel Gabriel. Jesus calls His mother "woman" which was a term of respect but a rather odd thing to call your Mom. He is identifying His mother as the new Eve. She stands as the representative and mother of the church because she is the obedient mother of Jesus who is the new Adam. The church is called to put all of her trust in Christ even when it looks like everything is going wrong. Jesus tells His mother that the lack of wine is none of His business and it shouldn't be any of her business either because His hour has not yet come. What hour is He talking about? The hour of His glorification--the hour of His crucifixion when all the law would be fulfilled by Him. But Mary neither nags Jesus nor does she give up. She still believes that Jesus will provide the wine and so she tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

Jesus instructs the servants to fill six jars with water. These were not just any jars. These were jars which were used for Jewish purification ceremonies. And there were six of them. Under the Old Testament law, all work was to be done in six days. Just as the jars were made of stone, the law was written on stone tablets. The jars were empty. The jars were empty and useless by themselves just as our good works and attempts to keep the law are empty and useless when trying to please God.

Everything in this miracle points forward to the crucifixion of Christ. Just as there were six jars, on the sixth day of the week Jesus was crucified on the cross for your sins. He kept and fulfilled the law as the second Adam. Jesus spoke the Word and turned the water into wine. In the Lord's Supper Jesus gives us His blood that is shed for us in the wine. Through the water of baptism you have been washed in the blood of Christ. Jesus produced between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. There was plenty to go around. Jesus blood is more than enough to pay for all your horrible sins and all your horrible self-righteousness. Jesus is more than capable of giving His body and blood to all who partake at the Lord's Supper. He is more than capable of giving them to you. As interesting and exciting as it may have been to be there and see Jesus turn the water of into wine, think of how much more wonderful it is to receive the miracle of Christ's body and blood in the sacrament.

The jars were filled with water and then the water was turned into wine. In John's Gospel after Jesus is crucified, John draws attention to the fact that when the soldiers pierced Jesus' side blood and water flowed out. In his first epistle John says that there are three that our faith is based on the testimony of three witnesses--the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Christ continues to work salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit in the waters of holy baptism and his body and blood in the Lord's Supper.

This miracle at the wedding feast points us forward to the heavenly feast that we will partake of when Christ returns at the wedding feast of the Lamb and the church. All false religions serve the good wine first--earthly prosperity and success. The Gospel saves the best for last. The best was not given through Moses but comes to you in Jesus Christ. Throughout this life you will partake of the bad and vile wine but your bridegroom is coming and bringing the best wine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Baptism of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan, to John, in order to be baptized by him. And John was trying to prevent Him, saying, "I myself have need to be baptized by You, and You Yourself are coming to me?" But Jesus answering, said to him, "Allow it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allows Him; and after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and look, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him; and look, a voice from the heavens, saying, "This One is My beloved Son, in whom I am have set my good pleasure."

Then Jesus comes. Emmanuel, God who is with us, who has come to save His people from their sins comes. John the Baptizer had been calling people to repentance. John baptized them as they confessed their sins. But now Jesus comes and arrives at this very place where people come and confess that from which He has come to save them: "their sins." Just think of the shock and confusion that John must have experienced. John proclaimed that Jesus would baptize Israel with the Holy Spirit and fire on the Last Day. But Jesus comes and Jesus does not come with power and judgment and glory. Jesus comes to be a passive recipient of John's baptism. John was in the wilderness crying, "Repent!" Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted? Is Jesus a lost sheep? So of course John tries to stop Him. No Jesus, you don't need to be baptized, you need to baptize me. I am a sinner. You are not.

Jesus replies in a way that acknowledges that the prophecies of John the Baptizer were true and that this baptism is a very strange thing in light of the preaching of John. What John was preaching about Jesus was absolutely true in regards to what Jesus would do on the Last Day. Jesus says, "Allow it as this time." What is "this time?" "This time" is not the Last Day. This is the time of Jesus' humiliation. The sinless Son of God receives the baptism intended for sinners like you because He bears your sins. All the sinners who entered the water to receive the baptism of John washed their sins away into the water. Jesus stands in the water and takes all those sins upon Himself. He bears the sin and washes the water clean. Ignatius of Antioch said, "He was born, and was baptized, that by Himself submitting He might purify the water." As Luther puts it, in baptism Jesus "drowned sin in the water."

But why is this baptism fitting John and Jesus to fulfill all righteousness? In the Old Testament, God's "righteousness" refers to His saving deeds on behalf of His people. Jesus has come to be baptized by John in order to save you. As He stands in the Jordan to be baptized He stands in your place. Jesus will surely come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire but not "at this time." Jesus' baptism points forward to the time when He would experience the baptism in which He would be enthroned as King of the Jews on cross for you. We all like to talk about Jesus coming in judgment to destroy our enemies. But our present reality is with Christ crucified.

And as if all this were not enough, "the Heavens were opened to Him"--Mark says that they were torn open. At the time of the flood the heavens were opened to destroy sinful man but now they are opened to speak of the One who bears your sins. Heaven is no longer closed to you because Jesus took your sins upon Himself. At the time of the creation, the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters. Now, the Holy descends and comes upon Jesus--showing that the new creation has begun. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus would preach Good News to the poor and comfort those who are mourning. He is the One in whose name the Gentiles will hope.

And if that weren't enough, God the Father says, "This One is my beloved Son, in whom I have set my good pleasure." God the Father is calling Jesus the new Israel. In the Old Testament, God spoke of Israel as His son. Jesus stands in the place of Israel. Jesus comes as God's sinless Son to save God's "son" who is lost in sin. Jesus perfectly carries out His Father's will as only a perfect Son can do. The Father is well-pleased with Him. Now call may become "sons" through baptism and faith in God's perfect Son. Later, God will be well-pleased with the baptism that His Son experiences in His crucifixion and will show His pleasure by raising His Son from the dead.

Because Jesus was baptized for you, your sins have been washed away in your own baptism. He stood in your place as the sinner and was baptized for you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Epiphany of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 2:1-12 Now after Jesus had been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, look, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the King of the Jews who has been born? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to show reverence to Him." But when Herod the king had heard, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him, and when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he kept on inquiring of them where the Christ is born. And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it stands written through the prophet: "'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you will come a Ruler Who indeed will shepherd My people, Israel.'" Then Herod, after he secretly called the Magi, ascertained from them the exact time when the star began to appear, and having sent them to Bethlehem, he said, "After y o u have gone, inquire accurately about the Child, and as soon as y o u should find Him, report to me in order that I also, after I have come, may show reverence to Him." When they had heard the king, they went; and look, the star which they saw when it rose was leading the way for them until, having come, it stood still above where the Child was; after seeing the star, they rejoiced with extremely great joy, and having come into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and falling down they showed reverence to Him, and having opened their treasures, they brought Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh; and being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed by another way to their own land.

Who were these Magi that came to see the Christ-child? Contrary to some Christmas carols, these men were not kings. They may have been servants of kings but they were not kings themselves. As Matthew shows they were also certainly not wise men. They were pagan Gentiles who were interested in sorcery and all kinds of false religion. They were not Jews. They were not Israelites. They were outsiders.

The Magi did not come to find the Christ-child because of their own purity and worthiness. They came to find the Christ-child because of their own interest in astrology. They saw a new star in the sky and believed that the appearance of a new star indicated the birth of an important person. God used the false beliefs that they held to guide them to the truth. There was nothing wise or holy about these men. The Magi bring gifts to Christ but these are just the gifts that a person would bring to any dignitary. The church has rightly seen great symbolism in the gifts--gold for Jesus' kingship, incense for His divinity, and myrrh for His suffering and death. But its unlikely that the Magi brought the gifts for this reason. They were bringing the common gifts you would bring to an earthly king. The Magi probably had heard about how paranoid Herod was but they were not wise enough to see that Herod had no intention of worshiping the Child but wanted Him dead. The Magi needed to receive a special revelation from the Holy Spirit in a dream.

No great Jewish theologian came to worship the Christ but only some pagan Gentile astrologers. The Magi could not by their own reason or strength come to Jesus Christ and worship Him but had to be drawn by the Holy Spirit.

The same is true with you. You cannot by your own reason or strength come to Christ. Coming to Christ is not something you do by walking up an aisle or saying a prayer. By faith you believe that Jesus died for your sins and faith is not of yourself--it is a gift worked in you by the Holy Spirit. You might be drawn into the church for all the wrong reasons but the Holy Spirit draws you in and feeds you with the Gospel and washes you in baptism. The Holy Spirit draws you to the Sacrament of the Altar where you bow in adoration before the Christ and receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Second Sunday After Christmas: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 2:13-23 Now after they departed, look, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph, saying, "After getting up, take the Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you; for Herod is about to seek the Child to destroy Him." After getting up, he took the Child and His mother at night and departed to Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, in order that what was being spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son." Then Herod, after seeing that he was made a fool of by the Magi, was becoming exceedingly angry, and sending others, he did away with all the children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the Magi. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying: "A sound in Ramah was heard, A dirge and weeping and much mourning; Rachel crying for her children, and she was not willing to be encouraged, because they are no more." But after Herod died, look, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "After getting up, take the Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel; for the ones seeking the Child's life have died." And after getting up, he took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But after he heard that Archelaus is reigning over Judea in place of Herod his father, he was afraid to go there; and after being warned in a dream, he departed into the parts of Galilee, and after coming, dwelt in a city that was called Nazareth, in order that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled for He will be called a Nazarene.

The Holy Scriptures tell us of a horrible and shocking event. Herod is so angry and so determined to kill the Christ that he kills all the little boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem. The Scriptures do not tell us how many children were killed and estimates have ranged from twenty to over ten thousand but the number doesn't really matter. Herod was clearly a monster who was willing to do anything to hold on to his power. He saw Jesus as a threat to his kingship and was going to do anything he could and kill whoever he had to in order to make sure that nobody threatened his power. Extra-Biblical accounts number one of Herod's own sons as one of those who was killed in this slaughter. Later, Herod executed several members of his family including his wife.

When we read about all the horrendous deeds that Herod committed, our minds our drawn to more contemporary monsters like Hitler or Saddam Hussein. If we think about it a little more we could come up with similar atrocities to the ones committed by Herod. There are the millions of abortions that happen each year. Those under the age of nine months old are killed because they stand in the way of financial gain, the advancement of careers, or an environmentalist agenda. If we continue to ponder this horrible act of Herod our minds might be drawn to the examples of involuntary euthanasia or coerced euthanasia. The elderly and terminally ill are a drain on society. Their quality of life is just horrible. They aren't pulling their fair share and making a positive contribution to the GDP. Wouldn't it be better just to kill them off? If we keep thinking about the atrocities committed by Herod our minds might be drawn to just war theory. We might start thinking about all the civilians that have been killed by our armies in war because civilians were not protected as they should have been. We might think of our societies failure to care for the poor.

All of the above are legitimate observations. But Jesus said that whoever is angry with his brother is guilty of murder. Have you ever been angry with anyone? How many people have you been angry with? The number probably exceeds the twenty or so that Herod killed in the massacre. There is a good chance you may have even been angry with someone in the under two crowd at some point in your life. YOU are a little Herod. You may not have physically killed anybody, but that doesn't mean you are not a murderer. You gossiped that other person--perhaps even pretending it was because you really cared about them. Or you failed to stand up for someone who was being gossiped about because you didn't want people treating you like you're a weirdo. Maybe it was for a promotion or popularity or for money or for absolutely no reason at all. But the fact remains, YOU are a murderer. You are just like Herod--willing to murder everyone else to protect yourself and worthy of God's present and eternal punishment.

What hope is there? Hope can only be found in the Christ-child who would grow up and die for all the Herods like you. He would die for people like you who murdered Him. Matthew sees the flight of Jesus into and out of Egypt as a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. Hosea 11:1 says, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." Matthew sees Jesus as the new Israel. Jesus did what Israel did not. God delivered Israel but Israel broke God's law. Christ kept God's law and did what Israel could not do.

The young boys slaughtered by Herod are traditionally numbered as being the first Christian martyrs and rightfully so. Jeremiah 31:15-16 says:

Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.

These young boys died in the place of Jesus and even more importantly Jesus shed His blood for them. These young boys are true saints of God. The world would count them as being of little worth except maybe to be cute to look at but the martyrdom they suffered for Christ is something far more valuable to the kingdom than all movies and self-proclaimed evangelists that tell you the lie that Christianity makes your life easier. We learn from these young boys that being joined to Christ might get you killed and that it's still more than worth it.

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, Jesus shed His blood for a horrible murderer like you and has given you eternal life!