Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 3

More than Mammals

Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV) Then 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 heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 5:1-4 (ESV) This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters.

Yesterday I noted that the fact that we all bleed red is a sign of our common humanity, most importantly that the human blood of Jesus was shed for our redemption. However, one might object that other mammals bleed red, too. Therefore, we must add a further point: what separates humans from other animals is that we are created in the image and likeness of God.

As a consequence, Christians often speak of the inherent worth, dignity, and sanctity of human life. Sadly, only about 39% of Americans hold this view today, as a recent survey has shown. The same survey showed that an estimated 69% of Americans believe that humans are “basically good.” If we follow God’s Word, 100% should hold to the former view, while 0% should hold to the latter.

Concerning the value God places on human life, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). What value has God placed upon humanity? The cost of His Son’s life, who shed His precious blood and endured suffering and death to redeem us from sin, death, and hell!

Concerning our “basic goodness,” this is just plain wrong: we should be talking about our “basic badness.”

One aspect of the image of God in Adam and Eve was righteousness, that is, being without sin. Just as God is without sin, so mankind was created sinless and righteous. When Adam and Eve sinned, they completely lost the righteousness that they originally had from being created in the image of God. Now, instead of original righteousness, every human is born with original sin. As we sing in the hymn, “From hearts depraved, to evil prone, / Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone; / God’s image lost, the darkened soul / Seeks not nor finds its heav’nly goal” (LSB 562:3).

Genesis 5 (above) bears this out, showing that Seth was born not directly in the image of God but in the image of his father, Adam. Then Moses, in that rather depressing chapter, goes on to explain the consequences of sin, first for Adam and then for each generation after: “and he died.” As St. Paul says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Being born in this sinful condition, we are inherently guilty and without righteousness. However, Jesus Christ is the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary and to live the perfectly righteous life that we could not. He died to atone for the guilt of mankind’s sin. He has become “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). God restores us to righteousness by baptizing us into His Son. Because we are in Christ, when God looks at us, He does not see our sin but sees the righteousness of Christ.

By the Holy Spirit’s work, we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5;17) and are having the image and likeness of God restored to us through faith in Christ (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24), only to be completed in the Resurrection on the last day. In imitation of God, we then strive to love our neighbor and value all human life, even that of our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

While it is proper to say that we lost the image of God in the Fall since we lost our original righteousness, St. James does not shy away from appealing to the fact that people are “made in the likeness of God” as a reason not to curse them. He writes, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10).

So we can still speak of “the likeness of God” in human nature, or “vestiges of God’s image,” even after the Fall. That, along with our redemption through Christ, certainly makes us more than mammals!

Prayer (LSB 422):
On my heart imprint Your image,
    Blessèd Jesus, King of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
    Never may Your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
    Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
    And my glory and salvation! Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monday of Trinity 3

We All Bleed Red

"Blessed are those who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb"
Romans 5:12-21 (ESV) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notwithstanding the popular sentiment, Aggies don’t in fact bleed maroon, but red, like everyone else. I’ve had plenty of cuts to prove it. That we all bleed red is undeniable, and it provides evidence that we are all are human, have fallen into sin with Adam, and are in need of redemption.

It’s what’s inside, not outside, that counts when it comes to facing up to God: “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Window dressing won’t help: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).

Our hearts are in bad shape: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

The love in God’s heart moved Him to send His Son to be our Brother and Redeemer: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Baptized into Him, we are washed in His blood and become children of God: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

The blood of Jesus is for all nations, all people, all sinners. In heaven, they sing to Jesus: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

And here is what we will experience in heaven, with all those who bled red in this life and who were washed in the blood of the Lamb: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ … These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10, 14).

Prayer (LSB 431):

1. Not all the blood of beasts
    On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
    Or wash away the stain.

2. But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
    Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
    And richer blood than they.

3. My faith would lay its hand
    On that dear head of Thine,
While as a penitent I stand,
    And there confess my sin.

4. My soul looks back to see
    The burden Thou didst bear
When hanging on the cursèd tree;
    I know my guilt was there.

5. Believing, we rejoice
    To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice
    And sing His bleeding love. Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 2

God Is Love

1 John 4:16-21 (ESV) So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

St. John writes, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him” (1 John 4:16). God is love. But how do we come to know and believe this? Can we gaze at the creation and know it? Can we infer it from the miracle of life? No, the evidence of God’s love for creation is ambiguous, since along with the beauty and wonder of creation come harsh realities like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and all manner of man-made disaster. Likewise, the miracle of life is counterbalanced by the reality of death. So from these things alone, we cannot know that God is love.

Here is how God shows His love: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).

In the Greco-Roman world into which the Epistle to the Romans was written, there were four general reasons why a person would consider dying for another: 1) conjugal love, the love between a husband and a wife; 2) shared philosophical commitment; 3) friendship; 4) family ties. But an ancient Greek or Roman would have scratched his head at Romans 5, and so do we, if we are really listening to it. We might be able to imagine giving up our life in the place of someone we consider good or righteous, our husbands or wives, fellow Christians, friends or relatives, but look at the people Jesus died in the place of: those who are powerless and ungodly (Rom 5:6), unrighteous and no good (implied in Rom 5:7), sinners (Rom 5:8), those wicked and lost in sin (implied in Rom 5:9), and here’s the clincher: He died for His enemies, those who were not at peace with God but rather violently rebelled against Him (Rom 5:10-11). Those are the people Christ died for.

The depth of the love of God is that He loved His enemies, us sinners, and He proved His love by sending His Son. And then His Son showed His love for the Father and for us by laying down His life for us. And God’s love for us removes the fear of death and damnation, since believers in Christ will be saved by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

And that also changes everything about how we live in this world toward one another. We now show our love for God by loving our neighbors as ourselves. St. John writes, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21).

This is a teaching that we tend to neglect. We enthusiastically receive the message of God’s love for us, but when we learn that this means that we also must love our neighbors as ourselves, or when we hear Jesus say that we must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, well, that’s a bit unreasonable, isn’t it? But this is the love that flows from believing that God is love, and that His love has moved Him to give us all of Himself in Christ, and eternal communion with Him. St. John writes, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” May we always abide in the love of God in Christ!

Prayer: Glory and honor, praise and thanks be to You, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for all the mercy and faithfulness You have shown to our congregation. Your Word has not returned to You void, but You have here gathered a people that knows You and fears Your name. Give us Your Holy Spirit that we may at all times see the good things in this congregation and praise and thank You for them. Bless Your Word in times to come that it may preserve the faithful in Your grace, convert those who do not yet belong to You, and bring back the erring and straying. Gather Your people as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and shelter Your congregation with Your love; for You live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday of Trinity 2

Born again in Christ

1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “born-again Christian.” This phrase is not particularly helpful because it is redundant. It’s like saying, “Water is wet.” Of course all water is wet. Likewise, all Christians are born again of God. You cannot be a Christian unless you have been born again of God. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).

But it is a common misunderstanding that being “born again” involves your own decision to follow Christ. How many of you decided to be born? Did any of you inform your parents about when a good time to conceive would be? Those are ridiculous questions, but they are no more ridiculous than saying, “I decided to be born again on such and such date. I told the Lord that I would be born again.” Jesus devastates any human notion that we contribute anything to becoming Christians; we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless God gives rebirth to us. The Holy Spirit awakens faith in Christ in our hearts and leads us to Holy Baptism, where we are given a new life. In Baptism we know for certain that we are born of water and the Spirit and are born again of God.

When the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” are said alongside the application of water, then we can say with certainty that a person dead in sin has been born again as a child of God. In Titus 3, St. Paul points us to our Baptism for certainty of our salvation, when He writes, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

If anyone ever asks you, “Are you a born-again Christian?”, then say, “If by ‘born-again Christian’ you mean someone who believes in Jesus and has been baptized, then, yes. I know that I have been born again because I have been baptized into Christ, and He promises that this bath ensures that I am born again of water and the Holy Spirit.” Whether you were nine hours old, 9 days old or 90 years old when you received Holy Baptism, you can identify that day as your birthday into eternal life.

In Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit makes you a holy and precious child of God. That, my friends, is the greatest miracle of all. It is like the creation of the world all over again. Your God is the one Abraham believed in, who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). Before coming to faith in Christ and being brought to Baptism, you were spiritually dead, but in Your Baptism the Holy Spirit gives you the life of Christ. Baptism gives the assurance that you are a child of God in His Kingdom through your Brother and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Job said, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not” (Job 14:1-2). And then Job asks the immortal question: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14).

Your Savior Jesus and your Baptism into Him say to you, “Yes. You shall live again.” Jesus says in John 3 that if you believe in Him and are born of water and the Holy Spirit, you will see the Kingdom of God. Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. And we know that whatever God’s Word and promises declare, He will stand behind: “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Grant this Lord, to us all.

Prayer: Merciful Father, through Holy Baptism You called us to be Your own possession. Grant that our lives may evidence the working of Your Holy Spirit in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, according to the image of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 2

Deliverance from Every Trouble

Psalm 34 (ESV) I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

There is no shortage of atheists who declare prayer to be worthless. You can even find some who cite “empirical” studies to that effect, and even accuse Christians of twisting the results in their own favor.

In fact, I am no fan of trying to prove the efficacy of prayer. What a silly endeavor, considering that God’s own Son prayed for the cup of suffering to be removed from Him, but the answer was, “No!”.

I regularly point out that there is no power in prayer; there is only power in God. Prayer is our response to the fact that He is “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and that He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear and answer—according to His good and gracious will, of course.

Therein lies the rub. Old Adam doesn’t want God’s will to be done, but his own will: “My will be done on earth, even if it isn’t done in heaven.”

Psalm 34:19 has always been a tough one for my sinful flesh to swallow: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”

Ha! How many afflictions I face on a daily basis, yet deliverance is not forthcoming (or even possible, apart from my loved one rising from the dead and returning to my presence)?

There are two ways to solve my problem with Psalm 34, both related. One: we are afflicted in this life, but in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” we will experience deliverance from our all our afflictions.

Secondly, and integrally related: Psalm 34:19 in Hebrew describes “the righteous” in the singular, which is a reference to “the Righteous One” (Acts 7:52), Jesus Christ Himself.

This is the only right way to read the Psalms: with Jesus as the primary referent, and with the rest of us as inheritors of His Words of prayer, praise, lament, and thanksgiving.

That’s what’s going on in Psalm 34:20, the next verse: “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken”? That’s Jesus, too:

“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’” (John 19:31-37)

In fulfillment of God’s Word, not a bone in Jesus’ body was broken, but He “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Psalm 34 concludes: “Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

Again “the righteous” is not generic, but He is “the Righteous One.” Those who hate Him will be condemned. But the LORD Jesus Christ has redeemed the life of His servants, for He is the one “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”

And none who take refuge in Jesus will be condemned!

Prayer: Almighty God, heavenly Father, give us grace to trust You during this time of illness and distress. In mercy put an end to the epidemic that afflicts us. Grant relief to those who suffer, and comfort all that mourn. Sustain all medical personnel in their labors, and cause Your people ever to serve You in righteousness and holiness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wednesday of Trinity 2

Suffering Is Useful for You

Hebrews 2:9-18 (ESV) But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

As we see so much suffering in the world around us and our own lives, we ask, “Why do we suffer?” This is an important question and troubles many people. Even Christians ask sometimes, “If God is good and all-powerful, then how could He let us suffer evil, pain, and death? Why doesn’t He do something to help us out of our misery?”

God’s Word gives us several ways to think about this question, both Law answers and Gospel answers. A definite Law answer to the question is that, since God created us, then we have no right to question Him or place criteria on Him, so as creatures we really aren’t even entitled ask the question, “Why do we suffer?” This is what St. Paul is getting at when he says in Romans 9, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20). Clay pots aren’t allowed to complain to the potter. As creatures, completely dependent on God, we have to accept whatever God sends or allows, whatever happens.

But thanks be to God, we are not left only with Law; we also have the Gospel, God’s Word of comfort to us. And for those who believe the Gospel, we can have complete confidence that God’s will is always best and that He is always gracious to us in Christ. Sufferings are not incompatible with God in Christ, as we see in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

It was the will of the Father that His Son suffer, so suffering is not a contradiction of God’s love, mercy, or omnipotence. The key, as always, is in Jesus. Since Jesus is the only way to the Father, then if we really want to come to grips with the question, “Why do we suffer?” then the only way we can do it is by looking to Jesus.

In Jesus we learn that suffering is God’s solution to our biggest problem—that is, eternal death under God’s wrath. Though we sinners have merited nothing from God except for punishment, suffering, and eternal death, out of love for the world, out of pure grace and mercy, He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh in order to suffer eternal death in our place.

We see in Christ’s Passion the great suffering that He went through. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He said His soul was sorrowful, even unto death, because He knew that if He went to the cross He would drink the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. Yet Jesus’ prayer, asking that the cup be removed, also teaches that suffering is not inherently good or desirable—rather, suffering is only part of the creation because of sin.

Yet Jesus faithfully resigned Himself to His Father’s will for our sake. Indeed, Jesus went willingly to the cross to suffer for us, as He said in John, “I lay down my life so that I may take it up again.” And this is God’s solution to our greatest problem. The suffering of Jesus is able to answer for your sins, to save you—because only the suffering and death of God is enough to answer for the sin of the whole world.

Almost two thousand years ago, under Pontius Pilate, this happened at Mt. Calvary, and His suffering came to a climax when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus wants us to ponder that question. He wants us to ask, “Why was He forsaken?” The Father’s answer is given by St. Paul in Romans 5, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9).

Saved from the wrath of God—that includes you, because Jesus was forsaken in your place. Our greatest problem is not even sin but is God’s wrath against sin. Jesus has answered for that. And because of Him, because you are crucified with Christ in Baptism, baptized into His death and resurrection, you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

In Christ, you have everything—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—so now you can even look at your own sufferings differently. You are now set free from the nagging fear that God is angry with you, that He’s out to get you, that He wants to punish you. No, in Christ, God even makes your suffering useful for you, useful for your life and salvation, since sufferings teach us not to rely on ourselves, but on God, who alone can raise the dead and give us eternal hope.

Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give You thanks that by the patient suffering and death of Your Son You rescued us from all faithlessness. Deliver us from the sin of impatience. By Your Word and Spirit, teach us to commend ourselves to You and to trust that in all things You work for our eternal good. Strengthen us to bear all crosses, adversities, and trials with patience and fervent trust in our Savior as we await Your deliverance and peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 2

Answer, Answer Not

Proverbs 9:1-10 (ESV) Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

My maternal grandfather, Rev. Kurt Brink, published a book called Proverbs Alive, in which he arranged Proverbs by topic. This was a sensible endeavor, since reading Proverbs straight through feels rather choppy and all over the place. In fact, I think the best way to read Proverbs is slowly, meditating on each verse or couplet before moving on to the next.

Proverbs is categorized as part of the Scripture’s “Wisdom Literature,” along with Job, some of the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). “For everything there is season” (Ecclesiastes 3), and each of these works helps us in specific times in our lives.

Job teaches us that the suffering of God’s children is part of His good and gracious will in our lives, so we really shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. The Psalms teach us how to pray, lament, and complain to God, along with offering wise sayings similar to the Proverbs, which offer much day to day practical advice, especially for the young.

Ecclesiastes helps us with the existential angst that occurs when we finally realize that money, power, sex, and learning—while being good gifts of God when used correctly—are all vanity if we think life consists in them. And Song of Solomon is a meditation on the love of a married couple, probably not intended to be read by anyone prior to marriage.

Proverbs doesn’t come up too often in the One-Year lectionary, but the Old Testament reading for the Second Sunday after Trinity is the passage above from Proverbs 9. I take the personified to Wisdom represent the Church, with Wisdom’s message and fare representing the Gospel and Sacraments. The passage concludes, “knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” John 6:66-69 says, “After this many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” and the First Commandment means that we are to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” We gain fear, love, trust, and knowledge of God through His Holy One, our Lord Jesus Christ. So as you read Proverbs, never forget that it is pointing you throughout to Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) for those who are willing to accept God’s Word. But “the fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (Psalm 14:1), and there are plenty of people who pay lip service to God while proving by their actions that they are not motivated by “fear, love, and trust” in Him: “Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19), and so is folly!

This provides a lens through which we can evaluate how to communicate with the people we encounter on a daily basis (whether in person or online). Sometimes we should engage with the foolish unbeliever, other times not: “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you.”

It is perilous—and futile—to try to dialogue with a person who scoffs at your confession of the Truth or your belief in absolute truth. In fact, dialogue is not possible, since a person who doesn’t believe in truth only uses language for power. This even can be dangerous to your own soul: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (Proverbs 26:4).

But not all fools are the same. There is a spectrum of folly, for the next verse says: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:5). It takes discernment to know what kind of fool you are engaging with.

Leaving fools aside, a Christian should be “a wise man,” and our text says: “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Our Old Adam doesn’t like to be corrected, but as we are humbled by God’s Law and grow in Christian humility, we can give—and receive—reproof, recognizing it as an act of Christian love.

Prayer (LSB 612):

1. As rebels, Lord, who foolishly have wandered
    Far from Your love—unfed, unclean, unclothed—
Dare we recall Your wealth so rashly squandered,
    Dare hope to glean that bounty which we loathed?

2. Still we return, our contrite words rehearsing,
    Speech, that within Your warm embrace soon dies;
All of our guilt, our shame, our pain reversing
    As tears of joy and welcome fill Your eyes.

3. A feast of love for us You are preparing;
    We who were lost, You give an honored place!
“Come, eat; come, drink, and be no more despairing—
    Here taste again the treasures of My grace.” Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Monday of Trinity 2

Love the Brothers

1 John 3:10-18 (ESV) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

As an apostle (a term that means “one who is sent as a representative”) of Jesus, St. John’s Epistles are simply a communication of what Jesus had taught him and the Holy Spirit had inspired him to write. He applies the teachings of Jesus to life in the Church, in which the children of God the Father are gathered by the Spirit together with their big brother, Jesus, to learn how to live.

In St. John’s Gospel, chapters 13-17 are situated at and after the Last Supper, with the sacrificial death of Jesus in view, since “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” would soon offer His body and pour out His blood on the cross. In those final somber hours spent with the Apostles, Jesus taught about the hatred of the world toward His disciples and the necessity of His followers loving one another:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but 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 master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).

“See,” ‘say the pagans,’ “how the Christians love one another,” wrote the church father Tertullian (c. 155-240 AD). It seems that these early Christians were simply following the words of Jesus and St. John.

The secular narrative today is that we all need to be “changing the world,” “saving the world,” “reshaping society,” etc. This will be a tall order to fill, since “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and hates the Kingdom of God. However, this is not an order we are even supposed to fulfill, since Jesus has not called us to “change the world” but to “love the brothers,” that is, fellow Christians, especially the “little ones who believe in” Him (Matthew 18:6).

This does not exclude charity and good works toward unbelievers, of course: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). But Paul, John, and Jesus specifically require us to love and do good to brothers and sisters in Christ, starting in our own families and working outward from there. If we take this advice, we will “change the world” and “reshape society” in ways that are perhaps imperceptible to the culture around us, but they will not escape notice of the One who said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Prayer (LSB 692):

1. Praise to You and adoration,
    Blessèd Jesus, Son of God,
Who, to serve Your own creation,
    Came to share our flesh and blood.
Guide me that I never may
From Your fold or pastures stray,
    But with zeal and joy exceeding
    Follow where Your steps are leading.

2. Hold me ever in Your keeping;
    Comfort me in pain and strife.
In my laughter and my weeping
    Be with me throughout my life.
Give me greater love for You,
And my faith and hope renew
    In Your birth, Your life, and passion,
    In Your death and resurrection. Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 1

Life in Christ or the Lake of Fire

Revelation 20:14—21:8 (ESV) Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Growing up in a Lutheran congregation, I was not familiar with the ditty popular in evangelical circles, “Revelation, Revelation 21:8, 21:8 / liars go to hell, liars go to hell /burn, burn, burn / burn, burn, burn,” set to the tune of Frère Jacques (Brother John). This is a terrifying song, for which of us has not told at least a “little white lie”? Does this disqualify us from everlasting life?

God does, of course, tell us not to lie: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). But we all lie to ourselves and to each other, often in such subtle ways that we don’t even realize how deceitful we are being. Of this we must repent, since lying is not only sinful but also destructive to our souls, to our families, to our communities. However, we would have no hope of going to heaven if absolute honesty were necessary for passing muster before God’s seat of judgment.

St. John, who also received the Revelation of Jesus Christ above, gives us liars great comfort when he writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).

We would be liars if we didn’t admit that we have lied—not to mention that we’ve committed at least some of the other sins listed in Revelation 21:8, corresponding with the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Commandments. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exposes us all as murderers, adulterers, and idolaters in our hearts, irrespective of whether we have broken these Commandments by word or deed. And if righteousness were by the Law, we would all be facing “the second death, the lake of fire.”

What Revelation 21:8 means is that all those who have persisted in impenitence—not confessing Christ as the Savior, not seeking forgiveness for their sins in His blood—will indeed go to hell, and their continued embracing of evil is evidence of their unbelief.

The biggest lie is to say that Christ is not the Redeemer and that He has not atoned for the sin of the whole world. Satan wants us to believe that lie so that we despair of hope for eternal life, a hopelessness that also leads to ever-increasing moral depravity: “Well, if I’m going to hell anyway, I might as well live however I want in the meantime!” This is a variation on the atheistic nihilism rampant in our culture today, and it’s not too hard to see the pernicious effects of such a philosophy of life.

It is difficult to be a Christian, since the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature are constantly urging us to throw down our cross and join in the torrent of dissipation going on around us: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5).

It is difficult to be a Christian, but even more, it is joyful, for we can live each day with a clear conscience before God the Judge, cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, and looking forward to the perfect existence of resurrected life in heaven described in Revelation 21:1-7.

So stay close to Christ, through whom you have been born again in Baptism, and in Him you will conquer! “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world… For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 4:4, 5:4-5).

Prayer (LSB 731):

1. O God, forsake me not!
    Your gracious presence lend me;
Lord, lead Your helpless child;
    Your Holy Spirit send me
That I my course may run.
    O be my light, my lot,
My staff, my rock, my shield—
    O God, forsake me not!

2. O God, forsake me not!
    Take not Your Spirit from me;
Do not permit the might
    Of sin to overcome me.
Increase my feeble faith,
    Which You alone have wrought.
O be my strength and pow’r—
    O God, forsake me not!

3. O God, forsake me not!
    Lord, hear my supplication!
In ev’ry evil hour
    Help me resist temptation;
And when the prince of hell
    My conscience seeks to blot,
Be then not far from me—
    O God, forsake me not!

4. O God, forsake me not!
    Lord, I am Yours forever.
O keep me strong in faith
    That I may leave You never.
Grant me a blessèd end
    When my good fight is fought;
Help me in life and death—
    O God, forsake me not! Amen.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Friday of Trinity 1

It's No Conspiracy

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (ESV) Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

For various reasons, I’ve had little contact with my Uncle Eddie over the last 20 years or so, but during my formative years, I spent quite a bit of time with him and—with a mixture of confusion, dismay, and pleasure—listened to him pontificate about the most recent conspiracy theory he had embraced. In the 80s and 90s, late-night shortwave radio programs fed his imagination, and the advent of the World Wide Web only multiplied and confirmed his suspicions about the shadowy figures behind this or that political or social phenomenon.

Uncle Eddie had set out for pre-seminary study at Concordia High School in Austin, but plans gradually changed as he began to reject one pillar after another of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). By the time I was old enough to engage him in conversation, he was already an atheist and a good representative of the old saying (mis)attributed to G.K. Chesterton, “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything”—hence, his fervor for conspiracy theory.

Uncle Eddie did, however, say something to me that has always struck me as interesting for an unbeliever: “I don’t believe there is a God, but there very well may be a devil.”

As a pastor writing for those who believe God and Satan are real, I am not going to waste time dealing with the theological and metaphysical problems with his peculiar view, but I do think it is a much more sensible position than its opposite—God but no devil—and of the materialist idea that there are no spiritual forces at work in this world. How else can you account for the evil, chaos, and insanity displayed by so many people besides the powerful and personal presence and influence of The Evil One?

While small-scale conspiracies are certainly possible and do occur, the sort of large-scale, worldwide conspiracy theories put forth as explanations for current (or impending) events cannot be taken seriously due to the complexity of political, economic, and natural forces at play at any given moment in the world. People want simple answers for complex problems, but life in this sin-filled creation doesn’t work like that.

In fact, Holy Scripture tells us that there is no conspiracy; rather, there is one Enemy, Satan, who prods and urges his worldwide team of demonic and human adherents to wreak havoc in church, state, and home.

While historically Christian theologians have tried to identify a single “Antichrist” or “Man of Lawlessness”—or have assumed that he hasn’t come yet—it seems to me that there is no need to think in “single” terms. St. John doesn’t: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

If John can speak of multiple antichrists, then I think it is perfectly reasonable to interpret St. Paul’s mention of the single “Man of Lawlessness” as simply representative of many “people of lawlessness.” By analogy, Psalm 1:1 begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers,” but it is not talking about a single man; it is stating a general path for people to walk in, represented by “the man.”

If “the Antichrist” and “the Man of Lawlessness” are individuals still to come, then I really don’t want to meet them, since the “antichrists” and “people of lawlessness” I encounter today are scary enough. But whether single or plural in nature, behind the “Antichrist” and the “Man of Lawlessness” is the devil: “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). And the indications St. Paul describes of the Satan-influenced Man of Lawlessness are unmistakable in our present day—just as they have been unmistakable in every age. Go back and re-read the text from 2 Thessalonians above and marvel at how timely it sounds!

And now enjoy the wonderful comfort St. Paul delivers to the Thessalonian believers and to all who believe and are baptized, Words that will not pass away even though heaven and earth pass away: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

Prayer: Almighty and most merciful Father, in the waters of Holy Baptism You have united Your children in the suffering and death of Your Son Jesus Christ, cleansing them by His blood. Renew in them the gift of Your Holy Spirit, that they may live in daily contrition and repentance with a faith that ever clings to their Savior. Deliver them from the power of Satan and preserve them from false and dangerous doctrines, that they may remain faithful in hearing Christ’s Word and receiving His body and blood. By the Lord’s Supper strengthen them to believe that no one can make satisfaction for sin but Christ alone. Enable them to find joy and comfort only in Him, learning from this Sacrament to love You and their neighbor and to bear the cross with patience and joy until the day of the resurrection of their bodies to life immortal; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.