Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I intend to fill in the gaps for Sundays and Feast Days that I have missed on my Devotional Commentaries and then dedicate most of my time to topical issues and book reviews--something that no pastor should ever do. But I'm not a pastor so it's okay. Some of my commentaries are better than others and some could certainly use some improvement but I feel like my personal goal is accomplished and I don't have enough creativity to continue writing them year after year. My own writing helped me understand the one year lectionary better and I hope it provided an example of how easy a Christ-centered interpretation that distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel really is in a very bare bones way. A real sermon in a real church should also apply the law and Gospel personally to the needs of the congregation but unfortunately most don't even get the basic bare bones right and it's really not that hard. Following the lectionary and preaching Christ-crucified is actually easier in my opinion than having to choose a text for yourself and find some random topic to talk about--and it's better for you. It's part of your complete breakfast. It's secretly nutritious and magically delicious but not as fashionable.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist: A Devotional Commentary

Revelation 1:1-6 This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John, who testified to God’s word, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, about everything that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is at hand. John, to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from God, who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 John 1:1-10 That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled. This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John 21:19-24 Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” Then Peter, turning around, saw a disciple following. This was the disciple whom Jesus sincerely loved, the one who had also leaned on Jesus’ breast at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is going to betray You?” Peter seeing him, said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I desire that he stay until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” This saying therefore went out among the brothers, that this disciple wouldn’t die. Yet Jesus didn’t say to him that he wouldn’t die, but, “If I desire that he stay until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies about these things, and wrote these things. We know that his witness is true.

Today, we commemorate the disciple whom Jesus loved. According to some traditions he was martyred, according to others he died a natural death. He is one of the sons of thunder who wanted to call down fiery judgment on those who rejected the Gospel. He was a sectarian who wanted to stop those outside of the small band of Apostles that performed miracles in Jesus' name. But in his Gospel he shows the universality of God's love. John came to see his own sinfulness and his own foolish self-righteousness. He came to see that to say you have no sin is to call God a liar.

Your nationality or denominational affiliation will not save you. Only Christ can save you. In the waters of baptism Christ washes you in his blood. If you say you are no longer a sinner because you are a Christian you are a liar. But if you confess that you are a real sinner, God will give you real forgiveness.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Law is the Gospel: My Wife is Food

It's quiz time. Who teaches that "The Law is the Gospel"?
     a. Thomas Aquinas
     b. Herman Hanko
     c. Federal Vision guys
     d. Karl Barth
     e. Mohamed
     f. John Frame
    g. John MacArthur
    h. Jehovah Witnesses
     i. Mormons
     j. The Pope

If you answered "All of the Above" you win. All teach rather explicitly that the law is the Gospel. Some of those of a more Calvinistic bent on the list are often accusing their fellow Calvinists on the list of being heretics of one sort or another but they are agreed that the law is the Gospel. A much longer list could be made of pastors who do not explicitly state that the law is the Gospel but act like it is. Moses is not Jesus.

Both Law and Gospel are good and both are from God but they are not the same thing. Food is a gift from God and so is my wife but my wife is not food and food is not my wife. I can only imagine the horrible results of thinking that my wife is food or that my food is my wife but they would not be as bad as if I were to think that the law is the Gospel.

The majority of the teachers above seem to think that what is most important for the converted Christian to hear is the law. But it is clear from the Scriptures that just like everyone else, the Christian needs both law and Gospel. The fear seems to be that if too much Gospel is given, then the Christian will fall into sin. But these churches still have all the sins found in churches that distinguish between Law and Gospel. According to Paul in Romans 7 and according to all observation, the preaching of the Law makes people sin worse. The Law does not make people better. It's counter intuitive but only the Gospel makes people better. Only the Gospel can heal us.

If the Law were the Gospel, Paul would not be writing to the Galatians and telling them not to return to the Law and speaking of them as being bewitched. Those who say that the Law is the Gospel seem to be acting in the same way that Paul's opponents were. Oh good, you're a Christian now. Enough of the forgiveness stuff, here's a list of rules to follow.

Saying that the Law is the Gospel always results in weakening both the Law and the Gospel. Christ preached the Law in such a way that every person present knew that they were real sinners worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. Those who say that the Law is the Gospel generally make the Law doable and preach the law unlawfully according to Paul's first letter to Timothy. The Gospel becomes a crutch for when you don't quite get it right. The Gospel turns into something that is not for real sinners but for the righteous. Jesus did not come for the righteous but for sinners.

Often Psalm 19 or 119 are quoted as proof that the Law is the Gospel. In Psalm 19, David says that the "Law" converts the soul. But the Hebrew word Torah has a much wider range of meaning. It more literally means simply "teaching" and refers to the entire body of teaching that the author had access to in what we would call the Old Testament. It would not refer to simply a body of legislation to be obeyed. Those who insist that Psalm 19 is saying that the Law in particular converts the soul are making the same mistake as the Jews. If they are right then there is no need for Jesus at all.

The First Sunday After Christmas: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 11:1-5 A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. His delight will be in the fear of Yahweh. He will not judge by the sight of his eyes, neither decide by the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with equity for the humble of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his waist.

Galatians 4:1-7 But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a bondservant, though he is lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed by the father. So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental principles of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children. And because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Luke 2:33-40 Joseph and his mother were marveling at the things which were spoken concerning him, and Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn’t depart from the temple, worshipping with fastings and petitions night and day. Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem. When they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. The child was growing, and was becoming strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Jesus came to do what you could not do. Jesus came to fulfill the law for you. Even as a baby he fulfilled the law. Simeon's prophecy put to rest any false ideas that Mary and Joseph may have had about their son growing up and establishing an earthly kingdom. Jesus' tiny little baby hands would one day be pierced for you. From the day of his birth the shadow of the cross hangs over Jesus. From the day of His birth, many wanted Him dead. Even as a baby, Jesus is an offense. The fact that God had to become a baby to save you shows how wicked your "righteous" acts really are. Jesus coming means a falling and rising for many. For those who try harder, it means a falling--it means a declaration of judgment. For those see their own utter sinfulness and trust in the righteousness of Christ alone--they will be declared righteous.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Nativity of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38 It happened in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up. Moses raised up the tabernacle, and laid its sockets, and set up its boards, and put in its bars, and raised up its pillars. He spread the covering over the tent, and put the roof of the tabernacle above on it, as Yahweh commanded Moses. He took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the poles on the ark, and put the mercy seat above on the ark. He brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as Yahweh commanded Moses. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses wasn’t able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud stayed on it, and Yahweh’s glory filled the tabernacle. When the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys; but if the cloud wasn’t taken up, then they didn’t travel until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

Titus 3:4-7 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Luke 2:15-20 It happened, when the angels went away from them into the sky, that the shepherds said one to another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem, now, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the feeding trough. When they saw it, they publicized widely the saying which was spoken to them about this child. All who heard it wondered at the things which were spoken to them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, just as it was told them.

The Shepherds responded in faith the words of the angels and went to Bethlehem to see the Christ. Mary was the ark of the covenant but now the Christ child is born. God came to tabernacle among us. Despite His lowly and fragile appearance, by faith the Shepherds preached the Good News of the birth of the Christ child after visiting Him.

Mary represents the church. In order to find the Christ child, the shepherds had to find Mary. Today, the church is where people must come to find Christ. If the church is doing anything instead of handing out Jesus, it is no longer a Christian church. Do not despise the gathering of the church because where the church is there you will find the Christ. Now, just as then, Christ comes in humility. When the Shepherds went to see Jesus He didn't have a halo over His head, He just looked like an ordinary baby. He certainly didn't look like God. It doesn't appear that Christ is is present in the church today but He certainly is. He comes in the preaching of the Word and is given to us in the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of our sins.

Just as Mary pondered these words in her heart, the Church ponders the Words of Christ and brings them to others. These Words bring life because they are the Words of the Word. They are not just necessary to create some kind of conversion experience, they are our daily food and drink.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Eve of the Nativity: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 9:2-7 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined. You have multiplied the nation. You have increased their joy. They rejoice before you according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as in the day of Midian. For all the armor of the armed man in the noisy battle, and the garments rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will perform this.

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.

Luke 2:1-14 Now it happened in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant. It happened, while they were there, that the day had come that she should give birth. She brought forth her firstborn son, and she wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn. There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The world took no notice and had you been there you would have taken no notice either but God was born. God comes to bring salvation to all men but we still take little notice. God comes to bring us salvation in the Divine Service. If we go to the Divine Service we wait for it to be over and think about other things. Some deny that God really comes in the Divine Service just as they deny that He came in the Nativity. They may allow for some spiritual feelings about God but no real presence of God in the sacrament of the altar--that's all just superstition. Some of us pay lip service to real bodily presence but don't act as if He's really there. We think we need more outlandish means of bringing God to people. But still God comes whether we acknowledge Him or not. We still receive the same Jesus that was incarnate and born of the virgin Mary. We receive the same Jesus who created the universe and provides food for us every day lying in a feeding trough. We receive the Jesus who was wrapped in burial cloths on the very day of His birth signifying that He came to die for us.

Our king comes to us whether we like it or not in the Divine Service and He will come again in judgment. The unbeliever can only fear and dread His coming. The unbeliever may deny that He comes but He still comes. His coming is our Blessed Hope. He will resurrect our bodies, He will give us true life. There will be no end to His reign.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle: A Devotional Commentary

Judges 6:36-40 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then shall I know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have spoken.” It was so; for he rose up early on the next day, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. Gideon said to God, “Don’t let your anger be kindled against me, and I will speak but this once. Please let me make a trial just this once with the fleece. Let it now be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” God did so that night: for it was dry on the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.

Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without blemish before him in love; having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely bestowed favor on us in the Beloved,

John 20:24-31 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn’t with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace be to you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas. Thomas is often referred to as doubting Thomas but in reality he is unbelieving Thomas. Thomas missed church service one Sunday and missed out on seeing the ressurected Jesus. The other members of the congregation told Thomas about Jesus' appearance but Thomas just thought they were nuts. Thomas demanded physical evidence. The following Sunday Jesus showed up and provided Thomas with that physical evidence. Jesus ignored the Christological concerns who would argue that in order to be truly human He couldn't pass through walls and stood right in their midst. Jesus did not scold Thomas but absolved Thomas before Thomas even had a chance to apologize for his unbelief.

In the Lord's Supper, Jesus gives us His very body to eat and His very blood to drink but they cannot be seen. All we see are bread and wine but Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God is really there. There is great comfort in seeing Jesus' forgiveness of unbelieving Thomas. Some like to boast in their great faith but we all doubt from time to time. Our doubt and unbelief is worthy of God's eternal punishment but instead of condemnation Jesus comes and brings forgiveness.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rorate Coeli: A Devotional Commentary

Deuteronomy 18:15-19 Yahweh your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him. This is according to all that you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I not die.” Yahweh said to me, “They have well said that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brothers, like you; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him. It shall happen, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, “Rejoice!” Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

John 1:19-28 This is John’s testimony, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He declared, and didn’t deny, but he declared, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” They said therefore to him, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” The ones who had been sent were from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know. He is the one who comes after me, who is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to loosen.” These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Faithful ministers point us to Christ just as John the Baptizer did. When a minister pronounces that your sins are forgiven you may be offended. Who gave him the right to do that? He does not do it by his own authority but in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. He baptizes in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. The faithful minister proclaims the coming Christ, not because the minister is special--the minister is not even worthy to take off Jesus' shoes for Him. But the minister proclaims that Jesus comes because he has been commanded by Jesus to do so.

If you refuse to listen to this message given to you by the minister, you refuse Christ Himself. You have lost everything. But by faith you receive everything by the Word spoken through the minister. You receive forgiveness of sins, you receive the very body and blood of Christ through the Word joined with the bread and wine, you receive eternal life. Rejoice! Your king comes!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gaudete: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 40:1-11 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak comfortably to Jerusalem; and call out to her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of Yahweh’s hand double for all her sins.” The voice of one who calls out, “Prepare the way of Yahweh in the wilderness! Make a level highway in the desert for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. The glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.” The voice of one saying, “Cry!” One said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because Yahweh’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are like grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.” You who tell good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who tell good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength. Lift it up. Don’t be afraid. Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold, your God!” Behold, the Lord Yahweh will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him. Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom. He will gently lead those who have their young.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 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.

Matthew 11:2-10 Now when John heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.” As these went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in king’s houses. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

You king comes to you! He gives the blind sight, makes the lame to walk, cleanses the lepers, makes the deaf hear, raises the dead brings Good News to the poor. He comes to heal you of your blindness, your lameness, your leprosy, your deafness, your death, and your poverty. Do not deny that you are all of these things. Don't try to pretend you're just fine because you think you're a little better off than the other guy. You are dead! Christ sends forth His ministers to prepare the way. Christ sends forth ministers to raise dead people like you. Christ does not work these things through military might or even great showmanship but through the preaching of the Gospel, baptism, and the Lord's Supper administered through the instrument of humble ministers. If ministers abandon the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments for fads or interesting factoids or a display of their knowledge of the original languages or lectures on theology or just whatever happens to be bugging them that week they will gain worldly success, they will dine in king's houses. But they will not be true prophets of God. A true prophet brings the same Gospel week after week. He brings the Lord's Supper week after week. A true prophet faithfully administers baptism.

None of these things are flashy. None of these things demand the world's attention. In the case of John the Baptizer, he landed himself in prison for being a faithful minister and was eventually killed. But the true prophet knows that even if he is thrown into prison, he has been set free by the Gospel of Christ. Even if they kill him, he has received true life from Christ. The true prophet knows that those who adhere to something other than the Gospel, even though they appear to be living it up, are bringing a message of death. They are only fooling the dead into thinking that they are really alive. Only the true Gospel really brings life. The true Gospel calls us what we are. The true Gospel says you are dead but Christ has died for you and comes to bring you life.

Your king comes to you! Your king resurrects you! Your king gives you life!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who Owns the Bible?: Toward the Recovery of a Christian Hermeneutic by Karl Paul Donfried

I picked up a used copy of Who Owns the Bible? for less than a dollar and it looked promising and it started well but then went South after about 14 pages. The book does a good job of showing the folly of the fundamentalists of the right who do things like try to justify the Iraq war by pointing to Old Testament wars as well as the fundamentalists of the left who create a Jesus that would never have offended anyone. He also shows how mainstream Christianity has neglected the Bible to its own detriment. Then He calls upon us to develop a Trinitarian hermeneutic centered upon the death and resurrection of Christ. At this point I'm standing on my chair and cheering for Karl and then all the goodness comes to a screeching halt with the section on why we still need the historical critical method of interpretation. Up to this point Donfried had been using some of the vocabulary of neo-liberalism but I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Donfried rightly cries out against the church for abdicating its authority to interpret the Scriptures to the academy but doesn't seem to go nearly far enough in his application of this principle. He seems utterly convinced of academies assertions about all the letters and passages that Paul could not possibly have written and seems to buy into one of the New Perspectives on Paul. I felt like I was back at Calvin College. While at Calvin, one of the worst classes I took was on the letters of Paul. We used two textbooks--one was by Stendahl and the other by E.P. Sanders. While reading Donfried, I kept thinking to myself that this guy sounds like some mixture of Stendahl and E.P. Sanders and then the Stendahl and E.P. Sanders quotes started in abundance. I would have expected as much if I just grabbed a random modern book off the shelf about the letters of Paul, but for a book that claims to be critical of abdicating authority to the academy this books spends a lot of time abdicating authority to the academy.

Despite claims made at the beginning of the book, I think that Donfried just thinks that modern liberal scholarship has gone just a bit too far. He stakes out a position but does not stick to it with any consistency.

The bulk of the book deals with morality. Donfried believes that the Sermon on the Mount is a moral lesson and he seems to regard the purpose of Biblical interpretation to extract moral behaviors from the Bible. I wouldn't be too surprised by this except for the fact that Donfried is a "Lutheran" pastor. I'm not sure if he's still in the ELCA or not. I would expect him to at least engage in some kind of argument about the deficiencies of the historic Law/Gospel paradigm but he doesn't even show that he is aware of it. He never even entertains the possibility that Jesus could be crushing the people with the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Donfried is critical of the Theology of Acceptance promoted by liberalism and contrasts it with what he calls a Theology of Redemption but seems completely unaware of Luther's Theology of the Cross.

Although Donfried claims to promote a Trinitarian hermeneutic centered around the death and resurrection of Christ, he seems to regard Christianity as little more than a system of moralities. Donfried's version of the law is a softened one. It does not seem be a law that convicts all of sin but only those involved in gross sins and Christ becomes little more than a moral teacher.

Recovering a Christian Hermeneutic doesn't even seem to be Donfried's real goal. Donfried's real goal seems to be to argue against homosexual ordination. He spends quite a bit of time on it. But his ability to argue against homosexual ordination seems to be severely weakened by the things he wants to retain. He can't really let go of the academy and liberal scholarship and he doesn't want to give up women's ordination. Donfried does not explain why Paul would point to the creation ordinance in 1 Timothy 2 if Paul simply was arguing against women teaching in a particular situation. He just points to some ambiguous passages about women in the church. The Gentiles had priestesses in their pagan temples so the concept of a female pastor would not have seemed offensive to them. Paul was certainly not afraid to break with Jewish conventions when he believed they were wrong. Despite the author's claims to the contrary I think it might actually be easier to make a case for homosexual ordination than it is for women't ordination. Using Donfried's paradigm it seems almost arbitrary. He even acknowledges than in some situations there can be more than one right answer. Donfried even makes the claim that the concept of ordination is not spoken of in the New Testament. I think he's absolutely wrong but if there is no ordination then it wouldn't seem to matter if you ordained a homosexual or bisexual or even a monkey.

A true recovery of a Christian hermeneutic would REALLY be Trinitarian and focused on the death and resurrection of Christ and not just pretend to be. Christ-crucified would be the central message. The Bible is all about Jesus, not moral code. The Regula Fidei contained in the ecumenical creeds contain the proper interpretive lens through which to read the Scriptures. The church would seriously consider the interpretations of Scripture put forward by the church fathers. The church would stop abdicating its responsibility to transmit the text to the academy and stop abdicating its authority to translate the text to Bible societies. The church would regard the Bible as the Sacred text and not just as a religious text.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Populus Zion: A Devotional Commentary

Malachi 4:1-6 “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies. “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

Romans 15:4-13 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God. Now I say that Christ has been made a servant of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore will I give praise to you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” Again he says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” Again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Let all the peoples praise him.” Again, Isaiah says, “There will be the root of Jesse, he who arises to rule over the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles will hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke 21:25-36 There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and on the earth anxiety of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the waves; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to happen, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” He told them a parable. “See the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see it and know by your own selves that the summer is already near. Even so you also, when you see these things happening, know that the Reign of God is near. Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away. So be careful, or your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. For it will come like a snare on all those who dwell on the surface of all the earth. Therefore be watchful all the time, praying that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Your King comes to you! The Reign of God is near! There are many who by their plans or through their dreams hope to set the world ablaze or set the world on fire. Why someone would want to do this is beyond my understanding. Melting flesh doesn't sound like a good time to me. But when Christ returns He will set the earth ablaze in judgment!

Remember the law of Moses! If Christ returns and you have not kept the law of Moses you will be found worthy of being set ablaze and burning eternally in the unquenchable fire! Close doesn't cut it and you aren't even close. You can't go an hour without breaking God's law by some ungodly thought. You ought to be trembling in fear at the thought of the coming of Jesus.

But you have been washed in the blood of Jesus. Jesus has kept Moses' law for you. Do not put your hope in good investments or in hopes that the world will get better or in your own moral improvement. Do not put your hope in the religion of "Christian" movies where resurrection occurs without death. Faith in Christ does not give you an automatic ticket to riches and success and might even give you a one way ticket to disaster. In the Scriptures and throughout history faith in Christ has caused marriages to fall apart, lose their jobs, and be killed. Do not put your hope in Christianizing the United States. The United States will fall to pieces along with the rest of the universe. But when you see these things happening, lift up your head because your King comes to you! Jesus clothes you with His own righteousness and you will escape the judgment of the last day.