Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Festival of the Reformation: A Devotional Commentary

Revelation 14:6-7 I saw an angel flying in mid heaven, having a Gospel everlasting to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He said with a loud voice, “Fear the Lord, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and the springs of waters!”

Matthew 11:12-15 From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Today, we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation. The Reformation was not a revolutionary act or the beginning of a movement. The Reformation was not anti-Catholic, it was pro-Jesus. Martin Luther simply desired to proclaim the Gospel everlasting that had been proclaimed since the beginning of church history but which over time had been obscured and diluted. Luther had no desire to start his own church but was calling upon the church to reform. The Roman Church responded to his call to return to the Gospel everlasting by excommunicating him. The temptation to teach that we are saved in some sense by our own works is always present. It was the teaching of the Jewish leaders at the time of the incarnation, it is the teaching of all Pagan religions, it had become the popular teaching in the church of Luther's day, and it remains the popular teaching even among those who consider themselves to be heirs of the Reformation today.

The Reformation was about the centrality of Jesus Christ in worship. Worship is not about what we do for God but about receiving God's good gifts through faith. The historic liturgy at the time of Luther was centered upon Christ but had picked up certain distractions as it developed. Luther removed these distractions from the liturgy. Complete abandonment of the historic liturgy as we find in Protestant churches today is contrary to the spirit of the Reformation because it takes something that was Christ-centered with some distractions and replaces it with something man-centered. The man-centeredness of the liturgy is the problem, not the Christ-centeredness. Some of the most extreme anti-Roman Catholic groups commit a much worse error in their worship by abandoning the Christ-centered liturgy completely. In the Divine Liturgy the Lamb on the Altar is central. Jesus Christ gives us His very body and blood. We receive. The Roman Church introduced some distractions but the modern Protestant church has done much worse. The Protestant church denies that this could possibly be the body and blood of Christ and says it's something we do in obedience to God to remember what Jesus did. Often, the Sacrament that Christ instituted is omitted completely from the service and in some traditions it is replaced with the man-centered altar call.

The Reformation was about the centrality of Jesus Christ in preaching. In the typical Roman Catholic sermon, Jesus gets mentioned quite a bit but it tends to all be about what we need to do for Jesus. In the typical Protestant sermon, Jesus doesn't get mentioned much at all and all you get is law. The central message of all the Scriptures is Jesus and what He did for us. If a sermon is not about what Jesus did for us then it is not a Christian sermon. The Bible is not about us. The Bible is all about Jesus. The Bible is not a collection of sayings or an instruction manual. It's about how you failed to follow the instructions and are a damnable sinner. It is about the Gospel everlasting. The Gospel everlasting is Jesus.

The centrality of Christ is worth fighting for. We must never think that we have arrived. When we start thanking God that we are not like those sinners over there, we miss the point of the Reformation. If we think our salvation is found in not being Roman Catholic we will no doubt fall into worse errors than the Roman church has and many Protestant certainly have. The Reformation is about Jesus crucified for your sins. The Reformation is about Christ alone. The Reformation is about how you are a poor, miserable sinner--you are the chief of sinners. You are in no way better than your brothers and sisters in Rome. You desperately need Jesus and Jesus gives you everything. That is why we cannot accept or be in communion with institutions that give us something other than Jesus. There are pastors in every denomination that give people something other than Jesus and we must demand Jesus from them. The church's only mission is to distribute Jesus. Your pastor's only duty is to give you Jesus. Accept no substitutions! Demand Jesus! Demand Jesus in the preaching of the Word. Demand Jesus be placed upon your tongue in the Sacrament. Do not neglect the assembly where Jesus is distributed. Your very life depends on receiving Jesus! There is no such thing as too much Jesus. Jesus gave His life to give you life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How to Shop For a Church

Some people are born and die in a particular church and others change their church more often than they change their underwear. How should a person choose which church to join? Unfortunately, many people decide to join a church based on either purely subjective criteria or on the wrong objective criteria. A subjective approach will cause someone to continually change churches based on how they feel that particular week. Did it feel worshipful? Did it feel like the Holy Spirit was present? Were the people friendly? Emotions are not bad but they don't form the basis for Christian unity. We are not united by a common emotional experience or even by a common conversion experience. I don't know a single person who has really had the Damascus road experience (killed Christians, then see Jesus on the road and made blind by Him only to have his sight restored later on).

Choosing a church based on the wrong objective criteria will result in people joining churches for reasons other than those for which the church was established. Some are most concerned with finding a church that has lots of programs for their kids or where they can best utilize their "gifts." There is nothing wrong with having programs for children or a piano player or an organist but the Christian church is not built on them. For quite some time, worship in the church was done acapella. The person seeking to utilize his or her gifts would have had to have to become a pagan if they wanted to do it in a religious setting. God gives us our gifts so that we can use them for the benefit of our neighbor and they don't all necessarily get used during corporate worship. If someone is especially gifted with jackhammer skills, he shouldn't go around looking for a church where he can use his jackhammer during the church service and most people don't. But for some reason when it comes to more "artistic" skills, people get it in their head that they have to find a church where they can use these skills during the service. Piano or organ skills can be used for the good of the neighbor during corporate worship when there is a need but they are no reason for joining a church. If a person may find that his or her "artistic" skills are better used in service to his neighbor in a community organization rather than during the church service.

The idea that church is the place to showcase your "gifts" points to a much deeper problem. True worship is not giving but receiving. True worship is receiving God's good gifts by faith. True worship is faith struggling against despair. True worship is a Divine Service where God serves us in His Word and Sacrament. All false worship, including Pagan worship, is all about us serving God. When worship is about receiving, then it makes little difference whether or not I get to use my gifts during the Divine Service. Christian worship is not about me using my gifts but me receiving God's gifts. The decision about what church you should attend should be based on what church delivers God's good gifts to you on a consistent basis. The decision should not be made based on who you "feel" is giving you God's good gifts but based on who is actually doing it.

The New Testament Church (and the Old Testament Church) is a creedal church (Deut. 6:4, 1 Kings. 18:39, Matt. 16:16, Matt. 28:19, John 1:49, John 6:68-69, John 20:28, Acts 8:36-37, Acts 16:31, 1 Cor. 8:6, 1 Cor. 12:3, 1 Cor. 15:3-7, Phil. 2:6-11, 1 Tim. 3:16, Heb. 6:1-2, 1John 4:2, I could keep going). In fact, creeds in the New Testament Church predate the New Testament writings. When people are asked what they and they say they just believe what the Bible says that usually means they don't believe much of anything at all. There are all kinds of groups teachings all kinds of contradictory things that all claim to believe what the Bible says. If a church cannot give you some kind of creed that shows what they believe then that probably means that they don't know what they believe and are relying on their individual feelings to guide them (which can vary based on what they ate that morning). When Jesus asked Peter who Peter believed that Jesus was, Peter didn't say, "I believe whatever the Bible says." Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This Creed became the foundation for all future creeds. The creeds are objective statements because the Christian faith is an objective faith based on real historical events. Those who desire a subjective faith should go elsewhere. There is plenty of room in Mormonism and Eastern mysticism for those who prefer subjectivity. The natural man always prefers subjectivity because it allows him to create a god that is really just a projection of himself. When a person says "I believe whatever the Bible says," what he really means is "I believe God is a big version of me. I read the Bible in such a way that it affirms what I already believe and ignore those parts that conflict with what I already believe."

The New Testament church is centered upon Christ and what He has done and does do. Jesus said all of the Scriptures are about Him (John 5:39). All other religions are based on us and what we do. So if you are trying to ascend to God through your works or get good advice, Islam or Judaism or some other religion is what you are really shopping for. It's time to stop trying different Christian churches. If you decide you are looking for a Christian church you should look for church whose creed is centered upon Christ. The Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, etc. are all about Christ and what He has done objectively. If a "church's" "creed" is centered on not consuming alcohol or not baptizing babies or the proper mode of baptism, then you might be at an AA meeting but you are not at a Christian church.

Since the New Testament is all about Christ, the preaching of the church should also be all about Christ and specifically according to the Apostle Paul about Christ-crucified for you (1 Cor. 2:2). If the preaching is not centered on Christ-crucified it is not a Christian sermon. Just because they have an altar call at the end where they tell you to ask Jesus into your heart (which isn't in the Bible) doesn't mean that you are listening to a Christian sermon. The altar-call Jesus isn't the real Jesus. You might be listening to a Finneyan sermon but not a Christian one. If it's all about what you need to do for Jesus then you are listening to a Muslim sermon in which they have cut out Allah and pasted Jesus in his place. Churches which just "believe what the Bible says" often just preach on whatever is bugging them that week. They may claim to be led by the Holy Spirit but if they are preaching something other than Christ-crucified then there is some other spirit at work. The spirits must be tried (1 John 4:1). The Holy Spirit can't stop talking about Jesus (John 15:26).

Since the New Testament Church is all about Jesus, the worship of the New Testament Church is all about Jesus--not about what we are going to do for Jesus but what He has done for us. If it's about what we are going to do we might as well be at a political rally. (YES WE CAN!) While it is theoretically possible to have a "contemporary" worship service that is Christ-centered, I'm still waiting for someone to show me an example of one. The bulk of what is considered "traditional" today is Christ-centered either. Since the Christ-centered contemporary worship service only exists in a science lab and has not yet appeared in real life I will avoid a lengthy discussion about types of music. But music itself is not neutral. Historic church music is designed to call attention to the words. It is designed to be objective. Contemporary praise songs and many hymns written after about 1750 use a different type of music that draws attention away from the words and is designed to make you feel a certain way. This type of music has always existed and was used in various pagan religions but it hasn't been until relatively recently that this style of music has been incorporated into the worship of the church. Chant is a wonderful way to call attention to the words that we are saying and make them memorable. The historic liturgy is the best available way to stay Christ-centered in worship. It's full of the Scriptures (Lutheran Service Book gives the Biblical references) and it's all about what Jesus has done for us. The historic liturgy is grounded in the historic worship of the church. Churches that claim to just "believe what the Bible says" often replace the words of Scripture as contained in the historic liturgy with their own words.

The high point of the historic liturgy is the Lord's Supper. If you ask somebody why they go to church, people will say they do go to church to worship God or learn more about God or to be inspired. But why did the early Christians meet? The Bible says the met "to break bread" (Acts 20:7). "To break bread" in the New Testament is to partake of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10). Partaking of the Lord's Super was the reason for meeting. Many so-called "Bible-believing" churches will meet many times without every partaking of the Lord's Supper. But according to the Bible the Lord's Supper is the reason for meeting. Some think that infrequently partaking makes it more "special" but once again this is only because they are practicing a subjective man-centered religion. The Lord's Supper is special because of what it is, it is not made special by our feelings and there is nothing within the Scriptures to suggest that we should receive it infrequently. During times such as the festival of Pentecost when people had a vacation from their daily work, they met daily to partake of the Lord's Supper (Acts 2:46). I don't recommend skipping the prayers or the sermon but it would almost be easier to make the case Biblically for infrequent preaching and prayers than infrequent reception of the Lord's Supper. Wouldn't infrequently hearing a sermon make the sermon more special?

Most "bible-believing" churches not only celebrate the Lord's Supper infrequently but deny what the Bible says the Lord's Supper is. In the Bible, Jesus says the bread is His body and the wine is His blood (Matt. 26:26-28). Jesus never says it represents His body and blood. If you asked many of the Christians from these "Bible-believing" churches what the Lord's Supper is for, they would say we celebrate the Lord's Supper out of obedience to Jesus in order to remember Him. But Jesus does not describe it as an act of obedience but says that it is "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). Many "Bible-believing" Christians say that baptism is the "believer's first act of obedience." But the Bible never says that. The Bible says baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38, 22:16). Thought they claim to believe what the Bible says, they deny it.

If you are looking for real Bible-believing church rather than one that just claims to be, where should you start? Historically the Lutheran churches have done the best job of staying centered on Christ and teaching what the Scriptures do about baptism and the Lord's Supper. They are creedal churches and their creeds are centered upon Christ and faithfully affirm what the Bible affirms and deny what the Bible denies without trying to resolve the paradoxes. I recommend starting with the Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Congregations directory. If possible, try to find a church listed that celebrates communion at least once a week. I recommend starting with the ones closest to you and working your way out. If you can't find a church in your area on the list you might want to check out some of the synods listed here. Unfortunately, not every Lutheran church within these synods is going to be faithful to her historic Biblical calling. Some of the churches in these synods will have non-Christ centered contemporary worship. Some will have preaching that isn't Christ-centered. You might need to put up with quite a bit of garbage depending upon where you live. Your pastor may need some encouragement to deliver good Christ-centered sermons. For examples of good sermons visit this website. Sometimes the historic liturgy can save you from your pastor. Even if your pastor doesn't preach the Gospel, at least you will hear it in the liturgy. I know of one person who recommended visiting an Anglican church when out of town and participating in the liturgy but listening to an iPod when the pastor starts preaching.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude the Apostles: A Devotional Commentary

Jeremiah 26:1-16 In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, came this word from Yahweh, saying, Thus says Yahweh: Stand in the court of Yahweh’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in Yahweh’s house, all the words that I command you to speak to them; don’t diminish a word. It may be they will listen, and turn every man from his evil way; that I may repent me of the evil which I purpose to do to them because of the evil of their doings. You shall tell them, Thus says Yahweh: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, to listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I send to you, even rising up early and sending them, but you have not listened; then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of Yahweh. It happened, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that Yahweh had commanded him to speak to all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold on him, saying, You shall surely die. Why have you prophesied in the name of Yahweh, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant? All the people were gathered to Jeremiah in the house of Yahweh. When the princes of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of Yahweh; and they sat in the entry of the new gate of Yahweh’s house. Then spoke the priests and the prophets to the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy of death; for he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your ears. Then spoke Jeremiah to all the princes and to all the people, saying, Yahweh sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of Yahweh your God; and Yahweh will repent him of the evil that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as is good and right in your eyes. Only know for certain that, if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city, and on its inhabitants; for of a truth Yahweh has sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears. Then the princes and all the people said to the priests and to the prophets: This man is not worthy of death; for he has spoken to us in the name of Yahweh our God.

1 Peter 3:1-9 In the same way, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; so that, even if any don’t obey the Word, they may be won by the behavior of their wives without a word; seeing your pure behavior in fear. Let your beauty be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God very precious. For this is how the holy women before, who hoped in God also adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands: as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose children you now are, if you do well, and are not put in fear by any terror. You husbands, in the same way, live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman, as to the weaker vessel, as being also joint heirs of the grace of life; that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, be all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tenderhearted, courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or insult for insult; but instead blessing; knowing that to this were you called, that you may inherit a blessing.

John 15:17-21 “I command these things to you, that you may love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know him who sent me."

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude who were killed for preaching the Gospel. Some traditions say that Simon and Jude were sawn in half, others claim they died in some other way. They were killed for bearing witness to Christ. They were killed for preaching against idolatry. They did not bring their own message but the message entrusted to them. People didn't like the message so they killed the messenger. The same is true today both inside and outside the church. In many countries people are still killed for bringing the Gospel. In America they probably won't kill you but you will get a lot of enemies. If you bring a message of positive thinking or the seven steps to whatever or a doctrinal treatise then you'll be okay. But if you start preaching the Gospel people get angry. Why does the Good News make people angry? Because it destroys the illusion of their self-sufficiency and their ability to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The Gospel is God hanging dead on a cross for you. There is a reason that God hung dead on a cross for you. Hanging dead on a cross is what all your good works have earned you. Your good works do not earn you a pat on the back from God. Your good works earn you temporal and eternal punishment. The Gospel is offensive and our self-righteousness rebels against it. Why must we hear the Gospel every week? Didn't we already make a decision for Christ? Tell us about holy living or how to be successful at something so that we can feel good about ourselves. But the Gospel is what we always need even when it's not what we want. We constantly create idols and the Gospel saves us from our idolatry and shows us that God loves us--not because of what we've done but in spite of what we've done.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trinity 21: A Devotional Commentary

Genesis 1:1-2:3 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was evening and there was morning, one day. God said, “Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse “sky.” There was evening and there was morning, a second day. God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. God called the dry land “earth,” and the gathering together of the waters he called “seas.” God saw that it was good. God said, “Let the earth yield grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with its seed in it, on the earth”; and it was so. The earth yielded grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with its seed in it, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day. God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of sky to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of sky to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of sky to give light to the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of sky.” God created the large sea creatures, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures after their kind, livestock, creeping things, and animals of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. God made the animals of the earth after their kind, and the livestock after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind. God saw that it was good. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. The heavens and the earth were finished, and all their vast array. On the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work which he had created and made.

Ephesians 6:10-17 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;

John 4:46-54 Jesus came therefore again to Cana of Galilee, where he made the water into wine. There was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to him, and begged him that he would come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will in no way believe.” The nobleman said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go your way. Your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. As he was now going down, his servants met him and reported, saying “Your child lives!” So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour, the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” He believed, as did his whole house. This is again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judea into Galilee.

On our best days we are just like this nobleman, most days we are much worse. The nobleman had heard of the miraculous powers of Jesus, heard He was in town again, found Him, and started begging Jesus to come to his house and heal his son. The man did not believe that Jesus is God or that Jesus came to take away the sins of the world. All the nobleman knew was that Jesus could work miracles and he needed a miracleworker to heal his son. Most of the time we don't even acknowledge that Jesus is a great miracle worker. We are all deists. We believe that God is out there somewhere but has no real concern for our daily lives and our daily problems. If we get some horrible disease we run to the doctor, we do not run to Jesus. This man at least runs to Jesus but he expects Jesus to fix things in the ways that he wants them fixed. He wants Jesus to come to his house and maybe wave his hands over his son and for his son to get up and be better again.

Jesus rebukes the man for not realizing who He really is and trying to tell Him what to do. God is not some sort of djini in a bottle that we summon to do our bidding when things go wrong. But Jesus has mercy on this man just as He has mercy on us. Jesus provides the sign and wonder to prove to this man that He really is God. Jesus not only heals the nobleman's son. Jesus heals the nobleman and his entire household. He heals them from their sickness of unbelief. The waters of baptism do not appear to be anything special but Jesus heals us through the waters of baptism. Jesus heals us through the foolishness of the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus heals us by giving us His very body and blood in the Lord's Supper.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Acts 15:12-22 All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them. After they were silent, James answered, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has reported how God first visited the nations, to take out of them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written, ‘After these things I will return. I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen. I will again build its ruins. I will set it up, That the rest of men may seek after the Lord; All the Gentiles who are called by my name, Says the Lord, who does all these things. All his works are known to God from eternity.’ Therefore my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers.

James 1:1-12 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let that man not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; 1:10 and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits. Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him.

Matthew 13:54-58 Coming into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all of his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all of these things?” They were offended by him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house.” He didn’t do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord. The term "brother" is used the Scriptures to speak of not only of those who have the same mother and father but also cousins. According to tradition in the West, James is Jesus' cousin. According to tradition in the East, James is Joseph's son from a previous marriage. For various reasons, the Eastern tradition seems more likely to me. From the Biblical account we find that prior to the ressurection, James was an unbeliever. James seemed to think that Jesus was out of his mind. But after the resurrection, James became a believer and great leader in the early church. He gave his life as a martyr because he would not deny Christ. They threw him off the top of the temple but he did not die. He prayed for his enemies and was clubbed to death. He died as a brother of Christ in a more important way than his natural family relationship. He died as a brother of Christ in the same way that we are brothers of Christ by being baptized into Christ.

James was instrumental in bringing the Gentiles into the church. He came to see that the law did not bring salvation but death. God was not satisfied with trying hard. God demands absolute obedience. Salvation could only be found in his brother--Jesus. Jesus did not come to fulfill the law for the Jews only but also for the Gentiles. Our salvation is not found in the law but in our brother Jesus.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 53:5-8 But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn’t open his mouth. He was taken away by oppression and judgment; and as for his generation,
who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living and stricken for the disobedience of my people?

2 Timothy 4:5-15 But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry. For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. From now on, there is stored up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing. Be diligent to come to me soon, or Demas left me, having loved this present world, and went to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus when you come, and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander, the coppersmith, did much evil to me. The Lord will repay him according to his works, of whom you also must beware; for he greatly opposed our words.

Luke 10:1-9 Now after these things, the Lord also appointed seventy others, and sent them two by two ahead of him into every city and place, where he was about to come. Then he 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 your ways. Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, nor wallet, nor sandals. Greet no one on the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in that same house, eating and drinking the things they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Don’t go from house to house. Into whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat the things that are set before you. Heal the sick who are therein, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke was a physician and some say he was a Gentile. He left his vocation as physician to bring people the healing medicine of the Gospel of the Great Physician. He was a companion of Paul and was imprisoned for his confession of the faith and according to some accounts was crucified on an olive tree, truly bearing his cross.

St. Luke became an evangelist, he became a lamb among wolves. He healed the sick by bringing them the Gospel. He brought the peace of Christ to sinners. He brought them into the reign of God.

Our sickness is so bad that we don't even think we are sick. Other people might need the Physician but we don't. But through the waters of baptism we are united to the Physician. Through the Lord's Supper He gives us the healing medicine of His body and blood. Through the Words of Christ spoken through a pastor, Christ gives us His peace.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trinity 20: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 55:1-9 “Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? listen diligently to me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Turn your ear, and come to me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you don’t know; and a nation that didn’t know you shall run to you, because of Yahweh your God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he has glorified you. Seek Yahweh while he may be found; call you on him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Yahweh, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says Yahweh. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Ephesians 5:15-21 Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Don’t be drunken with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing, and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always concerning all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.

Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus answered and spoke again in parables to them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner. My cattle and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!”’ But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. When the king heard that, he was angry, and sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. Go therefore to the intersections of the highways, and as many as you may find, invite to the marriage feast.’ Those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. The wedding was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who didn’t have on wedding clothing, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here not wearing wedding clothing?’ He was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and throw him into the outer darkness; there is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.’ For many are called, but few chosen.”

In the original context, Jesus is speaking to the Jews. God invited the Jews to the great wedding feast of the Lamb, but they would not come. They rejected the invitation, invitations were given to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles sinners came running to the marriage feast. One man in the parable is cast out--not because he was found to be too great a sinner but because he was not wearing a wedding garment. The man was not clothed with the righteousness of Christ but his own righteousness. He was probably the most moral and outwardly righteous of the people there. But he was thrown out because he did not realize how sinful he really was and so did not put on the righteousness of Christ.

The problem of the Jews in this parable is the problem of the church as well. The church has grown board with the wedding feast. It has been replaced with all kinds of other things that are more entertaining in the church. People are told that infrequent celebration of the wedding feast where Christ gives us His very body and blood in the Lord's Supper makes the wedding feast more "special" as if it Jesus' body and blood were not special in themselves. Feasting on Christ's body and blood and receiving the wedding garment have been replaced with actions of our own righteousness. The Lamb on the Altar where we receive is replaced with the altar call where we do. Sermons about what Christ has done for us have been replaced with sermons about what we do for Christ. The historic liturgy which is all about what Christ does for us has been replaced with songs about what we do for Christ. In all these actions, the church shows its boredom with the wedding feast.

Each one of us shows boredom with the wedding feast. Every time we neglect the preaching of the Gospel we show our own boredom with the wedding feast. Every time we neglect receiving Christ's body and blood we show our boredom with the wedding feast. There are always excuses. There are always things that need to be done. If it were something "special" like a vacation or a visiting relative then we would make certain that we would make time for it, but receiving Christ's body and blood is too ordinary and boring. We will not put up with a "dry" sermon in a "dead" church where all we receive is forgiveness of sins. Even when we show up for the wedding feast we spend the time thinking about other things that are more "special."

But Christ stands ready and willing to feed you--even after all your neglect and boredom. Christ stands ready to feed you with His very body and blood. Drink from the side of Jesus. Christ calls and invites you to the wedding feast. Come and have your sins forgiven. Receive life. Receive the medicine of immortality!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Zwinglianism is Too Roman Catholic

"Zwingli...was at heart a Thomist, which he remained even as a Reformer--a Thomist for whom revelation never can contradict reason. For him, as for Thomas, God was "primum movens" and "prima causa," the first cause of, and the deepest reason underlying all things. What reason is in man, that God is in the world..."God is truth and He is light. He gives light and does not lead us into darkness," as Zwingli said at Marburg. Here is perhaps the deepest contrast between him and Luther who in the Word of God always found that which contradicts human reason. That the wisdom of God is hidden under the appearance of foolishness, the truth of God under what seems to reason to be a lie, and that the Word of God always comes to us as something that contradicts our mind, Zwingli would never have been able to say."--Hermann Sasse, This is My Body, pp. 117-118

Clinging too tightly to Christ's Words is never the problem. Rationalism is the problem. Luther's beef with the Roman Church was that they made an Aristotelian philosophical assumption a matter of religious dogma. Thomas Aquinas taught that the presence of Christ's body and blood is not to be understood as a local presence but substantially. Thomas taught that Christ's body is situated in heaven in a particular place. Luther was determined to simply cling to the Words of Christ without all this philosophical speculation. So did Zwingli go beyond Luther in his reforms? Absolutely not! Zwingli ran the other direction. He took the path of rationalism that Luther was criticizing in Thomas. Zwingli agreed with Thomas that Christ must be situated at some fixed location in heaven and took the further step of denying the substantial presence of Christ in the sacrament.

Trinity 19: A Devotional Commentary

Genesis 28:10-17 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” He was afraid, and said, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Ephesians 4:22-28 ...that you put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members of one another. “Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.

Matthew 9:1-8 He entered into a boat, and crossed over, and came into his own city. Behold, they brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a bed. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven you.” Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man blasphemes.” Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” (then he said to the paralytic), “Get up, and take up your mat, and go up to your house.” He arose and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The forgiveness of sins is considered blasphemy to the religious. The forgiveness of sins is considered blasphemous to us. The paralytic's friends did not come to Jesus to have their friend's sins forgiven. They brought the man to Jesus, to have him cured of his paralysis. But Jesus gave the man something much greater--the forgiveness of sins. Jesus does cure the man of his paralysis in order to prove that He does have the power to forgive sins. But the forgiveness of sins is the main thing. The weight of your sins is an even greater burden than paralysis. The theologians of glory in Jesus' day must have thought that this man or his parents had committed some horrible sin that led to the paralysis. We do not want God to forgive the sins of wicked people. We want God to look the other way when we make mistakes but we do not want some God who forgives real sinners especially not one who does so through some word spoken by a human being on earth. Who does this man think he is, forgiving sins? Isn't his act of trying to forgive sins a blasphemous sin?

Many Christians still find this offensive. We might say, "Well that was Jesus after all. He is God. He had that power to forgive sins. But when a minister declares that our sins are forgiven that is completely different." But look at what Jesus says. Jesus points us to his humanity. He said the "Son of Man" has power to forgive sins on earth. The crowds marveled that God had given such authority to men. There is real power in the Word of Christ. When a minister speaks the Word of Christ, that Word really does forgive sin. We do not attain forgiveness by climbing Jacob's ladder. Christ descends to us through Jacob's ladder. Christ descends to us bringing forgiveness in the Word of absolution spoken through the pastor and in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trinity 18: A Devotional Commentary

Deuteronomy 10:12-21 Now, Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you, but to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of Yahweh, and his statutes, which I command you this day for your good? Behold, to Yahweh your God belongs heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein. Only Yahweh had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all peoples, as at this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked. For Yahweh your God, he is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the awesome, who doesn’t respect persons, nor takes reward. He does execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the foreigner, in giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the foreigner; for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear Yahweh your God; you shall serve him; and you shall cling to him, and you shall swear by his name. He is your praise, and he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things, which your eyes have seen.

1 Corinthians 4:1-9 So let a man think of us as Christ’s servants, and stewards of God’s mysteries. Here, moreover, it is required of stewards, that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or by man’s judgment. Yes, I don’t judge my own self. For I know nothing against myself. Yet I am not justified by this, but he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God. Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written, that none of you be puffed up against one another. For who makes you different? And what do you have that you didn’t receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? You are already filled. You have already become rich. You have come to reign without us. Yes, and I wish that you did reign, that we also might reign with you. For, I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last of all, like men sentenced to death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men.

Matthew 22:34-46 But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “Of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’ If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” No one was able to answer him a word, neither did any man dare ask him any more questions from that day forth.

The Pharisees in this passage were not interested in learning from Jesus. They were trying to trip Him up. They wanted to receive a response from Jesus that they could deconstruct and so they send out a lawyer. But Jesus answers in a way that makes deconstruction impossible. He summarizes the law in a simple and straightforward way. We are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Who can argue with that? Then Jesus asks them a question. How David can call the Christ Lord if the Christ is his son? They had no answer and stopped asking questions. He was making them look bad.

The Pharisees regarded the law as doable and spent their time trying to interpret it so that they could do it right. They had some belief about the Messiah as someone who would come and overthrow the Romans but the law was always foremost in their minds. Perhaps even through the keeping of this law they could get the Messiah to show up.

Jesus answer was designed to show them that none of them were actually keeping the law. Even Christians today who ought to know better spend a lot of time talking about how they have given their lives to Jesus or their heart or are on fire for God. They get a list of characteristics in their head that make them "real" Christians and that distinguish them from the "nominal" Christians. We all fall into this trap and think that so-and-so can't possibly be a Christian because he has a problem with a sin that we don't have a problem with or don't think we have a problem with. But the law requires absolute obedience, not just a fleeting feeling of being "filled with the Holy
Spirit." Do you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? Have you been thinking about how much you love God 24 hours a day? Jesus does not say it is enough to try real hard or to be really "sincere." He says you have to actually do it. Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you take half of your income and give it to your neighbor and buy all those things for your neighbor that you want to have? Have you given all your money to the poor? When the real law is laid out before us it becomes clear that we have not kept it--we haven't even come close.

Jesus redirects them from the law and to the Christ. Why does David call him Lord? David calls him Lord because the Christ is not someone who is coming to just set up some earthly kingdom and lay down the law. David calls the Christ Lord, because the Christ is God Himself. God Himself came to earth to fulfill His own law and to take the sins of sinful Pharisees like you and me upon Himself. He did not come to give the "godly" a pat on the back and drive out the heathen. He came to hit "godly" people like us hard with the hammer of the law, expose us for the sinners that we are and save us. He did not come to save us from the heathen world but from our own heathenness.