Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Jesus Storybook Bible

We received The Jesus Storybook Bible as a gift a few months ago and I've been reading it to my children every night. Overall the book is excellent. Most children's storybooks tend to treat the Biblical stories (especially the Old Testament ones) as if they are primarily moral lessons. But The Jesus Storybook Bible shows us how all the stories point to Jesus. The book does a good job of communicating deep theological truths to children in an interesting way. The book is written by a Presbyterian and so I did have some problems with the way that the book presented the sacraments (Zwinglian). I ended up rewording some of the sentences when I read them to the children. There were some other problems I had with the way certain things were worded but overall the book is far better than most Bible storybooks and is at least a step in the right direction when teaching children how to read the Bible. Unfortunately most pastors don't seem to realize that the Bible is all about Jesus so I guess its no surprise that most Bible storybooks wouldn't get it either.

Reminiscere: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus then left that area and withdrew into the region of Tyre and Sidon. Behold, a Canaanite woman came out from those borders and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, you son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed!” But Jesus did not answer her a word. His disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away! She is shouting after us!” However, Jesus answered, “I was not sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Still, the woman came forward and expressed adoration to him, saying, “Lord, help me.” But he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” But she replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be it done to you even as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

A filthy heathen sinner. She probably had it coming to her. If she had become a Jew and raised her daughter up in the church her daughter wouldn't have been listening to her heavy metal music and playing with her ouija board and doing drugs and wouldn't have gotten herself demon-possessed. And now that her family has gotten into some trouble she comes whining to him. Send her away Jesus! We have more important things to do. We have a Messianic kingdom to establish. We have to overthrow the Romans. If we spend any time with this lady we'll be unclean and won't be able to go to the temple.

Jesus plays along. I wasn't sent for a ugly Gentile dog like you. I'm not going to take the food intended for the children of God and throw it to you.

The woman doesn't say, "How dare you!" and spit in His face. She doesn't even argue that she isn't a dog at all. She knows she's a dog and completely unworthy of receiving anything from Jesus. But she knows that Jesus is merciful. Despite the apparent denial of mercy by God, she knows by faith that she will be shown mercy. She will not be shown mercy because of anything in herself but because of who Jesus is. You call me a dog? You're absolutely right! Let me eat the crumbs off the floor.

This heathen woman understood what the disciples did not. The disciples thought that they had a right to the Messianic kingdom. The disciples were sinful dogs but didn't know it.

When the Devil comes and tell you that you do not deserve God's love and tells you that you have no right eternal life and that you will perish in your sins, don't argue with him. Tell him he's absolutely right. I am a poor, miserable, sinner who has sinned against God in thought word and deed both by what I have done and what I have left undone and am worthy of God's present and eternal punishment. But Christ shed His blood for all poor miserable sins. And Christ has washed me and feeds me with His own body and blood. We can know that God is merciful even when it seems that He rejects our pleas for mercy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Feast of St. Matthias: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 66:1-2 Thus says Yahweh, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what kind of house will you build to me? and what place shall be my rest? For all these things has my hand made, and so all these things came to be,” says Yahweh: “but to this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.

Acts 1:15-26 In those days, Peter stood up among the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty) and said: “Brethren, it was necessary that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit had spoken beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered with us and received his portion in this ministry. (Now this man obtained a field with the reward for his wickedness, and falling headlong, his body burst open, and all his intestines gushed out. It became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem that in their language that field was called ‘Akeldama,’ that is, ‘The field of blood.’) For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it;’ and, 'Let another take his office of overseer’. Therefore, of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John and to the day that he was taken up from us, of these men, one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So, they put forward two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Matthew 11:25-30 At that time, Jesus exclaimed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the learned and intelligent, and revealed them to infants! Yes, Father, this was well-pleasing in your sight. All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and the one to whom the Son desires to reveal him. Come to me, all of you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest! Take my yoke upon you and learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Indeed, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

There were 12 apostles. The number 12 indicated that their purpose was to proclaim the Trinity to the four corners of the earth and baptize the nations into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Peter stood before the 120 which would soon grow in number but at the time were representative of the entire Christian church. The prophecy of David had been fulfilled. There were no longer 12 Apostles but 11.

Judas was a learned and intelligent man. He saw the Messiah and he wanted in. He knew that as a close associate of the Messiah, he would have a good chance of getting a high position in the Messianic kingdom. But over time he came to see that the Messianic kingdom that he had envisioned looked nothing like the Messianic kingdom that Jesus was talking about. Judas wasn't interested in any pie in the sky spiritual nonsense. So Judas decided to cut his losses and betray Jesus. He could at least get some cash for all his wasted time. Judas understood supply and demand. He understood an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. So he traded Jesus in for a field. But then Judas got to thinking. What have I done? What will God do to me for killing this innocent man? Judas believed that God was just and would justly punish him for his sins. So Judas hangs himself. He hopes to escape temporal punishment and he's hoping there isn't really an eternal punishment. Not only does Judas die but his intestines gush out. Judas still had the body and blood of Christ in him from when he partook of the Last Supper. But the body and blood of Christ cause his intestines to gush out.

And so they need another Apostle to replace Judas. The learned and intelligent would appoint a committee. They would try to find someone who is a motivational and dynamic speaker--someone who can really draw a crowd. But the Apostles put no trust in themselves. They choose two people who had known Jesus as long as they had and leave the decision. They trust in Jesus to pick the Apostle through the casting of lots. They know that they were picked by Jesus and only He has the authority to appoint Apostles. And so Matthias is chosen. Very little is said about Matthias before or after this and that's good. Matthias may have been a low-life or the most pious man you would ever meet. What's important is the message that Matthias brought. Matthias proclaimed the Trinity and baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthias preached Christ-crucified. Matthias knew that God was merciful and was not giving him what he deserved. Judas died with the heavy yoke of the law on his neck. He could not bare it. He tried to escape it by killing himself. Matthias knew that he could not carry his yoke. Christ carried Matthias' yoke for him. Christ carries your yoke of sin upon Himself. Matthias found rest. Rest in Christ. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I stumbled across Amreeka at my local video rental store. I'm glad I did. It's put out by National Geographic Entertainment and tells the story of a Palestinian woman and her son. They are mistreated in Palestine and move to America where they are mistreated in different ways. They are suspected of being terrorists and finding a job for the mother becomes very difficult. Eventually it is revealed that they aren't even Muslims. It's not explicitly stated in the film but the careful observer will realize that they are actually Christians. The media tends to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a conflict between Jews and Muslims. I think it's important to remember that there are many Christians involved as well and that the Christians are living among the Palestinians. In many cases the Christians in that area are treated better by their Muslim neighbors than by the Israelis. Unfortunately, many Christians see support of national Israel as a Biblical command and are entirely unaware of the terrible circumstances that Christians undergo because of Israel. That's not to say that the Middle East would be in better shape if everyone were under Sharia law, but seeing the conflict between Israel and Palestine as a simple battle of good vs. evil as some Christians and "conservative" talk show hosts portray it is in conflict with reality. If someone came to your house and made you leave so other people could live there you probably wouldn't be very happy either. The movie certainly has an agenda but it's not utopian or idealistic. It never really presents a solution but it's a good conversation starter. I think it would be an excellent film to show as part of a class that deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately that probably won't happen because of some of the drug use in the movie.

The Crucified God

I received a complimentary copy of The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann from Fortress Press. Without a doubt, this book is more difficult to review than any other book I have read. A thorough review would require a book and I feel entirely inadequate to pursue the project. Moltmann is obviously much more well-read than I am and possesses an intellect far superior to my own. The book very rightly centers all theology in the crucified God. There are portions of this book that I could post that I absolutely agree with and ideas that are stated in the most profound ways.

Moltmann is truly a genius and almost all of his premises appear to be true. It's the conclusions that I have a problem with. There appear to be a number of philosophical presuppositions that Moltmann assumes and bases his conclusions on. This leads Moltmann to sound at times like a modalist, other times like a Tritheist, and at other times a panentheist. I just find it remarkable that Moltmann manages to start with the crucified God to lead us to each of these strange conclusions.

The book is highly influential and should probably be read by pastors that are dealing with liberal theology in their denominations to at least understand where some of these people are coming from. But I doubt that the average lay person will even understand what Moltmann saying.

Invocavit: A Devotional Commentary

Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit in order to be tempted by the Slanderer, and after fasting forty days and forty nights, at the end He was hungry. And after approaching Him, the Tempter said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But answering, He said, "It stands written, 'A person will not live by bread alone, rather by everything said that comes out through the mouth of God.'" Then the Slanderer takes Him along into the holy city and sets Him upon the pinnacle of the temple and says to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it stands written that He will give instructions to His angels concerning You and upon their hands they will carry You, lest You strike Your foot against a stone." Jesus said to him, "Again it stands written, 'You will not test the Lord your God.'" Again the Slanderer takes Him to a very high mountain, and shows all the kingdoms of the world to Him and their glory and he says to Him, "All these things I will give to You, if You will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus says to him, "Get behind me, Adversary! For it stands written, 'You will worship the Lord your God, and you will serve Him alone.'" Then the Slanderer leaves Him, and look, angels came and were serving Him.

Unfortunately this text is often preached on as if it were primarily an example for us to follow--Jesus memorized the Scriptures and defeated and the Devil and so can you. But that misses the point. This isn't the story of how Jesus defeated the Devil with His awesome Scripture memorization skills. What is this all about?

This happens right after the baptism of Jesus in which God the Father announces, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." In the Old Testament, God baptized Israel in the Red Sea and called Israel His son. Israel was led by God to be tested in the wilderness but failed. Jesus was led by God into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil and triumphed.

After God led Israel to be tested in the wilderness to be tested for forty years they began to complain to God because of their lack of food and said that it would have been better to die in Egypt than starve out in the wilderness. Jesus is led into the wilderness to fast for forty days. Jesus is definitely hungry but does not complain about God or doubt His purposes. The Slanderer tempts Jesus to use His power to serve Himself. "If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread." Later on, Jesus would do a very similar thing and use His power to serve and feed others, but here Satan tempts Jesus to serve Himself. The Slanderer wants to get Jesus to question His own identity. If you are really God's Son, why are you out here starving? But unlike Israel, Jesus trusts in God's Word. God the Father said that He was His beloved Son. Jesus takes the path of humility and trusts the Father.

During the time of their testing, the Israelites doubted the protection of God. Will God provide us with the water that we need and protect us from our enemies? Does He even care? We're dying of thirst out here. The Slanderer tempts Jesus to put God to the test. Throw yourself down. If you are really God's Son He will send His angels to protect you from harm. But Jesus trusts God without testing Him.

When Israel was tested in the wilderness, the Israelites fell into idolatry. They did not trust the plans of God and sought to gain control of the world by worshipping rival gods. The Slanderer tempts Jesus to do the same but Jesus will not and tells the Slanderer to take off.

We are not called to put on our WWJD bracelets and follow the example of Jesus. We simply cannot. And the passage is not about us finding the right Bible verses to combat temptation. The passage is about what Jesus did, not about what we should do. The passage is about the humiliation that Jesus descended into for us. If there is a lesson to be learned from this passages it's "Believe that you are who God says you are." Do not trust your observation of the world around you. Do not look within yourself to see if you're sanctified enough. Do not look to see if you have the most toys or a successful marriage. Trust in the Word of God. Trust in the Word of God spoken in your baptism. You have been baptized into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are God's beloved Son.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

Fortress Press sent me a complimentary copy of Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's works which contains Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. This is the first time I've read anything by Bonhoeffer and overall I thought both works were excellent.

Life Together deals with the concept of Christian community and how Christians should live in community. Bonhoeffer emphasizes that true Christian community can only happen through union with Christ. We are all called to live in Christian community but we will only rarely "experience" Christian community. Often true Christian community is something we confess by faith rather than something we experience. Bonhoeffer provides very helpful advice in regards to different approaches to Christian community. Unfortunately, some of this advice is stated as if it were a direct command from God.

Prayerbook of the Bible is about the importance of using the Psalms to guide our prayers. Like the church through most of history, Bonhoeffer takes a Christocentric approach to the Psalms. This approach is very helpful, especially when praying the imprecatory Psalms or psalms where we are asserting our own righteousness. Even when we pray Psalms acknowledging our own sinfulness, Bonhoeffer notes that Christ is the sin-bearer.

Both works have lots of notes provided by the editor, both explanatory and references for further research. There are very good introductions provided by the editor that place the works in their historical context and provide lots of good background information.

Ash Wednesday: A Devotional Commentary

Joel 2:12-19 “Yet even now,” says Yahweh, “turn to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning." Tear your heart, and not your garments, and turn to Yahweh, your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meal offering and a drink offering to Yahweh, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Sanctify a fast. Call a solemn assembly. Gather the people. Sanctify the assembly. Assemble the elders. Gather the children, and those who nurse from breasts. Let the bridegroom go forth from his room, and the bride out of her room. Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, “Spare your people, Yahweh, and don’t give your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Then Yahweh was jealous for his land, And had pity on his people. Yahweh answered his people, “Behold, I will send you grain, new wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied with them; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together, we entreat also that you not receive the grace of God in vain, for he says, “At an acceptable time I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.  We give no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our service may not be blamed, but in everything commending ourselves, as servants of God, in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Matthew 6:16-21 "And when y o u are fasting, do not be just as the hypocrites, gloomy-faced; for they disfigure their faces in order that they may be visible to people as fasting; amen, I am saying to y o u that they have received their reward. But you, when you are fasting, anoint your head and wash your face, in order that you may not be visible to people as fasting, rather to your Father who is in the secret, and your Father who sees in the secret will reward you. "Do not treasure for y o urselves treasures on earth, where moth and eating destroy and where thieves dig through and steal; but treasure for y o urselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor eating destroys and where thieves neither dig through nor steal; For where y o ur treasure is, there y o ur heart will also be.

Haiti suffered a horrible earthquake in which many have died and many others are suffering. Some believe that the earthquake was an act of judgment by God upon the Haitians for a voodoo ceremony that was performed hundreds of years ago. If that case, the suffering in Haiti will be insignificant to what is about to happen to the United States. Abortion is illegal in Haiti. In the United we sacrifice over 1 million babies to the god Mammon. Our worship of Mammon has caused us to let Haiti live in such poverty all this time. We export pornography all over the world and have done all kinds of other sinful things. If God truly acts in the transactional way that some people think then there is no hope for the United States. People like to give themselves a false sense of comfort by coming up with some reason that the terrible tragedy that happened to somebody else could never happen to them. But if God is giving people what they deserve right now then what happened to Haiti will look like nothing compared to what is going to happen to the United States.

In the Old Testament reading God is calling His people to repentance after sending them a plague of locusts that ate up all their food. The sending of the locusts was not intended to be a punishment for their sins. If that were the case, God would have sent them straight to hell. The locusts were sent as a call to repentance. The surrounding pagans may have enjoyed an abundance of food while the Israelites suffered. That doesn't mean that God loved the pagan nations more than the Israelites. The locusts were a display of God's love towards His people. The fact that the United States has not suffered in the same way that Haiti has should not lead anyone to the conclusion that God loves the United States more.

Earthquakes are some of the birth pangs that remind us that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. These birth pangs should bring us to repentance. They should not bring us to despair. They should turn us to Christ. Birth pangs should turn our attention away from all the stupid things we complain about every day and turn us to Christ. They should turn us to Christ with fasting and weeping and mourning because God is merciful. Our fasting and weeping and mourning do not earn us anything with God. Our fasting cannot pay for our sins. Our fasting and mourning and weeping are useless if they are for outward show. Fasting is beneficial for us. Fasting helps us discipline our bodies and keeps us from being slaves to food. Fasting allows the mind to better concentrate and focus. Fasting allows us more time for prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. Both Paul and Jesus regard fasting as a normal part of the Christian life. Jesus says, "When you are fasting..." assuming that you will fast.

God is merciful. God does not want to destroy you. Through the shed blood of Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins. Through the shed blood of Christ we know that we do not need to worry about treasuring up for ourselves earthly possessions. Those possessions will pass away but we look forward to a possession that nobody can take away from us. They may take away all that we have--even our lives. But they cannot take away the possession that has been won for us by the blood of Christ.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quinquagesima: A Devotional Commentary

Luke 18:31-43 He took the Twelve aside, and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all the things that are written through the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be fulfilled. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, mistreated, and spit upon. Having flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day, he will rise again.” However, they understood none of these things. What Jesus was saying was concealed from them, and they did not understand the things that were said. As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the road, begging. Hearing a crowd going by, he asked what this meant. People told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He began to cry out, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!” Then, those who led the way rebuked him, ordering him to be quiet. But the blind man cried out all the more, “You son of David, have mercy on me!” Standing still, Jesus commanded that the blind man be brought to him. When the man had come near, Jesus asked him, ”What do you want me to do?” The man replied, “Lord, that I may see again!” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight. Your faith has healed you.” Immediately, the man received his sight and began to follow Jesus, glorifying God. When all the people saw this, they praised God.

If you were on this same road on the way to Jericho at around the same time that this event took place and you had the opportunity to ask someone other than Jesus about Jesus and what He came to do, who would you choose? Wouldn't you pick out one of the disciples to ask--maybe Peter? You certainly wouldn't waste your time talking with the blind guy on the side of the road. But who really had a better understanding of Jesus?

The disciples were with Jesus every day and in this passage Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen. Jesus says that He will be beaten, mocked, killed, and then rise again. But the disciples have absolutely no idea what He is talking about. They probably think Jesus is telling some parable or speaking figuratively. Maybe they thought that Jesus would face some unpopularity and suffer an emotional flogging and that they would kill His career but that later on His popularity would rise again and He would start setting up His earthly kingdom. Even after Jesus was physically crucified His disciples did not expect His physical resurrection. Maybe they thought He would just live on in their hearts. The simple and plain interpretation of what Jesus said was disregarded because it was the exact opposite of what they thought a Messiah should do. Although the disciples had physical sight they were blind. The disciples thought they could see. They thought they knew what the Messiah would be like. They didn't understand exactly what Jesus meant at this very moment but they knew it fit their idea of Messiah somehow.

So Jesus is leading His blind disciples on the road of catechesis on the road to Jericho and He passes by a blind man who is begging by the side of the road, sitting just outside the traveling catechism class. The blind man asks what is going on and is told that Jesus is passing by. The blind man cries out saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." The blind man has been given the eyes of faith to know that this is the promised miracle working Messiah. He knows the promises of the Old Testament--that the Messiah would restore sight to the blind. The blind man believes that restoring sight to the blind really means restoring sight to the blind.

But the catechism students think that the blind guy is just looking for a handout and tell him to shut-up--showing their own blindness to the merciful Messiah. But the man doesn't shut-up, he keeps calling out louder and louder. Jesus is merciful and commands His catechism students to bring this man before Him. Jesus knows what the man wants but gives the blind man an opportunity to confess his faith by asking him what he wants. The blind man confesses his faith in Jesus by asking Jesus to restore his sight. He knows that Jesus can do this. Jesus does restore his sight and absolves him of his sins. Then the beggar formerly known as blind joins the travelling catechism class and praises God.

The blind man probably had very little knowledge of Jesus. But he trusted Jesus and he knew something about himself. He wasn't running about pretending he could see. He knew he was blind. He knew that he could do nothing to save himself. He knew that only Jesus could save him.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Patristics on mp3

I recently listened to an mp3 version of Athanasius' work, On the Incarnation. The reader stumbled a couple of times but overall she did a very good job. There's another recording of the same work done by a guy with a southern accent. I also listened to a recording of the Epistles of Ignatius. It was a little more professional but even though the guy who reads it is a Roman Catholic he has this annoying sound in his voice that evangelicals make when they do book recordings where they pretend to sound very emotional or something. I just stumbled across another site with quite a few mp3 files. If anyone out there knows of any other good recordings of patristic works let me know.

Sexagesima: A Devotional Commentary

Luke 8:4-15 As a great crowd was coming together and as people from every city were coming to him, he spoke by a parable. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some seed fell along the wayside; it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the sky devoured it. Other seed fell on the rock, and as soon as it grew, it withered away because it had no moisture. Other fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew with it, and choked it. Other fell into the good ground, grew, and brought forth fruit a hundred times.” As he said this, he exclaimed, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Then his disciples asked him, “What does this parable mean?” Jesus replied, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but to the rest, it is given in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now, this what the parable means: The seed is the word of God. Those along the wayside are those who hear. Then, the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are those who receive the word with joy when they hear. But they have no root; they believe for a while, then fall away in time of temptation. What fell among the thorns is those who have heard, and as they go on their way, they are choked with worries, wealth, and the pleasures of life; and they bring no fruit to maturity. As for the seed that fell in the rich soil, this is those who have heard the word with an honest and good heart, who retain it and bring forth fruit with endurance.

Despite the fact that Jesus explains the parable, it seems that people keep misinterpreting it. Jesus is not teaching an economics lesson. Jesus is not telling us how to be good farmers. Good farmers don't throw their seed around randomly. Although Jesus talks about various soils, Jesus does not call for introspection. He does not tell people who are one type of soil to strive to be another type of soil. He doesn't even call for catagorization. He's not listing characteristics so that a person can try to determine what type of soil he is. According to Jesus, this is not what the parable is about. Jesus told this parable to explain the kingdom of God. Jesus told this parable to tell His disciples what will happen when the Word of God is sown.

What is the Word of God? Wrong question. Who is the Word of God? Jesus.

If Jesus is the Word of God, then who is the sower? Some man-made institution? Some para church organization? A mission society? A local church assembly? Individual believers? None of the above. God the Father sows the Word of God. God the Father sows the Word of God over the entire earth and the Word of God has the various results listed everywhere it is sown.

Seeds are much smaller than the plants they produce. They look insignificant. Even if you manage to see a seed just before it is sown, once it is sown you can't see it at all. Jesus is the Seed. He born of the virgin Mary and had a rather short career in which He was rejected and despised. Eventually, He was killed and buried. He could not be seen at all. He rose from the dead and then vanished.

In the parable, the Sower sows, and then the Seed works. The Seed is thrown on the wayside. It is trampled underfoot and the birds of the sky eat it. That doesn't mean that the Seed is not the Seed or that the Seed is defective. The birds are the Devil. The Devil recognizes the power of the Seed even when man does not. The Seed is trampled over by man but the Devil sees its real power. The Devil tries to destroy the Seed of by eating it and that's exactly what happened in the crucifixion. But when a bird eats a seed does that keep the seed from reproducing? Absolutely not. Many plants survive because birds eat their seeds and spread them everywhere in their poop. The Seed still works in spite of the Devil's attacks and even uses the attacks of the Devil for His own purpose.

The Seed also falls among the rocks. The Seed is sown and people respond with joy but whither away because they have no root and apostatize in time of temptation. Once again, the Seed is not deficient. There is no problem with the Seed. But they cut themselves off from the Seed. They cut themselves off from the preaching of the Word and the sacraments.

Other Seed fell among the thorns. The Seed does its job but those who receive it are unfruiful. They do not fall away but tend to spend most of their time concerned with material wealth.

Other Seed fell on the good soil and was very fruitful. But the Seed was the same in each instance. This soil had been prepared by God to bear fruit when the Seed was sown. There was nothing inherently good with the people who were more fruitful. They really didn't do anything at all. The Seed worked in them this particular result.

The parable is entirely descriptive. It doesn't tell anyone to do anything. It simply says what will happen. It does not tell us to scatter the Seed. God the Father has already done that. We are simply called to tell people what the Seed has done and avoid getting in the way. We could act as persecutors or provide people with lots of things to worry about but the parable doesn't really describe anything positive that we do. It's all about the Seed who died, was buried, and rose again for you.

If the church is going to try to use this parable as a model for what it does, I suppose it could take notice of some things. God the Father sows the Seed everywhere. He seems to just sow and sow without real concern for where it lands. The church should not spends its time focusing on specific target groups. It should just be indiscriminately telling everyone it sees about the Seed. The church really can't tell which soil is which anyhow.

Also, the message the church should be bringing should be all about what the Seed has already done. If the message is something else you might end up with lots and lots of people who are bearing fruit for whatever message you happen to be bringing but it has absolutely nothing to do with the Kingdom of God and might actually be getting in the way. Get out of the way! I could tell someone who has a failing marriage or has lost their job or whatever else that if they say a sinner's prayer then everything will end up all hunky dory for them and if everything does end up hunky dory for them and they go and tell lots of other people their story and lots of other people do the same thing in hopes that everything will be hunky dory for them. It appears to be good marketing and all that jazz. But it has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. It's only some strange message of hunky-doryness that can only stand in the way of the real message about a dead Jesus on a cross which isn't exactly hunky-dory and all the promises that followers of the dead Jesus Jesus on the cross will be persecuted. The same could be said for sowing the seeds of "life-principles" or "Christ-consciousness" or whatever else you'd like to throw into the mix. The Seed is Christ. He has done it all. Get out of the way!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I highly recommend donating to the work of LCMS World Relief and Human Care in Haiti. The Red Cross has brought in the heavy equipment to pull people out of the rubble but there is so much more that needs to be done. LCMS World Relief is providing much needed doctors and pastors. LCMS World Relief has long term plans to provide for the physical needs of the Haitians and bring them the Gospel. Check out Pastor Matt Harrison's blog for pictures and stories from Haiti.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Luke 2:22-32 And when the days of their purification according to the Torah of Moses had been fulfilled, they brought Him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord, as it stands written in the Torah of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb will be called holy to the Lord,” and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Torah of the Lord, “A yoke of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” And look, there was a man in Jerusalem by the name of Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him; and it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and as the parents were bringing in the child Jesus in order to do concerning Him according to the custom of the Torah, also he received Him in his arms and blessed God and said, "Now, set free Your slave, Master, according to what You said in peace, because my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles, and glory for Your people Israel."

In the Old Testament, God's glory dwelt in the temple. Just before the first temple was destroyed, Ezekiel saw God's glory leave the temple. The temple was rebuilt but all who had seen the first temple were filled with a combination of both joy and sadness. They knew that the glory of the second temple did not match the glory of the first temple. But God promised to one day fill the temple with an even greater glory than the first temple. In an unexpected way, the infant Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. According to Jesus own words in the Gospel of John chapter 2, Jesus is the temple.

Thirty-three days after His circumcision, the Lord Jesus comes to fulfill the Torah for us and is brought into His true home. Jesus' parents offer a sacrifice of two turtledoves or two pigeons--the sacrifice mandated by the Torah for those who could not afford a lamb to sacrifice. This shows us the humble estate that our savior was born into. God's earthly family could not even afford a lamb. More importantly, it also shows us that no lamb was necessary because Jesus is the Lamb.

In walks Simeon. Simeon is filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Holy Spirit to the temple. The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon that this baby in front of him is the promised Messiah. Without the Holy Spirit there is no way that Simeon could have known this. Anyone else walking into the temple would have just assumed that Jesus was some random baby of little importance. Simeon had received a promise from God that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Simeon had been waiting, expecting, and longing for the consolation of Israel. He was yearning for the inauguration of the Messianic age and the Messiah was right in front of him.

Simeon takes the Christ-child in his arms and blesses God. Then he sings a song directly to the child. He says, "Now set free Your slave, Master, according to what You said." He knows that this baby in his arms is God. He knows that the promise that He would not die until He saw the Messiah was given to Him by this baby. He calls this baby Master and says, "Set free Your slave." Simeon is a slave of Christ. Jesus is Simeon's Master. Simeon says that he is ready to die now. Simeon says, "Set me free." Simeon is ready to die in peace. Simeon is ready to die in peace because unlike almost everyone else, his eyes had been opened to see his salvation. His salvation is not an abstract theological concept. He is holding his salvation in his hands. His salvation is Jesus. Jesus is the light. Jesus is the light that is more glorious than the glory that filled the temple. Jesus is not only the light to the Jews but the Gentiles as well. Jesus is the light for all people.

We are adults who nurse at the breast of the church and receive God's Word and Sacraments but we are constantly breaking God's law. Jesus kept God's law for us when He was forty days old and nursing at the breast of His mother. Just like Simeon, we take Jesus in our hands. We take Jesus in our hands when we are given His body in communion. We take His blood upon our lips--the same blood that was shed at His circumcision for us, the same blood that He shed on the cross for us. Just like Simeon, the Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe that this is Jesus that we receive. We receive Jesus in the Gospel preached. The Holy Spirit gives us faith to believe that these are the Words of eternal life.

But too often, we only take Jesus when He is convenient for us. We don't want to hear the words of Christ when they condemn us for our sins--we don't really want to give up those sins and so we close our eyes and our ears and throw Jesus away as far as we can. But Jesus shed His blood for these sins too. So after we take Jesus in our hands and on our lips and receive Him in our ears, we too can die in peace. Because we have heard, seen, felt, touched, and tasted salvation. We have heard, seen, felt, touched, and tasted Jesus. As Psalm 34:8 says, "O taste and see that the Lord is delicious!"