Friday, July 10, 2020
Thursday, July 9, 2020
In All the Churches of the Saints
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Trade Shame for Sanctification
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
But as for You...
2 Timothy 3 (ESV) But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
“The last days” will be times of difficulty, St. Paul says. When is this? Today, and every past day since Jesus ascended into heaven! So let us not delude ourselves with nostalgia for “the good old days” or with utopian dreams of “progress.” The reality is, we live in “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) until Christ returns in glory.
This is foremost because of Satan: “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12). In fact, the term Paul uses above for “difficulty” is only employed one other time in the New Testament, to describe “fierce” demon-possessed men: “When Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way” (Matthew 8:28). The devil never takes a holiday!
We see manifestations of the diabolical difficulties described by Paul all around us: “lovers of self” look out for #1, “lovers of money” exploit others, “proud, arrogant, abusive” language permeates social media, children who are “disobedient to their parents” behave the same way in schools, people are “ungrateful” for the blessings we enjoy in this good land, “unholy” folks desecrate morality, “heartless” parents and doctors murder the unborn, “unappeasable” special-interest groups rave on, etc.
But let’s get personal: how often have you “slanderously” gossiped, lost “self-control,” acted in a “brutal” manner toward your neighbor, didn’t “love” good but delighted in evil, “treacherously” betrayed a friend, behaved “recklessly,” swelled “with conceit,” loved pleasure rather than God, and dressed up your life with “the appearance of godliness” to hide your secret sins?
“Avoid such people,” says Paul. Lord, have mercy! Do we have to avoid ourselves?
No, while we can recognize some or all of these behaviors in ourselves, St. Paul is describing people who “oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” In other words, unbelievers, who live in manifest impenitence, with their minds set “on the flesh”: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:7-10).
Sinners we are, but in Christ, we have a Savior from sin, death, hell, and the flesh. Baptized into Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart and a new mind, which seeks to “submit to God’s Law” by rejecting vice and embracing virtue. Of course, this happens in great weakness, which certainly keeps us humble, recognizing our need for constant repentance.
Since the world around us is in the hands of the Evil One, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
There is great power in godliness, great power in using the Word and Sacraments, since the Holy Spirit works through them to help us daily put to death the Old Adam with his vices so that a new man may arise each day to live in newness of life. The world will reject the Means of Grace, but as for you, they “make you wise for salvation” and equip you “for every good work.”
Prayer: Merciful God, for freedom You have set us free through Christ’s liberating death and resurrection. In this freedom, teach us to live in the fruit of the Spirit given us in our Baptism that we may bear in our bodies the fulfillment of the Law as we love our neighbors as ourselves; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Monday, July 6, 2020
To Judge or Not to Judge?
Luke 6:36-42 (ESV) Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
St. Paul writes, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)
This passage makes us uncomfortable. Paul says to judge those inside the church. But Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). Which is right? To judge or not to judge?—that is the question!
Here is an apparent contradiction between Jesus and Paul, and our inclination would be to go with the Son of God rather than His Apostle, right? That is the route liberal Protestantism has taken, playing Jesus off against Paul, as if Jesus’ words trump Paul’s, or as if Paul was just speaking to a specific timebound situation and his words don’t apply today, while Jesus was providing a universal, eternal principle for all of us to follow.
Of course, Jesus goes on a few verses later to tell Christians that they can point out the faults of others and call them to repentance, provided that we do not hypocritically refuse to repent of our own failings first: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41). People like to rip that passage out of context and use it to exclude the possibility of anyone ever chastising or rebuking another person. But they omit what follows: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).
Once the log is removed, we can see clearly to identify the speck in our brother’s eye and help him out of his own transgression. This is what Paul says elsewhere: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The one who is “spiritual”—that is, living in repentance and being led by the Holy Spirit—actually is required to gently and lovingly try to help the erring brother recognize his sin and repent. This is not an act of judgmentalism, but of love, seeking the repentance and salvation of the sinner.
Repentance is a turning away from sin and a turning back to the Lord and His forgiveness, and it is integral to the Church’s message. After all, Jesus did say, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). And He began His public ministry with this call as well: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The Book of Concord also shows that repentance does involve turning away from sin: “When repentance and faith in Christ (Acts 20:21), or repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46–47), are mentioned as distinct, to repent means nothing other than to truly acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to stop doing them” (Formula of Concord, V, 8). If no one tells me which sins to confess, seek forgiveness for, and stop doing, how will I ever repent of anything?
In fact, when Jesus says “Judge not,” He is using the word “judge” to mean “publicly issue a verdict about someone” (and perhaps even punish them), and He is speaking about the way Christians are to treat one another. In Matthew 18, He provides further insight about this. When another Christian sins against you, you are not to judge that person by going and telling everyone else about it—you are to go directly to that individual and call them to repentance and reconciliation: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17)
With this passage in mind, we can see that Paul and Jesus are in perfect agreement. Public judgment is not authorized when a one-on-one confrontation about sin is called for, but if another Christian refuses to repent and the issue escalates, other Christians and perhaps the whole congregation must become involved.
The situation in 1 Corinthians 5 had become a churchwide, public issue—not merely a private matter between two Christians. A man was having a public affair with his stepmother and apparently had no intention of repenting (1 Corinthians 5:1). The Corinthian congregation apparently was going the liberal Protestant route and tolerating the public immorality. But Paul says, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2). The judgment of excommunication Paul renders is equivalent to Jesus’ “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” And the goal of this excommunication was “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5), that is, the Church would regain a brother when he would recognize that he was hellbound, repent, and be restored to the Communion of the Church.
As we have seen from Jesus and Paul, the Christian Church must judge what is sin and what is not, and what is true doctrine and what is false. Jesus’ Words about judgment do not forbid the Church’s judgment of public sin or false doctrine, but actually uphold them. The Office of the Keys demands that we judge those within the Church on the basis of their public words and deeds. When public, open, unrepentance is being shown by a member of the Church—then the Small Catechism says the Keys must be exercised: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
Prayer (LSB 508):
1. The day is surely drawing near
When Jesus, God’s anointed,
In all His power shall appear
As judge whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth,
And flames on flames shall ravage earth
As Scripture long has warned us.
5. My Savior paid the debt I owe
And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation!
7. O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
In fear and tribulation.
O hear and grant our fervent plea:
Come, mighty judge, and set us free
From death and ev’ry evil. Amen.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Liberty or Death
Friday, July 3, 2020
Prodigal Son, Forgiving Father
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (ESV) Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable… “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”
In Luke 15, Jesus tells us the parable of the Prodigal Son (prodigal means wasteful) and his Forgiving Father in order to teach self-righteous Pharisees of all times that the grace of God stops short of no man, that God does not desire the death of a sinner but rather he turn from his ways and live, that God desires all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
When the wasteful son took his inheritance and ran, he wasted more than material goods; he wasted his father’s love for him. When the younger son asks for his inheritance early he basically was saying to his father, “I wish you were dead. I want no part of life with you anymore. I’d rather go off and spend my time and money with people I don’t even know.” When Jesus told this story, the people who heard it would have expected the father to blow up at the son in anger and deny his request. But the father did not; he graciously granted his son’s wishes.
The son quickly liquidated his share of the inheritance and headed to a foreign land with lots of cash in hand. He squandered it all, living recklessly. After the money was gone, the son was so desperate he became a servant for a foreigner just to survive, doing something that a good Hebrew would have found unthinkable: feeding pigs (the Old Testament deems pigs unclean, and Israelites couldn’t eat or touch them). He found himself broke and starving in another land, but finally came to his senses. He realized that his father’s hired servants were much better off than he was, so he planned to return, groveling, and make a deal with his father: he would give up the title of “son” in exchange for a position of servant in his father’s house. It wouldn’t be ideal, but that way at least he wouldn’t be starving and broke.
So the son headed home to grovel and bargain for acceptance, but his father’s behavior was totally unexpected. He still loved his son and even stood outside gazing longingly into the distance, hoping for his son’s return. And when he saw the son on the horizon, the father was so moved with compassion that he ran to embrace and kiss his son. In that culture it would have been humiliating for a noble man to run: Aristotle wrote that “Great men never run in public.”
But the father was so overjoyed to see his son that he tossed societal convention aside, and embraced and kissed him. And remember what the son was doing before he came back? He was a pig herder, so he was filthy and smelly, yet the father didn’t care. He loved the son anyway. He was just delighted to have his lost son home again. This parable’s all about the father’s wasteful, unconditional, forgiving love. The sin is covered. Now all was made right again between the father and the prodigal son.
So who is the prodigal son? “Surely not I, Lord?” Yes, it is you. Read yourself into this parable. You didn’t birth yourself into the Father’s household, but even when you were dead in sin, He made you His child by baptizing you into His Son, giving you a place in His eternal home. But have you responded with complete gratitude and obedience and love for the Father, or have you despised Him and His gifts by wandering into sin?
You are the prodigal. By your sins you have said to Him, “I wish you were dead; I want no part of life with you; I’d rather go be elsewhere.” But how does the Father respond to your sinful efforts to run away from Him? He stands waiting with open arms, longing for your return, because He has already slaughtered His Lamb, His only-begotten Son, in order to atone for all your sinful straying. He has no wrath toward you. All He wants is for you to come home, so through His Word He sends His Holy Spirit out to call you to your senses, to call you to repent and return home. When you come back to His house, He embraces you and absolves you: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When you are a child of God in Christ, you have a forgiving Father in heaven!
Prayer (LSB 977:4-5):
4. As a father, ever yearning,
Longing to be reconciled,
Seeks the prodigal’s returning,
Loving still the wayward child,
So my many sins and errors
Find a tender, pard’ning God,
Chast’ning frailty with His rod,
Not in vengeance with His terrors.
All things else have but their day;
God’s great love abides for aye.
5. Since there’s neither change nor coldness
In God’s love that on me smiled,
I now lift my hands in boldness,
Coming to You as Your child.
Grant me grace, O God, I pray You,
That I may with all my might,
All my lifetime, day and night,
Love and trust You and obey You
And, when this brief life is o’er,
Praise and love You evermore. Amen.