A Critical Review of John Pless’ “Handling the Word of Truth” (Updated for 2015 edition)

2015 edition.


Preface to updated post:

This post originally was published on September 24, 2020. At the time, I did the review on the first edition of this book from 2004. Since that time I have now read the later 2015 edition. The text below is mostly the same with a couple textual additions and all of the page numbers from the original review have been updated to reflect the 2015 edition. As I suspected, none of the problems that I identified and dealt with in the original edition were corrected in the 2015 edition. One can only hope and pray that the book will be substantially revised if a new edition is in the works. 

Better yet, one can hope, pray, and work so that Dr. Pless — who has also strongly supported ELCA theologian Steve Paulson — will be relieved of his duties at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne (fortunately, another one of the “big brains” behind the now infamous 2023 Large Cataclysm, Jack Kilcrease, is not teaching there). While I know this sounds harsh, I am also confident he can find other good work and know his family will be provided for.

This is a deathly serious spiritual matter. Pless’s friend Steve Paulson — in talking about his friend the late James Nestingen — said that at some point the “pious” would come for persons like him. When I tried to be generous to Paulson — leaving his name off of blog posts critiquing and asking questions about his theology — and asked him if he could explain his teaching in more detail, Paulson personally called me [Johann] Eck (one of Luther’s main theological opponents).

Make no mistake about it: Pless and Paulson certainly consider themselves pious Lutherans in their own way — and with this edition of the “Large Catechism” (Cataclysm) they came for you.

They started the fire. Let’s be dead clear about that.


Here’s the updated review:

We all expect our most respected professors to be very well-read individuals and fluent in their disciplines. The Fort Wayne theology professor John Pless, however, goes beyond even this expectation and has a reputation for encouraging his students to read some of the most creative and unconventional minds in academic theology, particularly Lutheran academic theology. And how many professors do you know who can admit to having a Facebook groups dedicated to them like “Theological works of Professor John T. Pless” or “Would would Pless read”? (you know, playfully imitating the “WWJD” fad of the early 2000s).

And this, to be sure, has its merits…. For example, even though I have not read Oswald Bayer’s book Promissio (I think it is only in German now), as best I understand it, his thesis about confession and absolution being the heart of the Reformation[i] is essentially correct even if it is not wholly in line with the traditional story that has been told…

Long live the Reformation!


That said, my reaction to the book I’m reviewing in this article is pretty much the opposite. And, interestingly, although this was not the intention (this was written weeks ago), the criticisms made of Dr. Pless’ book below can also basically be applied across the board to the latest Thinking Fellows podcast, entitled, “The Telos of the Law”.

Luther says that the law’s accusation ceases and that Christ
is the end of the law for righteousness.

Of course, it is not possible that John Pless’ 2015 book Handling the Word of Truth – making the effort as it does to sum up C.F.W. Walther’s greatest work – could be all bad. Indeed, there is much in this book that I found edifying (more of this at the end of the review). Nevertheless, in reading it I also came across a number of things which concerned me at best and caused me to cringe at worst.

For instance, we learn that the law cannot be presented as good news in preaching (36, 65) and, it seems, offers no hope or sweetness in any context (53, 54). In spite of Walther himself (“We do not by any means reject cooperation on the part of man after his regeneration; we rather urge it upon him lest he die again and incur the danger of being lost forever…”) — the man whose great work this book is summarizing — cooperation in sanctification also dare not be talked about without damaging Christian proclamation (68).

And while it is true that the law must sometimes be abandoned completely (38), Dr. Pless’ explanations fall short of Luther’s full understanding of this. As Luther makes abundantly clear in the Antinomian Disputations, the law must be abandoned completely when the Christian’s conscience is under vicious attack from the law of God as wielded by Satan, who does this specifically in order destroy our souls. In addition, the good Dr. never talks about the kinds of attacks weak and poorly-formed consciences might undergo from popular man-made expectations that are contrary to God’s law (is this because, as Radical Lutherans like to imply or assert, no one person or people, at bottom, is an antinomian?[ii]). In fact – in statements which carry particular weight in the dark days we are experiencing today – Pless insists that the Bible teaches that knowledge of the Ten Commandments would only make things worse for public morality, not better (29, though see 45 as well). “Why though,” one might ask, “say this if ‘without the true God, man will always attempt to create a substitute deity’”? (47) Is it because, in spite of the fact that “virtues may be praiseworthy and beneficial when it comes to life in human community,” (96) God has no desire for the nations to deeply study, understand, and learn His law? (also, does the specific public religion make any difference when it comes to how a people lives? One is left wondering…)

The book also talks about just how very different the Law and Gospel are: the “clash” between Law and Gospel “puts faith itself on trial,” causing us to wonder if there is something we must do if we are to have peace with God (40). At the same time, just because the uses of Law and Gospel by some might put Christian faith on trial in this particular way (hint: see above paragraph), does this mean that this is God’s intent for the doctrines (Pless himself also gets close to saying that this is not God’s intent, but does not quite get there — see page 38)? In the end, for the author of this book, the only change the law can work in us is death. If Christ is not the end of the law – not the end of the law for righteousness, as Luther taught – the law will lead either to a pride or despair focused on external works – the “Turk’s faith”… (25, see also 56-57).

In Handling the Word of Truth one gets the impression that the law’s only function is, in Sartre-esque fashion, to “post[] a ‘No Exit’ sign over every doorway we go through to try and meet God on our own terms” (48). And so what then would be the theological implication of the things we have spoken about above when it comes to preaching? It seems that the only way a Christian can learn from the law is that he is to die or must, somehow, learn to die… Even if Luther and Walther might have spoken of times where it is appropriate to attenuate the law for believers or even encourage them to do God’s commandments, the author repeatedly states, in a number of ways, the following: “[u]nrelenting in its demand, the Law can only make sin manifest for what it is and crush the sinner with its death sentence” (58). Faith in the Gospel, however, frees us from the ongoing death that is our own self-justification (66)….

In sum then, one is left with the distinct impression that if the Christian is ever being told to do something it is necessarily because he is a self-justifying sinner (perhaps I, holding the contrary view, am addicted to “lawfulness” [31]!) and he needs to be put to death (he can’t, after all, no matter how good he is, do anything perfectly). To complicate these matters all the more, we are not only given the impression that the law merely “imposes itself ‘out of the conditions of creaturely life’” as James Nestingen says (55), but also that the moral teachings of all non-Christian religions are essentially the same (see 29 ; see 92 as well though). Of course this is hardly true, for it is clear that the law was given Israel to proclaim the identity of the only true God whom all men are called to worship.

Speaking of matters of identity, it is good and necessary to know the Christian Gospel in its narrow sense, where Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from sin, death, and the devil and “gives… rest in Christ” (49). At the same time, the Formula of Concord also speaks about the Gospel in the wider sense, and here it no doubt helps us to understand ever more deeply whose we are and what we are called to do as children of the household of God (see FC SD V:5 and the Small Catechism: “That I may be his own…”). So there is a real connection here with the law: the first table of the Law commands us to do something of the first importance… fear, love, and trust the one true God. One cannot help but think about the implications of this vis a vis Pless’ assertion on page 87 that faith can never be described as “our commitment, duty, decision…”. Why, specifically? Would that perhaps introduce the sin of people “motivated by the Gospel” (53) and a “theology of glory” (96)? For the author, “[w]hat law requires is freedom from the law” (quoting Leif Grane approvingly, 58). And yet, if freedom is “found only in the Law-free Gospel of Jesus Christ” (58), how are we to also ponder God’s law as “the perfect law of liberty”? (see the book of James).


I should add at this point that one of the consequences of the author’s approach seems to be one of the very things he warns about happening actually happening: “When antinomians ancient or modern try to make the Law go away by theological quackery, they only succeed in relocating the Law. They end up inserting it into the Gospel” (62, see also 94). I see this among many of those who appreciate and follow Dr. Pless. For example, it is thought by some that the new law Christ gives — “love one another as I have loved you” — really does differ from what the 10 commandments mean to get at in some very significant ways!

Not long ago, I heard a highly intelligent pastor (this is Pastor John Drosendahl, who told me to feel free to use his name here) who appreciates the good doctor say: “…if my member according to their new self desires good works, I’ll direct them to ask [‘Is this the loving/caring thing to do?’] so that they will realize that the Gospel alone produces good works.” First of all, this is better than the response I once heard from another highly intelligent Pless-following Confessional Lutheran pastor, basically “If someone is wanting help from me to become a better father or husband, for example, I know I am dealing with someone who is trying to save himself.” Second, my response to the pastor’s claim that this will make the member realize the Gospel alone produces good works is “Why would helping them to say ‘Is this the loving/caring thing to do?’ necessarily cause them to realize this?” I cannot understand why this distinction – this different way of saying what is in fact the same thing (Luther’s explanation of the commandments in the Small Catechism!) – is somehow the thing that pastors should be doing. What I think this pastor does not see is that this could be just as much a word of condemning law as simply urging someone to do their duty (the loving thing) by saying “God commands this [because he loves you and them].” The pastor says “…our attempts to ‘follow God’s commands’ do not result in doing the loving thing,” but that just is not necessarily the case. For instance Adam, in the Garden, didn’t need to ask himself the question about the “loving/caring” thing. Adam just needed to recognize that God was love, loved him, and desired him to follow His commandment for his and Eve’s own good for that very reason. And, as Luther says, the Tree was meant to increase Adam’s knowledge about God’s loving will.

Regarding this confusion about Jesus’ new commandment, my pastor talked to me about this years ago:

“Jesus said that He was giving the disciples a new commandment. First of all, why would they need a commandment? Secondly, is the new commandment for them to love? Well, if it is to love, than how is it new? Certainly the 10 commandments requires such love, as Jesus Himself taught. So it just must be that the love the disciples were to express had been modeled by Jesus, and so what was new, was that the love they were to express would be expressed by imitating Jesus.

So: Jesus fulfilled the law; the disciples imitated Jesus. In other words, the law was fulfilled by imitating Jesus who fulfilled the law.

But if there is no third use [of the law], then love must somehow be juxtaposed over against the law. So: either follow the commandments (the law) OR be loving…”

In other words, if there is no third use — or the third use is just the first or second use applied to the Christian — then the door is open for love to somehow be juxtaposed over against the law (because law which forces compliance might serve a salutary function in keeping order and peace without true justice which goes hand in hand with love)… Perhaps, in the end Jesus is *justly accused* as a violator of God’s own law so that all sinners may have assurance of eternal life? (Forde) In violating the law, for example, Jesus Christ is actually being faithful to his Father’s mission to save the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt 10:6) and those from the other sheep pen? Think, for example, how Jesus *presumably* breaks the Law by, for example, dining with sinners! See what is happening here? Or, at least, how the door is opened up for this to happen?


What to make of all this? I’ll give you my own view. Many of the men whom John Pless touts like Bayer, Paulson, Forde, and Elert — and who it appears he has at times publicly touted without any warning or reservation – also reject the 3rd use of the law. For folks like me – who believe that a denial of the true definition and intention of any use of the law is a denial of the whole law – this is serious business.

Dr. Pless, as best I can tell, basically agrees with the substance of the critique of these men, which appears to be what he means when he talks about the “so-called third use of the law.” It is unclear, in my mind, for example, how his position would differ substantially from that of John Hoyum, who, I believe is more or less defending the Confessional Lutheran status quo when he states:

“Confessional Lutherans more positively disposed to the Formula of Concord (FC) than [Gerhard] Forde was might be more inclined to retain the category of the law’s third use. Even so, Forde’s rejection of the third use need not be especially upsetting at this point, since he affirmed that the law is used with regard to the old creature still captive to sin. In no way did he deny that the Ten Commandments are normative for the conduct of the Christian….while Forde rejects the FC’s designation of a third use, he upholds the position of the concordists and Luther’s antinomian disputations in specifying that the law must be applied to Christians who struggle against the old nature that remains bound in sin. Even while Forde disagrees with the decision to identify––in a titular sense––a third use of the law, it would be hard to demonstrate that Forde’s teachings on the law contradict the actual doctrinal content of FC VI. Forde’s criticisms of the development of the lex aeterna in later Lutheranism are fair game, and remain a convincing indictment of much orthodox Lutheranism and how it went on to deploy the doctrine of the law after the period of reform––regardless of how else that episode of Lutheran history might be rightly admired…”

I know I can’t be the only one who finds this kind of thinking to be both confusing and tragic. What if someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification” — you could bet that every head would turn!

To me, it seems as if many among us are incapable of reading Paul’s epistles and Luther’s sermons at face value, even as they look askance at those who would attempt to sound like them today! I can’t emphasize how important I think this kind of shift really is, and Hoyum, at least, tips his hand about what he thinks this means vis a vis the LCMS: “[with Forde] a refreshing alternative to a fundamentalist construal of inerrancy comes into view…”[iii]


One final issue to address directly here: a common complaint is that Confessional Lutherans like me say people should not read teachers who speak error. I will heartily admit that recently I did stop listening to Steve Paulson, for the sake of my own soul. That said, overall that is really an unfair accusation, and strikes me as more of a rhetorical move which ignores the truth of the matter. I will again assert that there is much in Pless that is interesting, good and edifying (most all the stuff that is not in this blog post, especially all the quotes from the Bible, Luther, Walther, the Confessions, and Bo Giertz that I am not sharing…) – and he is far more careful in the way he talks about Law and Gospel as it relates to the content of the Bible as a whole than men like Forde and Paulson (see 38). I especially appreciate and take seriously the warning of Craig Parton that he quotes on page 74 about how the Christian continues to need to hear the narrowly preached Gospel (forgiveness, life and salvation in Jesus Christ for you!) his entire life. This is indeed the great treasure that Luther and those following in his train preserved and delivered more clearly than ever before in the church’s history! (the chapter “Looking in All the Wrong Places,” by the way, along with the appendix [one of Luther’s sermons] is the best and most edifying part of the book).

That said, I find the book to be severely deficient on several fronts. If it is not clear from what has already been written above, consider the following: First, as Walther says, “’What he said was the truth,’ and yet you do not feel satisfied” (quoted on 36): the problem is often not what is said, but what is left unsaid (for example, how did Luther treat passages like Romans 5:20 about the law causing sin to abound? – see 92 ; didn’t Walther also talk about the “true visible church”? – see 108). And this brings me to my second reason. As a friend recently put it in a conversation we were having:

“If the Lutheran Confessions are the apex of Luther, and Lutheranism is the apex of Scripture, then what else do we judge the Confessions on but Scripture? If we must read the Confessions in the light of Luther, and Luther in the light of Scripture, then we must read the Confessions in the light of Scripture as the source of Truth.”

And if that is true for the Confessions – and it is (though how many in the Confessional Lutheran world today could even articulate this?) – how much more so for teachers like John Pless!


Update: An earlier version of this post had a caption under the picture of the book. That quote did not belong there, as it was from a previous post that made use of the quote in a different context.

Update 2: A sentence in the above review has been changed above to increase clarity. From “which, interestingly, Pless gets close to saying given his comments on page 23” to, instead: “Pless himself also gets close to saying that this is not God’s intent, but does not quite get there — see page 23”

[i] Steve Paulson also notes this in the interest of promoting his own work and ideas. See the Outlaw God podcast as well as my own critiques of Paulson’s theology.

[ii] Note, for example, what John Hoyum says about American culture and ask what this necessarily has to do with God’s law: “I myself am highly skeptical that the ideology of modern, western liberalism is especially antinomian. Indeed, it represents a ruthlessly legalistic construal of human life in terms economic performance, the security of the self against death in a technologically reshaped world, and the chaotic embrace of alternative sexual moralities (not the rejection of sexual morality altogether).”


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Posted by on January 25, 2023 in Uncategorized


The Wages of Sin is Death and Divine Blood is the Payment

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Jan. 15, 2023.


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…


While all Scripture is inspired by God, not all things it says are as important as others.

In our Gospel reading today we hear one of the most profound and important statements from all of Scripture:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

What does this mean?

First and foremost, most study Bibles in their notes will make an immediate reference here to Exodus 12, where we read about the Passover event that finally caused Pharaoh to let God’s people go.

Here, the Israelites were commanded to paint the blood of a lamb over their door, and when God’s Angel of Death passed over them that evening, their firstborn sons would be spared.

Unlike the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. They, alternatively, would pay the price for their sins against the Lord and His people.

To put it bluntly, God would demand their blood.

Cue Isaiah chapter 43, as God speaks to His chosen people Israel:

“Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life…

Likewise, Proverbs 21:18: “The wicked become a ransom for the righteous, and the unfaithful for the upright…

Throughout the Old Testament in fact, God is often reminding the Israelites that they were saved in part through the loss of the Egyptians’ firstborns.

In short, their firstborn children were sacrificed that the Israelites might have life!

God’s justice here is truly a help to the oppressed godly ones – a balancing of the scales weighed against them!

Their vindication!

Their protection!

Their preservation!

Defeat to those who rebel vs their God and His eternal will!

To them, God’s righteous anger, born of His Father’s heart for His children, is Gospel.

Come quickly Lord Jesus!   

Yes, God desires all – without qualifications – to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

Pharaoh’s stubbornness aside, the Lord really would have His Word be preached to all, and means that it would be effective (or efficacious) when and where it pleases Him… as the Christian faithful have always insisted. 

And God gets all the glory for this! 

That said, the road is narrow. Not all will be saved, and those who aren’t get all the blame for this.  

During the course of time, some who resist Him, in fact, will perish that others will live…

Salvation and damnation go hand in hand, and one will not be had without the other… 

And believers will rejoice in God’s good victory. 


Still, the Exodus passage might seem like an odd passage to think about when hearing “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

While it is true that Jesus Christ, being the Lamb of God, is the fulfillment of the lambs that were sacrificed so that the Angel of Death would pass over homes covered with animal blood…

…the flip side of that is that the Lord does not appear to be taking away the sins of Israel much less the world here!

Rather, again, we see here that the sins of the world demanded blood… their own blood… the blood of their firstborns. 

Some real violence was involved…

So should we really be thinking of this in regard to the Lamb of God passage in John?

Perhaps we might find some more understanding by looking at passages from Leviticus 16:21-22?

This is the passage about the “scapegoat”.

Here, Moses’ brother, the High Priest Aaron, laid his hands on the head of a live goat, confessed over its head all of Israel’s sins, and simply sent it into the wilderness.

The goat, then, took away, carried away, all of Israel’s sins…[1]

And yet today many people talk about scapegoating in an interesting way, bringing violence back into the picture.

This culminates in scapegoat theory, featuring the “scapegoat mechanism”.

The idea here is that when things get hard and people are in denial of their own role in said difficulties, they, unconsciously or unknowingly, shift the blame onto innocent victims.

As a definition of “scapegoat theory” puts it: it is an

“an analysis of violence and aggression in which individuals undergoing negative experiences (such as failure or abuse by others) are assumed to blame an innocent individual or group for causing the experience…”

One passage from an encyclopedia I looked at explains this theory – articulated most fully by the French Christian philosopher Rene Girard – in the following way:

“When violence is at the point of threatening the existence of the community, very frequently a bizarre psychosocial mechanism arises: communal violence is all of the sudden projected upon a single individual. Thus, people that were formerly struggling, now unite efforts against someone chosen as a scapegoat. Former enemies now become friends, as they communally participate in the execution of violence against a specified enemy… The person that receives the communal violence is a ‘scapegoat’ in this sense: her death or expulsion is useful as a regeneration of communal peace and restoration of relationships.”[2]

While there are certainly all kinds of things to question in Girard’s thought, we certainly can see that there is at least something to it.

We might think, for example, of what actually happens later on in the Gospel of John. In John 11, right after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, we read:

“Then the chief priests and Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we to do? This man[, Jesus,] is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Very interestingly, the Gospel of John goes on:

“Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to gather them together into one.

So from that day on they plotted to kill Him….” 

So, yes, violence is certainly back in the picture here…[3]

Even if the Bible’s picture of the scapegoat is a bit different – and does in fact seem to be a great candidate for just what the Baptist had in mind when he exclaimed what he did about Jesus – it is truly interesting the parallels that one can find in the world that seem to go hand-in-hand with the “Scapegoat Mechanism “idea…

I wonder if we could possibly say that even some of the best of fallen people… those of us who do less evil than most… nevertheless are at times at least unconsciously tempted to resort to scapegoating…

…in efforts to keep or restore power, privilege, and/or peace…


Anyway you slice it, ritual acts of violence, ritual acts of sacrifice have always been a part of our world.

Sometimes it is quite overt. God consistently warned the Israelites to avoid the pagan nations around them who sacrificed their own children to their gods such as Molech…  

Ever since the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, all animal sacrifices were swept away in the Western world’s major cultural centers…[4]

And so, some one thousand years later, when the Conquistadors of Spain came to the Americas and encountered a massive system of human sacrifice among the Aztecs, they were absolutely horrified and shocked by the unimaginable things they discovered.[5]

And even when it is not so overt, the reality of the need for sacrifice and atonement – for blood – is always at least just above or below the surface of man’s life.

In his book The Revenge of Conscience, explaining that “[t]he need to atone arises from the knowledge of a debt that must somehow be paid” and that the conscience can go very wrong (being wrongly formed), J. Budziszewski shares one jarring example of this from many he learned about.

A woman had two abortions. The first was to punish her husband who had an affair. The second she said was to punish herself for taking the life of her first child. Trying to atone for her sin apart from God, she said she wanted to be able to hate herself more for what she did to the first baby. [6]

In addition to all of this, animal sacrifice has been a part of Hinduism for thousands of years. While cows are sacred, goats, chickens, sheep, water buffalo, and many other animals are sacrificed to Hindu gods and goddesses.

In Orthodox Judaism and Islam today, sacrifice remains a critical component of their religion. Concepts of forgiveness and God’s favor are tied up with the meritorious sacrifices that are offered by those seeking to be justified by the Divine.

And not just to gods. Lutheran missionaries in Madagascar today will talk about in the animist religion that remains there, men and women will often offer sacrifices to their dead ancestors, in order to appease them and get them to be favorably disposed to them.

None of this is what God desires…[7]

However, on the other hand, perhaps many in these cultures and communities understand something that Christians often forget:

When we feel like we deserve earthly blessings and are entitled to them, we are less apt to be thankful, and then find ourselves getting caught up in things that take us away from the things that matter most, like attending to God’s commands….

…not primarily out of some servile fear, of course, but out of genuine love for Him and all the goodness He has shown us… who don’t deserve any of it. 

A pastor friend of mine put it this way in one of his sermons:

In [non-Christian] cultures, religion is more about giving and sacrificing. Yes, it’s a worship driven by fear not love. But there is a sense, in the best versions, that the creatures owe the creator worship and praise; and he owes them nothing. Theoretically, even if there wasn’t an afterlife, it would still be worthwhile going to the temple, to pay respects, give thanks and adore God…”


Again, all of this also relates to the Christian religion as well.

Unlike the pagan counterfeits that have mimicked the true God and true faith since the time of Babel, Christianity never promoted human sacrifice.

And, of course, the blood of bulls and goats and lambs was never supposed to be a way to get an angry deity on your side – it was rather the means that God provided to bless and forgive the sins of His people, to connect with them, to dwell with them.

So with that in mind, there are a few more aspects of sacrifice from the Bible that we should mention, things that our text for this morning should make us think about: The Day of Atonement and the daily sacrifices…

The Day of Atonement was a key festival in Israel’s life. On this day, the High Priest would offer a sacrifice for the nation’s sins, as they repented with fasting, dust, and ashes…

And not only this, but sacrifices involving lambs were also performed daily at the temple in Jerusalem… Every morning and evening a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people (see Exodus 29:38-42, for example)…[8]

All of this is why a friend of mine, in his role as a religion teacher at a Lutheran High School, would annually take his classes to a farm in order to witness an animal being slaughtered.

He had the right idea.

It is critical that we understand the cost of life, the weight and the heaviness. And that the life is in the blood – and that there is likewise no forgiveness of sins without the corresponding shedding of blood….

For as the book of Revelation puts it, the Lamb of God was slain from the very foundation of the world.

God instituted the sacrificial system in the Old Testament for a reason.

Even though it, like the indulgences racket in Reformation times, was abused and became a massive system willing kill even thousands of animals a day and take advantage of the common people in its efforts to perpetuate itself… (see Jesus’ anger in the Temple Courts) it was nevertheless originally set up by God to comfort His people and to point them and us to the the True Lamb of God….

And again, the Lamb of God was slain from the very foundation of the world…

God foresaw Adam and Eve’s fall into sin and before they were even actually created decided to go forward with His project, with the Lamb of God slated to come on the scene, clear up the mess…

…and bring not a good creation to maturity or perfection or completion, but a fallen creation suffering and groaning immensely from its sin to maturity or perfection or completion….


So we see through all of this though that it is not only that the blood of God’s enemies must flow because of their sins….

The sins of God’s people themselves have always needed to be dealt with, and they are definitively dealt with in the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is not only the Savior of those who believe, but of all men.

When the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:23 writes that the wages of sin is death, he does not mean that these are the wages for some men, but all.

And all of a man’s sins – by which God demands their blood, their life – are finally committed against God alone.

David writes in the Psalm a line that I am sure most all of us here know well:

“Against You, You only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in Your sight…”

He goes on to say, however:

“…so that You may be proved right when You speak

and blameless when You judge.”

So David confesses as he does primarily because matters pertaining to our accountability ultimately lie in the Lord’s hands and judgements…

And, of course, the Lord judges that when people sin against His people, they sin against Him as well!

So, one would be reading this passage incorrectly to conclude from it that since every sin is really finally against God… that the sins that we commit against others do not matter!

Oh, they do. They certainly do.

When we do not treat others the way that God commands that we treat them, we hurt them.

Yes, sin hurts people. And when we think about hurting others, we can and should think about wounding them, physically or otherwise. 

This really is not just a metaphor I am using.

Of course, the most graphic picture of this is the blood that flows because of the wound, because of the hurt. And of course, given that the life is in the blood, with the loss of blood is the loss of life, resulting in death…

These terrible wounds that cause this terrible spiritual bleeding and imminent spiritual death are not, however, always so clear.

For the trick is that when we talk about sin and the hurt it causes, sometimes people know with confidence they are sinning vs. others, transgressing vs. others, and sometimes they do not.

Sometimes people know with confidence they are being sinned against, transgressed against, and sometimes they do not.

Still, God’s Law accuses and condemns our sin, not just subjectively, but objectively.

And it is not the law that makes us objectively guilty, but the law rather reveals our sin, which, again, we may or may not experience guilt about subjectively.    

If we do not expose our children to the Word of God, for example, we really and truly do hurt them, regardless of how we or they feel.

For we all find life in the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.

And His Words are Spirit and life. All truth is God’s truth (Justin Martyr), and we are all meant to live from truth, from true words, from true teaching… we are to live from every Word that proceeds from God’s mouth.

If we do not give the young what they truly need we stunt and even diminish the growth in grace that God means for them to have.

And, this, of course, is the underlying cause of all of the problems, the hurt, the blood, the death, in this world. 

And since the Fall into sin, it has ever been such, world without end…

But there is redemption as well, so that this world without end will be renewed, and be a place truly worthy of God’s and our eternal dwelling…


How is all of this made new?

Because of the Lamb sacrificed on the Altar.

The Cross….

God allows, and Jesus embraces, being punished in our place.

Being crushed for our iniquities.

Being pierced for our transgressions.

All as Isaiah prophesied.

How does all of this work? Why does this happen?

Some Christians shy away from these questions. They want to simply talk about how Christ’s death removes sin, but not really go further.

The vicarious satisfaction for sin?

Propitiation of God’s wrath?

Many balk.

And yet, there are many atonement passages from the earlier church fathers (which Eastern Christians respect) that go hand-in-hand with the concerns that Western Christians typically focus on:

  • John Chrysostom talking about the punishment we deserved.
  • St. Cyril of Jersualem talking about how Jesus “staved the wrath of God”
  • And [even] Gregory Palamas states how a sacrifice was needed reconcile the Father on high with us… the human race.[9]    


Why does Christ die?

It is because sin kills Him.

Our sin kills Him.

We, in our sin, blindly kill the One who loves us more than anyone!

And more: we kill our Perfect King and Master!

Our Leader who shows us strength, courage, humility, and a steely kindness that is known to all…

And yes, injustice abounds! Therefore, in this, we actually bring more sin – and punishment – on ourselves.

Sin increases. The cup is filled to the brim with sin, as God’s wrath is satisfied in this truly unique way.

What do I mean? In effect, the following occurs:

God “gives us over” to our evil (look at Romans 1) to the nth degree.

Through us, the King who takes all the evil that we have to offer – collecting all of our evil into Himself – is executed according to God’s will.

He dies the shameful death of a criminal on a cross, being numbered among the transgressors.

Nevertheless, God can rightly accuse us through His apostle “You did this!”

Again, God gives us rebels over to our sin, allowing us to do our worst… to kill our own good King, the new Adam and Head of the human race!  

And yet, we do not despair about this.


Because as “new creations in Christ” (see 2 Cor 5) we realize that He — the Enduring Love — would not have us actually bear the guilt and punishment due to us for our sins against His law, even for our role in His unjust crucifixion!

For Love for us it at the bottom of all of this! Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God…

…our Scapegoat…

…our Sacrifice…

– who has drunk the cup of wrath for all our sins – and come out alive! Death could not hold Him.

In fact, amazingly, we are forgiven because of the crucifixion!

For again, the Lamb of God is, after all, “slain from the foundation of the world.”

God is so good and strong and wise that He finds a way to clean our slate even for the crucifixion – by the crucifixion!

We are justified (Rom 4:25)!

We are healed (Isaiah 53, Matthew 7)!

Because of Christ’s completed work—cross and resurrection—we can now even say the cross is good news!

Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world indeed!

Again, the fact of the matter is that nothing impure will finally enter the Kingdom of glory: we sinful men not only need Christ, but the whole life of this just and innocent and pure Lamb of God—to stand before God.

One is holy!

One is worthy!

See me, O Lord, in Him alone!

This is all that we can claim, and He gladly gives us the right to claim it.     

We now live by grace through faith in Christ.

Go in peace, the true and enduring peace that only the sacrifice of the Lamb of God can give.



[1]This action went hand in hand with other actions performed on the Day of Atonement (along with the daily sacrifices), where burnt offerings of bulls and goats were offered for the nation’s sins… 

Also, Benson’s commentary notes: “ the reader must observe that, when a sacrifice was to be offered for sin, he that brought it laid his hand upon the head of the victim, according to the command of God, Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 4:4; (where see the notes;) and by that rite was supposed to transfer his sins upon the victim, which is said to take them upon itself and to carry them away. Accordingly, in the daily sacrifice of the lamb, the stationary men, says Dr. Lightfoot, who were the representatives of the people, laid their hands upon the lambs thus offered for them; and these two lambs offered for the daily sacrifice were bought with that half shekel which all the Jews yearly paid, εις λυτρον της ψυχης αυτων, εξιλασασθαι περι των ψυξων αυτων, as the price of redemption of their souls, to make atonement for them, Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:14; Exodus 12:16….”

[2] More key info: “Girard considers it crucial that this process be unconscious in order to work. The victim must never be recognized as an innocent scapegoat (indeed, Girard considers that, prior to the rise of Christianity, ‘innocent scapegoat’ was virtually an oxymoron; see section 4.b below); rather, the victim must be thought of as a monstrous creature that transgressed some prohibition and deserved to be punished. In such a manner, the community deceives itself into believing that the victim is the culprit of the communal crisis, and that the elimination of the victim will eventually restore peace.”

[3] See footnotes above.

[4] Peter Leithart, with some provocative thoughts: “Yoder thinks. He says that the project of Christianizing the state is doomed. The time when that could happen has long ago passed away. If he is right, we are facing nothing short of apocalypse. I believe that here too Yoder is wrong, and that we can escape apocalypse. But this can only happen on certain conditions: only through reevangelization, only through the revival of a purified Constantinianism, only by the formation of a Christically centered politics, only through fresh public confession that Jesus’ city is the model city, his blood the only expiating blood, his sacrifice the sacrifice that ends sacrifice. An apocalypse can be averted only if modern civilization, like Rome, humbles itself and is willing to come forward to be baptized. (342)”

[5] See:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy talks about Girard’s interesting claims here:

“Girard considers rituals the earliest cultural and religious institution. In Girard’s view, ritual is a reenactment of the original scapegoating murder. Although, as anthropologists are quick to assert, rituals are very diverse, Girard considers that the most popular form of ritual is sacrifice. When a victim is ritually killed, Girard believes, the community is commemorating the original event that promoted peace.

The original victim was most likely a member of the community. Girard considers that, probably, earliest sacrificial rituals employed human victims. Thus, Aztec human sacrifice may have impacted Western conquistadors and missionaries upon its discovery, but this was a cultural remnant of a popular ancient practice. Eventually, rituals promoted sacrificial substitution, and animals were employed. In fact, Girard considers that hunting and the domestication of animals arose out of the need to continually reenact the original murder with substitute animal victims…”

[6] “The need to atone arises from the knowledge of a debt that must somehow be paid. One would think such knowledge would always lead directly to repentance, but the counselors whom I have interviewed tell a different story. One woman learned during her pregnancy that her husband had been unfaithful to her. He wanted the child, so to punish him for betrayal she had an abortion. The trauma of killing was even greater than the trauma of his treachery, because this time she was to blame. What was her response? She aborted the next child, too; in her words, “I wanted to be able to hate myself more for what I did to the first baby.” By trying to atone without repenting, she was driven to repeat the sin.” See also:

[7] Still, it points to this need: “The thing that the world wants is to have sin dealt with-dealt with in the way of conscious forgiveness; dealt with in the way of drying up its source, and delivering men from the power of it. Unless you do that, I do not say you do nothing, but you pour a bottle full of cold water into Vesuvius, and try to put the fire out with that.” (Maclaren)

[8] It is very likely that when the sinner of Luke 18 stands in the court of the temple and will not even lift his eyes before God, beating his chest and saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” that he is saying, “Oh Lord, let these sacrifices be for me!”

Gill’s exposition: “the Jewish doctors say (d), that “the morning daily sacrifice made atonement for the iniquities done in the night; and the evening sacrifice made atonement for the iniquities that were by day…”

More, from an older sermon, dealing with the Old Testament sacrifices and other ceremonial processes originally given through Moses:

“But when Jesus comes, no sacrifice for sins is left, as the shadows recede! If it helps, think of shadows like these as the temporary scaffolding for the real Sacrifice, Priest, and Temple, Jesus Christ…

Not only this, but we should also realize this: In the Old Testament, these sacrifices provided safe access to a Holy God.

Sins of course were always an issue here, but then there is also original sin — the sinful infection that we all share from birth. It is like a spiritual leprosy.

Gasoline burns in the presence of fire – God’s holiness is gracious but also destructive. He cannot abide the sin – the leprosy, the uncleanness – within us (Kleinig).

This is why in the Old Testament we see so many of these signs, these shadows, these “divine object lessons”.

Finally, these externals are often “typological” of the internals of human life.

Therefore, with leprosy, for example, even the external signs of leprosy/infection, like corrupted clothing, are a sign of the *real* inner infection that infects us all and causes the outer infections. The leper or menstruating woman is “unclean” and “unworthy”, but this is really meant to serve as a symbol for the greater uncleanness and unworthiness that infects us all.

For we all, in our fallen nature, are the contaminated who contaminate… And this also, of course, is why we die. The wages of sin is death…

While we are at this stuff, let’s go on. Unclean animals also serve a similar function as a divine object lesson – spiritual holiness is symbolized by physical perfection, not oddities. (what one author called the “no oddballs allowed” principle).

One biblical scholar, Gordan Wenham, expands on the matters these object lessons point to, putting it like this:

Imagine two poles of existence, there is the positive and the negative. The positive has to do with God, life, order, normality and being clean… The negative has to do with chaos, death, disorder, deformity, and being unclean….

So, what finally, to take away from all of this? God’s overall message here, in the Old Testament but especially in the New Testament is this:

I am not like the Gods of the other nations. I am holy. Do not get excited because of your blood descent, ethnic pride, success, or your righteousness…

Instead, be glad because I really am concerned about you – I am yours and you are mine and I desire that you would know true joy and peace in true justice, true mercy and abundant life.

Be invigorated because I want you to be holy as I am holy! Through the pardon and power I give you in the blood of my Son, Jesus, I am separating you out – making you distinct!

You will not, like the nations, sacrifice your infants, partake in ritualized temple prostitution or disregard the elderly and the poor…

You will live as people who live according to and by my word — because I love you even as you continue to have sin…

Instead, come out and be separate! Be holy, and not unclean!

As the old hymn “My Song is Love Unknown” says:

“Love to the loveless (i.e. because of the leprosy of sin, the uncleanness of sin) shown that they might lovely be”… ]”  


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Posted by on January 15, 2023 in Uncategorized


Who are You? A Christian Identity Politics?

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Waseca, MN., Jan. 8, 2023


“I will keep you and will make you

    to be a covenant for the people

    and a light for the Gentiles.”

– Isaiah 42:6b


The first time Jesus is mentioned in the Book of Luke, when the angel speaks with Mary, we hear:

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”[1]

Our Gospel reading for the day ends with the baptism of Jesus. Is it related to what the angel tells Mary here?

Jesus tells John the Baptist that He should be baptized by him at that moment “to fulfill all righteousness”…

…heaven opens up…

…the Spirit of God descends like a dove and settles on Him…

and, finally, a voice from heaven says “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased….”

Again, is this related to the angel’s announcement?

Well, if you are one of those who managed to pay particularly close attention to the morning’s Bible readings, you might have noticed that this sounds a lot like the beginning of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 42 – which has a wonderful testimony to the Gospel, to the work of God’s Messiah, or Christ:

“Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen One, in whom My soul delights. I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice[, or righteousness,] to the nations…”

The slight difference here is that in the Isaiah reading, God the Father is said to delight in His Servant; not His Son or the “Son of the Most High”.

What is really interesting though is that in Psalm 2:7 – which is also all about God’s Messiah and His anointing – the anointing of the King who would reign in the line of David, we read:

“You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”

So for the attentive Bible-reader or listener then, the message of all these things – which we can see culminating at the end of our Gospel reading – could not be more clear:

After years of being without a King, Israel has their kings back (Wendt). Specifically, their King back.

And not only this, this Man is a Servant King who is also calling the Nations, or the Gentiles, to Himself…

And, lest there be any confusion about the nature of this kingdom coming to earth, the deeper spiritual message for all of those nations is this:

The New Covenant, Testament, comes in this Kings blood!

The blood of bulls and goats and lambs ultimately could not save, even as Israel’s appointed sacrifices pointed to the Answer:

He is the Messiah, the Christ, not only of Israel, but the whole world!

He is the Perfect Suffering Servant King who, ultimately, sheds His own innocent blood to pay the price for our sins…

…giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil, the Prince of this World.


All of this this can be learned – all these dots connected – by the  serious Bible reader…

Perhaps a bit of a harder challenge though comes from a contrast we see between our reading from Isaiah and the chosen Psalm for the day, on this second Sunday of Epiphany….

[One thing that is interesting to think about is why the readings for the day were chosen….[2]

Sometimes it is obvious, but not all the time!…]

For example, our Psalm for the day, Psalm 29, appears for the most part to be provoking us to awe of God… and even terror.

In it, again, we hear that “the voice of the Lord:

-breaks the cedars”

-“strikes with flashes of lightning”

-“shakes the desert”

-“twists the oaks…

…and strips the forests bare!”

Such awe-inspiring strength and power…

…and from only speaking no less!

It seems perfectly understandable that all in his temple would cry, “Glory!”

But then, on the other hand, in our Old Testament reading, what do we read?

In particular, this:

“He will not shout or cry out,

    or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…”

What does this mean? It means that while God has the power and authority to rightly judge, this is what happens when He first comes on the scene in human flesh – prior to His second coming…

His work takes place like yeast working through the dough… subtly… subtly…

It means that he will not break those who, like reeds that grow in the marshes, have been bruised, damaged, or even trampled on… as if by the trials and difficulties of life…

…it means that He will not snuff out the candle wicks that are His people who are flickering with doubt and weakness…

And again, the Gospel writer Matthew also claims these words as being fulfilled in Jesus’s ministry…. Chapter 12 and verses 20 and 21 say:

“A bruised reed He will not break,

and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish,

till He leads justice to victory.

In His name the nations will put their hope.”[3]

One old Bible commentator, Barnes, explains an interesting little detail there more…

[The Isaiah passage says, ‘bring forth justice faithfully or “in truth”, but] Matthew 12:2[1] renders this, ‘unto victory.’ The meaning in Isaiah is, that [the Servant of the Lord] shall establish his religion according to truth; he shall faithfully announce the true precepts of religion, and secure their ascendency among mankind. It shall overcome all falsehood, and all idolatry, and shall obtain a final triumph in all nations. Thus explained, it is clear that [the Apostle] Matthew has retained the general idea of the passage, though he has not quoted it literally…”


In any case, the real point I want to make here is that some see a major contradiction here between the focus of our Psalm and the focus of the Isaiah reading… God’s terror-provoking wrath and power vs. this patience and tenderness.

And some will insist that this is not just some apparent contradiction.

They will say that it, in fact, is not logical or rational:

God is indeed contradictory within Himself!

Conflicted inside, it is God vs. Himself!

His law and gospel are in fact violently opposed to one another…

They are polarities, and can never be reconciled…

On the one hand, there is the power of God, the judgment of God over the world… that crushes and destroys it, with His law always and only accusing…

Here, in this sense, the law of God is actually seen as the opposite of God – as not representing who God really is at all! 

God’s law, they say, is only present where Christ is absent and is the opposite of the Holy Spirit![4]

The law has absolutely nothing to do with sharing God’s grace and mercy, or really… what life will be like in heaven at all!

God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it!


All of this, however, is not true!

True, the law and gospel must be distinguished: the law shows us what we must be and what is required of us, even if, in our sin, we cannot do it. 

And the gospel reveals to us not what we must do, but all that God has done in Jesus Christ on the cross for us and freely delivers to His people!

Still though, in the end, both “the law and gospel – not against but with God’s Holy Spirit – reveal an important truth which is exactly the same: God has an overriding desire to do good to all men (even, finally, desiring that each person not despair but be saved in Christ).

And when we become new creations in Christ, we agree all the more that the law is indeed good![5]

We especially understand when in Matthew 23 we are told that the weightier matters of the law, the heavier matters of the law, deal not just with justice and – but mercy or compassion as well![6]

Love, after all, is the fulfillment of the law… and I Cor. 13:7 reminds us of the “suffering of love, which bears all things (I Cor. 13:7).”

Hence, it was completely necessary for our salvation to have the Messiah’s, the Christ’s… full obedience to every jot and title of God’s law (Matthew 5), through the Holy Spirit…


In his 1977 book A Guide for the Perplexed, the philosopher and conservationist E.F. Schumacher said the following:

“Justice is a denial of mercy, and mercy is a denial of justice. Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. Everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man’s humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both… Divergent problems offend the logical mind. — Schumacher, E. F. A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Harper & Row, 1977, 127.

Jesus Christ is the One who answers Schumacher’s dilemma.

He is the Wisdom of God who reconciles justice and mercy! (see Romans 3:26-27)

As Hebrews 1:9 proclaims, explaining precisely why God elevates the man Jesus Christ as the world’s King and Savior:

“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”

Did you hear that? Did you get that?

Jesus Christ hates. He hates wickedness.

And Jesus Christ is always the One who perfectly distinguishes God’s law and gospel, showing us both tough and tender love as he rightly directs and orders our lives….

Like men such as Job, Jeremiah, Shadrach, Meshac, Abendigo, and Habakuk before Him, He also embraces God’s will even when it is most difficult to understand…

He “fulfills all righteousness” by gladly embracing His Father’s will, fearing, loving, and trusting Him.

And doing so perfectly – even through the ultimate of struggles…

For it was His Father’s will that He be crushed, that is, to pay the debt for our sins, and to bring many sons to glory…[7]

And because of Jesus’ faithful work for our salvation, paying for all our sins which alienate us from God! – and defeating Satan through the cross! – we can truly understand why our Psalm – our Psalm which appeared to terrify us with God’s wrath – ends by saying:

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace…”


And with this peace, my friends, this righteousness our Lord gives to us is what we are called to as well….

When Jesus Christ gets a hold of us, when He unites Himself with us and incorporates us into His life, we too, can hear the voice:

“This is my Son; I delight in Him…”

And this is where our Epistle reading from Romans this morning rounds out what this all means for us… We are baptized into Christ and now, no longer slaves of sin, have this new life![8]

So, my fellow heirs of God, my fellow heirs of God, remember our Father in Heaven, Who being the One who is Love, is also the One who is Rich and Powerful in the truest and best sense of those words!

And you, you also, bear a family resemblance…

So, be little Christs!

In Christ we are at peace with God and He works in us to cause us to grow in holiness… to be glorified, to be saved to the uttermost…

Lord, help us not to resist you!

Recently, I read something that I agreed with from a Roman Catholic author. He said:

“Two thousand years after Christ, our definition of goodness hasn’t changed. We all know what virtue looks like. People who aspire to be good must strive to be Christ-like. It’s as simple as that. Eternal, objective truths don’t change. The world, however, is unrecognizable from the time of Christ—more of an obstacle to our salvation in every conceivable way. Our societies may look sophisticated, well fed, and comforting at first blush. That’s only because we’ve exchanged readily visible plagues and poverty for more insidious forms of disease. Beneath the surface, most of us are miserable.

Through consumerism, compound interest, prescription drugs, sex-saturated culture and other addictions, America keeps its people isolated, anxious and compliant. We feel lonelier, poorer, and more anxious, and we are more dependent on substances, self-harm and sin, than at any time since Jesus walked among us. Surely in human history it has never been more difficult to hold on to grace, walk the narrow path, and proceed from charity and kindness in our dealings with others…”

This author, who goes on to talk about how tough love is in fact charity and kindness, isn’t wrong about how failing to follow in the Lord’s way will bring misery.

Even if I have heard some over the years insist, rightly, that God did not come to make us happy but rather holy…

…it is also at the same time true that there is nothing that will bring more lasting joy than recognizing that God has made us holy – that is, set apart in Christ – and calls us to walk in His ways and paths for His glory.

Arguably, no one put this better than Martin Luther in his Small Catechism. In explaining the parts of the Apostle’s Creed he speaks not only about how God richly and daily provides us with all that I need to support this body and life and defends us against all danger and evil.[9] He also shares this exceedingly precious summary of our Christian faith:

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, 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; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”


Our world, though, is deeply confused and sick…

Forms of what people are calling “identity politics” now reign.

One definition of this is “a political approach wherein people of a particular race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social background, social class, or other identifying factors develop political agendas that are based upon these identities…”

Again, our world is confused and sick. Sometimes deeply, deeply evil.

Despite forms of identity politics, it, finally, does not know what to believe about who it really is.

It denies its own Creator even at times asserting there is no God!

Why is this happening? Well, sin, yes… but there’s more. While there is nothing new under the sun, certain ideas, good and bad, indeed gain in popularity in this or that time and place…

Have you heard of Rene Descartes?

He was a 17th century French mathematician and philosopher who perhaps has had the biggest impact on all the key thinkers in the Western world who came after him than anyone else.

He made knowledge primarily something about the self.

He said, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, I can’t doubt that the thing I call me is really thinking, so I know for sure I exist.

Most people don’t have struggles like this.

That said, it did not stop an early nineteenth century German philosopher who would become very influential – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – from expanding on what Descartes said, saying that we can say we are real for a certain reason.

Why? What reason? Because we are creatures and because this is obvious?

No, that would have been the right answer.

Rather, Hegel said we are real because we are conscious that we are real… (and we are conscious of the vast reality we are not, to get into Hegel’s dialectical thinking about how identity is transformed, or becomes…[10])

When I realize that I am real, after all, I cannot doubt that I doubt, for example… I am real.

(And then Hegel was off to the races with his philosophy, even talking about God Himself learning about Himself which I believe is finally why some see law and gospel as polarities…)

As you can see, this becomes all about not what is true out there and that we all share, but what I, I, I, experience and feel… it becomes about the self, in fact, hopelessly and endlessly focused on the self and the self’s perceptions![11]

So turned in on self God becomes invisible…

So when we think about identity politics, we think of people who are, like Descartes and Hegel, relentlessly self-focused and also relentless in determining who is in and who is out, who are finally ruthless…unforgiving and unmerciful (see Rom. 1:31).[12]

But can we as Christians deeply understand why questions of identity, now so twisted and energized by man’s sinful nature, are so important to our contemporaries?


We can.

In Christ, the Father delights in you, a royal priest, as well.

We who are Christians should realize more than most that what is most true is deeply bound up with who God is and who we are.

We get a sense of deep cohesion and direction from an identity which derives not only from above, but from a common historical account – of who God is, of who you are, of what He has done, is doing, and will do, with you as an important part of that!

And this has implications.

Take, for example, the Apostle Paul’s heartfelt words in Galatians 6:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

One can see how here we imitate, in a less than complete way, the kind of goodness Jesus showed to us, where love – sacrificial actions which bear real costs – covers over a multitude of sins.

And regarding temptation, by the way, remember that while God Himself tempts no one, He at the same time does actually allow them and uses them for our good…

The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther said: “God loves and hates temptations. He loves them when they provoke us to pray to him and trust in Him; He hates them when we despair because of them.

So, Christian, things are really are different for you, aren’t they?

You, my friend, are not the Christ, but you are, like Him, the Lord’s servant…

Again, as Martin Luther would put it, you are a “little Christ…”

Again, we bear a family resemblance…

This is who we are.

This is our truest and most enduring identity.

Our royal calling!

The Name of the Holy One, the Living God who both strips the forests bare and won’t snuff out flickering wicks is upon our heads!… placed upon our heads in our baptism!

It is not so much that we were baptized, like a man and woman were married…

It is that we are baptized, like a man and woman are married!

And as far as marriage goes, let us also never forget that every marriage we see on earth is meant to point us again to who we are as well!

For we are united to the true King of all nations, Jesus Christ, with He being our Head and we His bride!

Again, this is who you are, Christian!

Wherever you are in your awareness of this fact, this is the thing that ultimately matters for you!

So rejoice evermore!

Pray without ceasing!

And in everything give thanks!

Go and live – and live more and more abundantly – in all the good gifts of your God!



[1] And in the Old Testament reading this morning, from which I chose our text, has a wonderful testimony to the Gospel…:

…To the work of the world’s Savior or Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Let’s repeat some of that key reading one more time:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;

    I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you

    to be a covenant for the people

    and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,

    to free captives from prison

    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord; that is my name!

    I will not yield my glory to another

    or my praise to idols.

See, the former things have taken place,

    and new things I declare;

before they spring into being

    I announce them to you.”

Because Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His Messiah, He is the One who brings the New Covenant, the New Testament, in His blood.

The blood of bulls and goats and lambs ultimately could not save, even as they pointed to the Perfect Suffering Servant King who, ultimately, would shed His own innocent blood to pay the price for our sins.

This is why Jesus Christ in the Gospels identifies Himself as the fulfiller of this prophecy in Isaiah, the One who definitely deals with man’s sins…

  • He is the One who opens the eyes that are blind…
  • …brings out the prisoners from the dungeon…
  • …and from the prison those who sit in darkness!

[2] Wikipedia: “This [Revised Common L]ectionary was derived from various Protestant lectionaries in current use, which in turn were based on the 1969 Ordo Lectionum Missae, a three-year lectionary produced by the Roman Catholic Church following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

[3] Barnes Notes on the Bible:

“He shall bring forth judgment – (See Isaiah 42:1). The word ‘judgment’ here evidently denotes the true religion; the laws, institutions, and appointments of God.

Unto truth – Matthew Mat 12:29 renders this, ‘unto victory.’ The meaning in Isaiah is, that he shall establish his religion according to truth; he shall faithfully announce the true precepts of religion, and secure their ascendency among mankind. It shall overcome all falsehood, and all idolatry, and shall obtain a final triumph in all nations. Thus explained, it is clear that Matthew has retained the general idea of the passage, though he has not quoted it literally.”

[4] Nicholas Hopman, Lutheran Quarterly, Spring, 2016. From his article:

“[T]he content of the commandment/law is always a weapon attacking human sin” (159).

“Where there is no accusation, there is no law” (164)

“Only where there is freedom from law… can there be love of the law” (167)

“[T]he law and delight in the law are two mutually exclusive realities” (167)

“The Christian, in faith alone, is beyond the law” (160)

The Christian is successful vs. sin because the Christian and Holy Spirit are not law (171)

“[The] law is present only where Christ is absent” (164), and the Holy Spirit is “the opposite of the law” (166)

“[T]he fulfillment of the law actually empties the law of all its content, namely, its threatening teeth” (160)

Some among us “traditional” Lutherans might have the absolute temerity to suggest:

That sin is not to be understood as anything said, done, or thought against the law of God.

That the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the law and the law is only present where Christ is absent.

That any attempt to find a positive role for the law in the lives of Christians inevitably leads to self-justification.

That “nothing [is] more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”

That God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it.

That with God’s eternal law behind us, because of the Gospel which frees us… it would be impossible for us to sin, no matter how hard we tried.

That the law “does not give,” but actually “removes faith in God’s word.”

That God did not punish His Son on the cross for our sins.

And, perhaps worst of all, that Jesus Christ commuted His own personal sin….

“Relevant” and culturally compatible indeed!

[5] Again, if Luther is right when he says “[t]he law does not want you to despair of God… it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” (SDEA 367, 369), how can we not conclude this? The Holy Spirit brings God’s good law!

[6] To seek the weightier matters of the law apart from the complete obedience of Christ—perfectly exemplifying to the world the fulfillment of the eternal law of God in every facet—is indeed, as Andrew Preus clearly sees, “to create justice, mercy, and faithfulness in one’s own image”.

Previously, I have said: “Understood most simply, legal righteousness, or righteousness according to the law, specifically in the Ten Commandments, proclaims an imperfect picture of what must be done, what is prescribed. Even better, given that it is from God, reflects God, and is for man, legal righteousness simply proclaims what real righteousness looks like. And it does us well to note here that legal righteousness involves both justice and compassion (see, e.g., Matthew 23:23).”

[7] For in the end, not just trust but strong trust in God’s loving and redemptive Providence – sometimes against all appearances to the contrary – is in fact the will of God.


Because not only our Lord Jesus Christ, but saints like Job, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendego, Jeremiah, and, of course, Habakkuk – who ultimately live to testify of Christ – are also to be held up in honor as existing for the life of the world, fallen in sin and cursed.

So our Lord Jesus, although standing out above all others, follows in a long line of the Lord’s servants who realized and enacted God’s will through their suffering.

It is not difficult to see how the faithful words of the prophet Habakuk, in his own circumstances, mirrored our Lord Jesus’ own trust in God:

“I will wait patiently for the day of calamity

to come on the nation invading us.

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to tread on the heights.

(Habakkuk 3)

[8] Some of you may have winced when I said God looks at you and also says “This is my Son…”  After all, some of you are not men you might say!

The language here is important. In Scripture, it was the firstborn sons who were to be the heirs. When the Bible says that those who have faith in Jesus are all sons of God, it is saying that all of us, male and female, are to be the recipients of the great inheritance that He brings…

[9] “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

He also talks about how the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith”, “daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers” and raising us all from the the dead to give us eternal life…

[10] See here for more:

[11] See more in footnotes here:

[12] Joshua Mitchell: “Man (the servant) does not wish to live in this mixed world, and conceives of a plan to distinguish and separate the wheat from the tares. Identity politics is that plan….”  From here:

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Posted by on January 8, 2023 in Uncategorized


O Little Battlefield of Bethlehem


“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”

– Hebrews 1:9a


Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Christmas!

And often during worship services at Christmastime we think about scripture readings that speak of what happened around Christmas Eve and Day:

-no good place for Mary and Joseph to sleep

-baby Jesus being born in a stable, among animals

-shepherds in the field, watching their flocks by night

-angels suddenly bursting on the scene, announcing to them the good news of the Messiah for all people

-wise men from the East coming to visit Jesus and shower Him with gifts…

Maybe you are feeling ready for a Christmas pageant right about now with some really cute kids!

And so… all this being the case, we might be a bit taken aback by our scripture readings for this morning!

What do they point to?


Why, it seems that they emphasize the Son of God’s victory, the overpowering of his enemies!

He is the One who reigns from the heavens!

Sitting at the right hand of his Father!…

Or, in the case of the Gospel of John, it emphasizes the Word of God, that is the Son of God, being with God and in fact being God as well! (and that, understandably, might also seem to us to be primarily about power!)

Still, some of the most popular Christmas hymns emphasize not overpowering of enemies, war, or battles but peace on earth

…and create in our minds picturesque scenes like those we might see in Hallmark cards and television specials…

“Silent night, holy night!

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.”


“The cattle are lowing

The Baby awakes

But little Lord Jesus

No crying He makes…”


“O little town of Bethlehem,

how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

the silent stars go by;

yet in thy dark streets shineth

the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years

are met in thee tonight…”

There can be no doubt that our Almighty God has come to us in utter humility, simplicity, and even weakness. He doesn’t want us to feel threatened… to be threatened.  

…The Babe in the Manger really is the One in Whom All can and should Hope!

And yet, are some of the pictures that we often have about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day perhaps too sentimental?

And, in sharing with us the humble and simple facts that it does about the Christmas account, does scripture perhaps actually discourage such sentimentality?

How would the residents of Bethlehem at the time, including Mary and Joseph, have experienced these days?


One Bible commentator, a Lutheran pastor from Australia, Harry Wendt, is keen to paint a very different picture of the chosen location of the Messiah’s birth…

In his short and punchy book, Christmas: the Real Story, he points out that when the King Herod from the Bible’s Christmas account knew that he was terminally ill, just a few years after Jesus’ birth, he wanted to make sure that people would be sad when he died…

…so he gave orders that many notable Jews from all parts of the land were to come to Jerusalem where they would be shut up in the massive sports stadium there, the hippodrome, and killed at his death.

This, of course, would ensure tears and mourning after his death! Fortunately, this plan was never carried out.[1]

Why would Herod have felt he needed to do this?

Well, having ten wives and many sons who wanted to be his heir, he faced one family crisis after another, revolving around struggles for power.

And he had, truth be told, been absolutely ruthless. He had a number of people killed, including several of his sons, his favorite wife, and his mother-in-law. This prompted the Roman Emperor of the time, Augustus, to quip, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”.[2]

In fact, everything that we know about Herod comports with the behavior we will read about later in the book of Matthew, where he attempts to have every boy in the Bethlehem region under the age of two killed in order to eliminate the promised Messiah or King, that is, Jesus.[3]

Wendt concludes: “Such was the world into which Jesus was born – a world in which kings were ruthless in their quest to attain and maintain power…”

When I heard Wendt speak years ago, he characterized Bethlehem not as peaceful, but as a warzone.


Perhaps when we consider this very different picture our chosen Psalm for Christmas Day, Psalm 2, begins to make a bit more sense.

Let’s take a look at some of it one more time…

“Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

And then later:

Therefore, you kings, be wise;

    be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear

    and celebrate his rule with trembling.

Kiss his son, or he will be angry

    and your way will lead to your destruction,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

    Blessed are all who take refuge in him…”

Also Isaiah chapter 52, our Old Testament reading for this morning, fits here perfectly.

For when it speaks of the strength of the Lord’s arm, it is speaking about the power of the Lord that will rule the nations….

When our Lord visits Earth at Christmas, he visits a fallen world that really focuses on the primacy of power… and so here is some language they should understand…


Many in the world will deny that for them it is all about power. For they also, for example, want to talk about good and evil.

And yet – even as our world quickly uses the labels good and evil to its own advantage – it certainly, perhaps more than ever… struggles with any real truth beyond “might makes right”….

Like Pilate, they say, what, really – is truth? Objective truth?!

Truly, our sin-sick world – as the gospel of John in the first chapter this morning reminds us – finally rejects the light of day, preferring the darkness…

As we heard John say in our Gospel reading:

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone…was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him…

This has implications, for no man or woman can escape the importance of truth, of the true light, nor that which follows from it: true knowledge of right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness, good and evil

Sinful man – even the better ones who resist “might makes right” thinking – believes that the concepts of good and evil can finally be used apart from any real reference to the content of our readings and particularly our Psalm, Psalm 2, for this morning…

Truly though, they cannot.

While we speak of a natural law that exists apart from any particular person that might cause the best governments in history, for example, to give a nod to the second table of the ten commandments, for example…[4]

…the same can certainly not be said for the first table of the commandments!….

And yet, as Psalm 2 shows us, God holds all people, all nations, accountable for the rejection of His Annointed King, the Christ!

And our chosen text from Hebrews 1 makes very clear why. Of the historical person of Jesus Christ, scripture says:

“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”[5]

For Jesus Christ – being the Son of God, the very Word of God – is the true embodiment of righteousness, of goodness itself… that goodness that cannot abide evil!

While the power of God graciously creates a way for Him to come to sinners without destroying them – by grace through faith in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that is, through His Son…

…what inevitably must happen is that the Pure Light – even the very Presence of Jesus Christ Himself – scatters the darkness, chases it out, and yes…

Finally, even actively destroys it. 

Salvation cannot finally come apart from this destruction of evil.

Jesus Christ comes so that we might know this, that we might get this, that we might love this, and might love such righteousness now and forever….

But again, this world would like to think about the concepts of good and evil apart from Jesus Christ, because if it could do that it could finally… ultimately… decide what is good and right and true and pure for itself, giving its darkened heart what it wants.


And doesn’t this make us think of the very beginning? Take us back there?

There in the beginning God created everything, said that it was good – and that it was very good!

Correspondingly, again, our readings from the book of John and Hebrews this morning also make it clear to us that the Son of God who would that first Christmas take on human flesh is himself God… is our Creator.

When God created everything in the very beginning everything was amazing and beyond belief.

I remember when I was young how Christmas time always seemed otherworldly. Christmas Eve especially seemed to me particularly magical.

On that night, God entered human flesh and it seemed like the whole world could not escape the pull of this wonderful truth even if it tried!

To me, it was as if the whole creation could not help but sing songs of joy because of what God had done!

“Peace on earth and good will towards men!”

Well, we know that when God originally created the world that everything truly was, in fact, very good!

All of the creation truly did sing for joy, unhindered, uninhibited, and not infected by sin!

There was true joy, true happiness… in every square inch of the creation!

And yet, God allowed for a test, a test that our first parents failed… and that we too have failed ever since.

We are told that in the garden the serpent asked Eve the fatal question: “Did God really say?”

With that question asked, the seeming possibility of something other than what God said was good and right arose. Perhaps our ideas of good and evil are not something that is finally the business of God alone – but we ourselves might be those who can determine what is good and what is evil!

Why not? The world, after all, is not only one that has elements of stability – but change is a reality as well, right?

Is not change built into the order that he has blessed us with?

So why not posit that the Bible provides guidance but only contains and not is God’s word? And why not question what some of God’s undeniably imperfect servants have said in the Bible? Shouldn’t our own spiritual maturity help us to decide what is and isn’t really from Him? Why believe it is really the Holy Spirit when it speaks about premarital sex or kinds of divorce that must not be permitted? Why not wonder if the Bible really means what it says when it states that what happened in the Garden long ago should affect our behavior today – or even just when it talks about how God created us male and female and gives marriage to these distinct persons for our good? Or when it says that children are always a blessing and a reward to the godly? I mean, sure, life is a gift and all that, but not every child is really even wanted or convenient.

If we don’t think these thoughts – if we don’t question Divine Authority and stand up for ourselves – is that not just chains and oppression?

Don’t go there brothers and sisters!

The truth is that the Lord is our Creator, and has made things, then and now, to work according to His proper specifications. There are, you might say, “grooves” to the creation. We want to fit in these.

And here, I must commend a very good pastor, a man by the name of Jason Braaten, who, in commenting on the biblical book of Titus, notes that through Paul God is sending Titus to Crete to put things that are out of order back into order….

God justifies us through the love of Jesus Christ, making us right, putting us into place, reestablishing his order among us.

We aren’t just put under Him as any creature, but actually adopted into His family as children with an inheritance!

We have something to live in and for and to pass on!

Braaten notes that we need to be reminded of this all the time… all the time… to take our place in God’s order where there is life and not death. In submitting to God, works that are rightly ordered, properly arranged, excellent, profitable, and fruitful arise!

Finally, he says:

Pay attention then to where you are in relation to where God has actually called you to be. Let us not profess to know God but deny him by our out-of-order works. Let us not let the word of God be reviled by our disobedience, insubordination, and disorder. Let us not condemn ourselves by living as warped and unfruitful people. Rather, let us take our place, be put into order, devoted to good works — the works he has prepared for us in our stations. That we would be where God put us, that we would watch over what God would have us watch over, that we would subordinate and obey what God calls us to submit to and obey. That no one would disregard us….”[6]


God has given us His word. The fact that we live in a society increasingly at odds with it is never any excuse for us.

Never any excuse for us.

All of us, wherever we are in our questioning and in our attitudes, should know better than we do. As Adam and Eve should have known better.

It is here that we also might speak about how while the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, failed this test, the second Adam and Eve did not.

You are familiar with the idea of the second Adam. He is the One whose birth we celebrate today!

The Promised One who destroys all darkness and evil, crushing the Serpent’s head!

To Him Alone we pray and sing and worship!

You may not be familiar with the idea of the Second Eve however, the one who we really should recognize as the core representative – other than the Perfect Man, Jesus Christ – of the Church.

The early church Father Irenaeus does her justice here when he explains things like this:

….As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.”[7]

So, the second Eve that is the mother of Christ, the very mother of God, did not fail. Like Job whom we spoke about a few weeks ago, she, a fallen woman, succeeded in the Special Mission God had assigned for her by His grace, leading to her blamelessness before her fellow believers.

As the theologian Peter Leithard puts it “Jesus saves, but He doesn’t save without Mary’s help. For the Last Adam too, it’s not good to be alone…”[8]

Let this great woman be an example and model to you! She too, like her son, was one of whom the Lord could say “loved righteousness and hated wickedness…”

That is right. God wanted His Son to hate. And He wants His servant Mary and us to do the same.

Hence, we read things like this in the word:

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil” (Proverbs 8:13).

“Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15), and “O you who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the life of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10).

Love hates what is evil.


Does talk of hate steal our Christmas joy?

Why should it?

If anything, this should re-orient and re-invigorate our Christmas joy, a joy that is not based on good feelings, the pleasures of what we can see and touch and feel, but a joy that is rooted in the One who is beyond us, whose ways are not like ours, and yet, who came to us to rescue us from this fallen world, to save us from ourselves.

Love opposes, that is hates, all that is opposed to this.

When the angel came to her to share the promise from God about the Messiah and bear, Mary did not doubt the word of God as did Eve or Elizabeth’s husband Zachariah. Mary, on the contrary said “Let it be done for me according to your word.”

…because of Mary’s trust in the promise of God, God in his wisdom used her faith to give us His very own son from Mary’s own flesh and blood.

With the Son of God being very God, we can even say “Christ made a Virgin who gave birth to her own Creator.”

Chew on that one again: “Christ made a Virgin who gave birth to her own Creator.”

So let us be humbled! Let us be like the simple ones, the poor, who gladly embrace and treasure the Word that God gives to us. That Word is given to us today!

Behold the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger, the One of whom we sing words which, in truth, are completely unsentimental:

“Why lies He in such mean estate

Where ox and lamb are feeding?

Good Christian, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne for me, for you

Hail, hail the Word made flesh

The Babe, the Son of Mary”

God’s Holy Spirit, exemplified by Jesus, the true King of the Jews and all the nations, gives us love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

The world’s spirit, exemplified by the false king of the Jews, Herod, gives us arrogance, jealousy, selfish ambition, slander, quarreling, biting, devouring, dissension, division, discord, rivalry, disorder…

Let us not embrace the world’s ideas of what good and evil are, or can be

…and let us not imagine that we ourselves will be able to determine in this more fluid environment of the early 21st century what good and evil are, or can be, by our own powers…

…rather let us submit to the timeless word of God, to the One who does not change, to the one who has truly loved and come for us to save us from the grip and lies and false promises and hopes of this fallen world… whose goodness fades away as quickly as most the Christmas gifts that we receive and then soon forget about…[9]

Brothers and sisters, in your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ there is forgiveness, life and salvation! Be happy, and be happy warriors as you face your Bethlehem Battlefields and do spiritual battle in Christ’s power!

So that the Grinches who would steal Christmas and far more away from us will never succeed in their endeavors.

Merry Christmas!


[1] The historian Paul Maier writes of this:

“At one point late in his life, Herod plots to kill a stadium full of Jewish leaders. The plot fails, but what does it reveal about him?*

Well, Josephus has a very grisly thing to report about Herod in his last months. He was paranoid, though he did have some grasp of reality. For instance, he was worried that nobody would mourn his own death. Of course, that shows how deadly accurate he was. They were preparing a general celebration. And nobody likes to die knowing that they are going to dance on your grave. And so he was going to give the people something to cry about. In 4 BC he is in his winter palace in Jericho. It’s the only place in the holy land that doesn’t get snow or get cold in the winter; it’s 1,200 feet below sea level. And Herod is dying. He tries every remedy in the world to stop the gang of diseases that were creeping up on him. He went to the hot springs on the northeastern corner of the Dead Sea, Callirrhoe (which is still springing hot water two thousand years later), and that didn’t cure him. So he goes back to his winter palace, and he invites his sister Salome over, and he says, “I want you to arrest all the Jewish leaders in the land and imprison them in the hippodrome, just below the palace here.” (And the hippodrome has been discovered archaeologically, by the way.) And so she does what he asks, and then she says, “Brother, why am I doing this?” And Herod says, “Well, I know that when I die the Jews are going to rejoice. So I want to give them something to cry about.” And so he wants these leaders all executed in that hippodrome, so that there will be thousands of households weeping at the time Herod the Great dies. So is that the kind of sweet guy who could have killed the babies in Bethlehem? Yeah, I think so.

Yes, most certainly — goodness.” From:

[2] More from Maier: “As a matter or fact, Augustus himself, to whom Herod was always very deferent, said, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” It is a double pun. In Greek it is choiros and huios, a clever turn on words, and the other idea is that at least pigs weren’t slaughtered for human consumption over there; they had a better chance at a longer life. And so it was a brilliant pun on the part of Augustus.

Ouch. Yes.”

[3] Maier is asked: “Speaking of Matthew 2, the Bible records this scene from Herod’s paranoia late in his life. The wise men alert him to the birth of a new king in Bethlehem. He wants to know where, so he can eradicate this new rival. The wise men wisely don’t return. Herod then responds by slaughtering all boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and in “all the region.” For all that Josephus writes about Herod, he makes no mention of this — in fact, there’s no extra-biblical evidence that this slaughter ever happened. How do you respond?”

He says in reply:

“No, it is interesting. Josephus does not mention it. And therefore, a lot of biblical critics will pounce on that aspect of the nativity account and say, therefore it didn’t happen. Now please understand that this is an argument from silence, and that is the weakest form of argumentation you can use. As we say in the profession, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

In this case, one or two things could have happened. Josephus may have heard about it and not used it because maybe you don’t have hundreds of babies killed; maybe you have only about twelve, as a matter of fact — twelve or fifteen. The infant mortality in the ancient world was so huge anyway that this is really not going to impress the reader too much, believe it or not. And I think if Josephus is choosing between the two stories about how Herod died right before his death, I think I would take the one where he is going to slaughter hundreds of Jewish leaders.

Or he may not have heard about it. Again, simply because, in little Bethlehem, it doesn’t amount to much — a village of about fifteen hundred residents. In my actuarial study, Bethlehem at the time wouldn’t have had more than about two dozen babies two years old and under — half of them female. And so this is not a big deal, and I think that is why Josephus either never heard about it or didn’t feel it important enough to record. So this does not militate against Matthew’s version by any means.

In fact, I was arguing once years ago on the infant massacre with a professor at Wagner College in New York who claimed that this is all fiction — that surely a massacre of hundreds of Jewish boy babies would have come to the attention of other accounts of history. Well, I agree it would have if there had been hundreds of slaughters. But that is ridiculous. A little village that size to have hundreds of boy babies, two years old and younger? It couldn’t possibly be the case.

The KJV adds “in all the coasts thereof.” Well, look: Jerusalem is five miles away, right? So this would include Jerusalem as well if we are going to take literally “all the coasts thereof.” We are talking about Bethlehem and probably a half-mile around when we are talking about the surroundings of Bethlehem.”

Interviewer: “Fascinating — and certainly no less a real tragedy. So, finally, as a historian, in your mind, is there any reason to doubt the historicity of the slaughter of the innocents?”

Maier: “I see not one iota of evidence here it could not have happened. And therefore, again, there is no reason to doubt the account as far as I am concerned. To be sure, Luke hasn’t heard about it. Remember, Matthew and Luke don’t copy from one another when it comes to the Nativity. And that is good, because this way they can hit it from different angles. I think it really happened. And let’s remember again that the first martyr of Christianity was not Stephen; it was Jesus. But not even Jesus, for my money, the first martyr in the Christian church, was not the first baby sought out to be killed in Bethlehem, and we always overlook that.”

[4] Coveting?

[5] What is the truth about power?

It is that only the rightful ordering of power gives power true authority.

Our text in Hebrews makes this clear in talking about the role of God’s Messiah:

“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.”

Here, we see that sheer power – physical or intellectual – is not the most important thing, but the truth is.

The truth about righteousness and wickedness, and how God’s Righteousness-Loving Servant is exalted!

And speaking of the truth, the Babe in the Manger of course would eventually go on to describe Himself as the Truth!

And what of love? Righteousness and love go hand-in-hand. And God is love and so Christ is love.

And we also know that love rejoices in the truth.

As the Father rejoices in the Son and the Son rejoices in the Father, we must say that love rejoices in the truth about what is righteous and good and about how this sets us free….


[7] St. Irenaeus of Lyons

This excerpt from St. Irenaeus shows that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly a new Eve, just as her son Jesus Christ is a new Adam.  He contrasts Eve’s disobedience with Mary’s obedience.

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.


As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.

Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed him who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam, and trampled on his head, in accordance with God’s words to the serpent in Genesis: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall lie in wait for your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel [Genesis 3:15].

The one lying in wait for the serpent’s head is the one who was born in the likeness of Adam from the woman, the Virgin. This is the seed spoken of by Paul in the letter to the Galatians: The law of works was in force until the seed should come to whom the- promise was made. [Gal. 3:19]


He shows this even more clearly in the same letter when he says: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. The enemy would not have been defeated fairly if his vanquisher had not been born of a woman, because it was through a woman that he had gained mastery over man in the beginning, and set himself up as man’s adversary.

That is why the Lord proclaims himself the Son of Man, the one who renews in himself that first man from whom the race born of woman was formed; as by a man’s defeat our race fell into the bondage of death, so by a man’s victory we were to rise again to life.

[8] Eve was called Adam’s helper in Genesis (“‘ezer in the Hebrew, from where we get “Ebenezer”, or “stone of help”)

The theologian Peter Leithart is well to honor Mary as the “second Eve” when he says this:

“Mary fulfills the promise of woman. She’s the ‘ezer who helps mankind by putting her power of procreation in service to the head-crushing Seed. Jesus saves, but He doesn’t save without Mary’s help.

For the Last Adam too, it’s not good to be alone…”

[9] Cut ending:

In Acts 17, you know that the Apostle Paul proclaims that “[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” This goes hand in hand with the God-Man sitting down at the right hand of God after offering His purification for our sins at the cross.

And in John 16, this Word made flesh, just prior to his death and resurrection, will say:

“When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned…”

And that Holy Spirit does all of this for our salvation, that the work of the cross and resurrection would have its way with us this Christmas day, so that, as we read:

“…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God…”

Martin Luther said that both God’s law, which orders creation, and His Gospel, “belong to all”. That said, not all have the “perception” of these. Both must be continually taught.

The Gospel must be taught or “traditioned,” i.e. “passed down”: “Divine revelation” – such as the Gen. 3:15 promise concerning the Seed of the woman who defeats the serpent and his work – is given in particular circumstances but is for all and hence should be in all through the activity of believers in history. “[E]ver since the beginning of the world has been [culpable] unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam.”

The same holds true for the law, even as it also remains in human beings by nature such that they are culpable of sin due to whatever knowledge they have.

We need to fight against this always.

So “Merry Christmas!”

Be happy warriors as you face your Bethlehem Warzones and go to spiritual war!

So that those Grinches who would steal Christmas and more away from you will never succeed in their endeavors.

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Posted by on December 25, 2022 in Uncategorized


Jesus, Job, and You Contra Mundum


“You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

– James 5:11


We remember that our Lord Jesus Christ said at the end of the 11th chapter of the book of Matthew,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ must trust these words as true. Jesus gives us true love, joy, and peace, peace that passes all understanding.

Still… we also realize that what Jesus says doesn’t negate our epistle text for this morning. There, James, Jesus’ own blood-brother, is talking about having “patience when persons abuse us”, and “brave perseverance under things that distress us” (Lenski).[1]

Trusting and being patient is not always easy for any of us. This is in part why, for example, in 1st Peter 5:7 the Apostle Peter says “cast all anxiety on God because he cares for you.”

It is said that the 16th-century Church reformer Martin Luther once wrote some comments on this passage in somebody’s Bible, to encourage them. He wrote:

“If God provides for his believers (as Saint Peter here quotes from Psalm 55:22), how, then, does it happen that they, more than other people on earth, are burdened and oppressed by so much misfortune, misery, fear, and trouble from the devil and the world, who incessantly plague them with cunning and treachery and physical tyranny and persecution too, who strive to get their body, honor, and goods, and every hour would gladly have them be dead? This certainly looks and feels as if God were angry with believers, had forsaken them and subjected them to the power of the devil in every respect, to say nothing of any intention to care for them and provide for them in a fatherly way.”

Luther goes on to say words that he hopes will always encourage his beleaguered Christian friend:

“…to accept it as true and certain that God provides for us and loves us as his children calls for faith, which alone is the master who looks aright at God’s word and works and teaches us thoroughly to understand them. Now the word clearly testifies that God chastens those whom he loves and scourges every son whom he receives (HEB. 12:6), as scripture everywhere proclaims… Faith holds two words such as these, directs its course accordingly, allows God to manage and provide, and says with Job: though God were to slay me, yet I will hope in him and rely on his grace.” (What Luther Says, 3688)

Just as we read in the book of James today, Luther knew that we would need examples of steadfastness in the face of suffering.

That is why he references Job…


We’ll talk about Job quite a bit today, but let’s first begin by quickly scanning the book of James again, from which we get our text for this morning….

How does the Book of James begin, right in the first chapter? Like this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…”

Just a few sentences later, we read this quote that seems a bit odd… “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position…

Also in chapter one:

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him….”

And finally, we heard our text from the Epistle of James this morning, which also talked about perseverance in the face of great difficulty.

Again, our reading ends by saying, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”


How much do you know about the book of Job?

Some consider it to be one of the most shocking books of the Bible. For example, I’ve heard it asserted that most of the arguments against belief in God you might hear from atheists today already appear in the book of Job!

Also, I used to teach a beginning theology class at the college level, and I will always remember the student who said that in the book of Job God himself appeared to him as a kind of evil figure, putting Job and other believers through scientific experiments of sorts…[2]

Let’s start our look at Job with a quick summary of the book’s content.

We are told that in the Land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job, and he had quite a reputation!

Later on in the book, when he would recall his earlier days, Job said this:

“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house…”

He then continues to talk about his beloved children –  and how “the rocks poured out streams of olive oil” for him.

Job not only had a large family and wealth, but honor and status in the world… and this was certainly valued and appreciated by him!

He says “whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me.” He also says “men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my council,” and “when I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them.”

Then, suddenly, it was all taken away from him…

He goes on to say, “but now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs…”

He would talk about how all his intimate friends detested him – and that his breath was even now offensive his wife… (19)


What happened?! Why did these things – and other bad things – happen to Job?

Well, we, the reader (or listener) get a view that Job didn’t have…

We are told that one day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord God, and Satan (the Fallen Angel and accuser), also came with them.

And the Lord, in effect, begin to brag about Job to Satan:

“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

In these first two chapters, Satan counters God’s boast, saying that Job is only faithful because God has blessed him so much.

Finally, the devil says “stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

God takes the challenge.

Confident of the loyalty and integrity of his servant Job, God allows Satan to do all kinds of terrible things to him.

Job’s oxen and camels are carried off by raiding parties, fire falls from the sky and burns up his sheep and his servants, and a mighty wind sweeps in from the desert and causes his house to collapse, killing his many sons and daughters…

After this, Job is afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.

His wife says to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Job famously responds, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Shortly after this, three of Job’s friends hear about all the troubles he is experiencing and set out from their homes to meet together and to go and sympathize with him and comfort him…

They start out well, weeping for him, tearing their garments in that ancient cultural practice of mourning and emotional distress, also sprinkling dust on their heads… They sit on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights in silence, because they saw how great his suffering was.

That said, their help pretty much ends at that point, as the talking begins, and Satan perhaps finally begins to find chinks in Job’s armor (Franzmann, CSSC).

Job’s friends reason that because God is almighty, that he is perfectly just, and that no human is wholly innocent in his sight, and so come to the conclusion that “every person’s suffering is indicative of the measure of his guilt in the eyes of God” (Introduction, NIV Study Bible).


At first, Job’s friends’ theology is bad, but they are still nice about it.

For example, One of Joe’s friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, says that mortals cannot be more righteous than God (which is correct) – but then also tells Job that his comfort should come from his own blamelessness…. His own piety (4)… “blessed is the man whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (5:17).

So, in Eliphaz’s reasoning, if Job would simply be blameless and pious and sufficiently humble himself before God, the blessings would flow for him again… (5) for example, “you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing” (5:24b).

Job’s friend Bildad the Shuhite also pitches in, implying that Job has forgotten God – and that if he will just look to Him, plead with Him, and be pure and upright God will be roused on Job’s behalf… (8)[3]

But his comments then get pretty rough. Quite confidently hitting Job with, “When your children sinned against [God] he gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (8:4)

Eliphaz is also not only not impressed, seeing great evil at work, but also says “[Job,] you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty…”

Perhaps his harshest comments come in chapter 22 when he bombards Job with a series of absolutely stinging accusations:

“Is not your wickedness great?

Are not your sins endless?

You demanded security from your relatives for no reason;

you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked.

You gave no water to the weary

and you withheld food from the hungry,

though you were a powerful man, owning land—

an honored man, living on it.

And you sent widows away empty-handed

and broke the strength of the fatherless.

That is why snares are all around you,

why sudden peril terrifies you,

why it is so dark you cannot see,

and why a flood of water covers you…”[4]


For Job’s part, he is not having any of his friends’ “support” or advice!

At one point, he cries out “a despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams….” (6:14-15)

Not only this, but Job goes on to say some pretty remarkable things about what he thinks God’s role is in all of this….

And, in many ways, it is not difficult to understand why Job’s friends were so distraught and scandalized by his defending himself… his integrity. It is because Job, to them, seemed like he was full of sinful self-righteousness (being “righteous in his own eyes”, 32:1)[5], and did not fear and submit to God. He thereby undermined God and other people’s piety as well.

Perhaps Job’s friends could have sympathized when he just talked about his lack of sleep, relating how he asked “how long before I get up?”, and also complaining how “the night drags on and I toss till dawn”…

But Job went much further than this!

He, for example, curses the day that he was born and says “may those who curse days curse that day.”

Further, when Job thinks about the presence of God he is not comforted but feels distraught, saying “what is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?” (7:17-18) 

At the end of chapter 10, he goes so far to say “turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy…”

He also complains “Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?”

Even more: “the arrows of the Almighty are in me, My spirit drinks in their poison…”

There are many more passages I could recall similar to this one.[6] As time wears on, Job’s feelings and thoughts about God seem to get even edgier and more scandalous still… 

At one point, he simply wishes that God would “loose his hand and cut him off” so that in the end he will not finally deny the words of the Holy One!


In spite of making all these statements, Job is, believe it or not, confident that he will be vindicated by God before his faltering friends and others.

He says, for instance, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me I will come forth as gold” and  “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread…” (23:10,12)

So, just how wrong were Job’s friends? Were they wrong?

Well, Job is adamant that they are very, very wrong. Not only about him, but in their heart of hearts….

At one point in chapter 8, he says “you would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend…” and he also implies that his friends say what they say not from love but from evil, when he says “can my mouth not discern malice?”

In Chapter 13 he erupts “I desire to speak to the almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!”

He also says, perhaps almost sounding a bit paranoid, “I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me…”

So Job is confident that something odd is going on with the whole situation with his suffering – even if his friends are confident they have the answer.

And so, again, secure in his relationship with God, he insists that all will turn out for his deliverance… “for no godless man would dare come before God…” like he has (13:15-16).

He knows that he will be vindicated of the false charges against him that he has not been blameless, and that he has suffered as he has because of a supposed lack of blamelessness…

Hence Job even says “though [God] slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely argue my ways before Him” (13:15; see Biblehub)

Blamelessness, by the way – what exactly is this?

It means that one cannot really point out unrighteousness in one’s fellow man; it does not mean sinlessness before God – for no except Jesus Christ can be this – but blamelessness means that one’s words and actions before other people are, well, blameless. There is no proof otherwise.

And while it does not mean that one’s thoughts, desires, and motivations are entirely pure – for again, no one’s can, for no one is good but God alone! –  it does also imply that someone really is attuned to God’s will, His purposes, and walking with Him…

And Job says “This is me.”

For instance, in a moment not of defiance, but more of brokenness and humility, Job cries out to God in this way….

“Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness….”


In the end, Job is, in fact, vindicated by God.

It is not that God has no beef at all with Job.

He pointedly rebukes Job for trying to correct Him, accusing Him, and even condemning Him in order to justify himself.

Job is silenced and repents in dust and ashes.

At the same time, He also says that Job’s three friends “have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has….” And registers his displeasure with them.

For again, Job was, according to God Himself, His upright and blameless servant – innocent of his friends’ accusations – and so the Lord then blesses the latter part of Job’s life even more than the first!

And He is not without compassion and mercy to Job’s awful and faithless friends either!

He says that “my servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.”

That is most fitting, because Job had also confessed that his own offenses would be “sealed up in a bag”… and God would cover over his sin (14). He can now extend this fulfilled promise to his friends.


What should all of this mean for us?

What should we take away from the book of Job today?

A few important things come to my mind.

First, Job was exceptional. And when we think of him, we should always remember that God will not give anyone of us more than we can bear.

Second, exceptionalness aside, we should realize that God is also exceptionally keen to hold up Job, a sinful man, before us as a great example and model of faithfulness and loyalty.

Contrary to what my past student thought, God allowed Job to experience what he did, because He knew that, ultimately, Job would be pleased to have been chosen for such a task.

Are not the toughest battles kept for the best soldiers, and are not such soldiers greatly honored to have been chosen for the battle?

What was that task or battle? It was to show that fallen man, empowered by his confidence in God’s promises, is indeed the absolute crown of God’s creation and can overcome anything in the world, never failing to to proclaim the truth of the Source of all Life, Light, and Love: the greatness and glory and faithfulness and compassion and mercy of our awesome God!

Third, the book of Job also shows us one promise in particular that even Job, one of the Bible’s earliest characters, knew well.

“The idea of a mediator, someone to arbitrate between God and [man], is an important motif in the book…” (NIV study Bible; see 5:1; 9:32-35; note 10:4-7!; 16:19-20; 19:25).[7]

Many of us are probably very familiar with the famous hymn I know that My Redeemer Lives, which was a real favorite of my late mother-in-law.

The words from that hymn come from Job and even though when he speaks them they seem to come from a place of both faith and defiance, the Holy Spirit nevertheless inspired James to write in his epistle about the perseverance or steadfastness of Job.[8]

Let’s look at those words. In Job chapter 19, we read:

“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,

    for the hand of God has struck me.

Why do you pursue me as God does?

    Will you never get enough of my flesh?

“Oh, that my words were recorded,

    that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,

    or engraved in rock forever!

I know that my redeemer lives,

    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,

    yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him

    with my own eyes—I, and not another.

    How my heart yearns within me!”

Brothers and sisters, our Redeemer lives indeed!

He is the true and better Job!

He is the truly innocent one who suffered and was raised from the ashes!

The One who saves His faithless and betraying friends by His intercession for them!

Do not doubt that the Lord, as with Job, also has a goal set for you…

…and that His great mercy and compassion and reward are extended also to you, to yours, and beyond…

and that He will at last bring you out of all your suffering into the blessed goal in, with, and through our Lord Jesus Christ… (paraphrasing Lenski).


[1] We see Job dealing with both of these things…

[2] That student wrote: “God plays the role of administrator of all people. I also see God as a scientist performing experiments on his people. He conducts tests specifically of evil and suffering. For example, in the chapters of Job, he granted Satan permission to torture Job. All for a test, to see if he will curse God’s name. If God knew that Job was a blameless and upright man, what was the point of making him suffer? A believer such as Job saw his suffering as a blessing. He was convinced that God cannot do any wrong. It seems God thinks he constantly needs to prove that he is almighty. Which he has time after time. I don’t understand why the experiments need to keep happening. Especially if God is all-knowing. So I would say God is an additional source of evil and suffering, but he is not the main source as Satan is.”

[3] Likewise, later on Eliphaz says: “Submit to God and be at peace with Him; in this way prosperity will come to you” (22:21).

[4] Those opposing Job also get in these zingers:

– beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction

– Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words

[5] Chapter 27:

“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,

the Almighty, who has made my life bitter,

3as long as I have life within me,

the breath of God in my nostrils,

4my lips will not say anything wicked,

and my tongue will not utter lies.

5I will never admit you are in the right;

till I die, I will not deny my integrity.

6I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it;

my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

[6] Speaking out of his distress in chapter 10 Job says to God “does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?”

And the shocking claims and even accusations from Job come fast and furious:

-God fastens on him His piercing eyes and tears him in his anger like a lion…

-While all was well with him God shattered him, seizing him by the neck and crushing him… (18)

-God tears him down on every side; till he is gone. He uproots his hope like a tree (19).

-The hand of God has struck him. God has wronged him and drawn his net around him (19)

-God has turned on him ruthlessly; with the might of his hand he has attacked him (30:21).

-He has bound Job like the neck of his garment and thrown him into the mud (30:18-19)

From chapter 19:

10He tears me down on every side till I am gone;

he uproots my hope like a tree.

11His anger burns against me;

he counts me among his enemies.

12His troops advance in force;

they build a siege ramp against me

and encamp around my tent.

13“He has alienated my family from me;

my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.

[7] In chapter 9, Job says:

32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,

            that we might confront each other in court.

33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,

            someone to bring us together,

34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,

            so that his terror would frighten me no more.

35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,

            but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

[8] The note in the NIV Study Bible says that chapter 42 of the book implies that Job persevered, but chapters 9-10 show that he did so with impatience, which speaks of Job’s perseverance but not his patience (which people traditionally speak of). The notes also comment that Job voices awful complaints against God even if he does not abandon Him (see, e.g., 9:16-18, 23-24; note also 13:26).

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Posted by on December 11, 2022 in Uncategorized


As the End Comes, Love by His Spirit and Fulfill the Law

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, MN, 11/27/2022.


“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”[1]


Love, Paul proclaims, goes hand in hand with the Ten commandments – at least it seems the second table given the sampling he shared – and says that these are summed up in the one command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Some of you might be thinking:

Why though, is Paul talking about love as a debt here?! After all, as Christians, haven’t all our debts been paid? Is there not a sense in which we really and truly are free from the law?”

Good catch! Your instincts are sound.

For instance, in the book of Galatians, Paul also talks about how Christ has set us free for freedom and that anyone who tries to be justified by following the law has fallen away from grace![2]

At the same time though, note also what he says there in Galatians about the origin of this love that also fulfills the law:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

So when Paul is saying that there is a sense in which we are free from the law, he is certainly not saying that we are free from love.

Rather, in Christ who fulfills the law on our behalf, we really know love, and we are free to love…

And to love, is indeed freedom, liberty.

For if you remain in Christ’s love you continue to love… and, paradoxically, you owe nothing… for love is the fulfilling of the law…[3]

So when Paul speaks of a debt here, he is speaking of a metaphorical debt of sorts…. :

“Realize, my friends, how God is love and you are now found in that love.





So, in the end, we can’t and won’t say, with one famous 20th century philosopher, that “hell is other people”.

For we love.

True freedom — true peace and paradise! — and being able to really express one’s self in love… go hand in hand.

And even if some in the world twist this lovely truth…. they nevertheless have some inkling of this, some understanding of this, to some degree…

This is why, for example, in the book of Galatians when discussing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul says regarding these fruits – that is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – that there is no law against such things.

There is no law against love!

And yet, just what is love?

Famously, when the Bible talks about love, it associates it closely with God Himself, it being at the core of Who He is.

We do not only say that God is loving, but that the One Who Loved the World by Sending His Only Son (that we might believe in Him) IS LOVE.

And, why shouldn’t I Corinthians 13, often read at weddings, be our go-to passage here?:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…”

And later, Paul closes: “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”[4]


So here in Romans 13, Paul is primarily saying this:

Let this love flow! Live in it!

One might think here about how earlier in the book of Romans he speaks about the Holy Spirit’s working in the hearts of Christian people:

“…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

That is quite the picture, isn’t it?

As the love of God has been poured out into our hearts, brothers and sisters, let it flow — let it overflow[!] — to others…

At the same time, even as this love comes to us spontaneously — erupting forth from the faith in Jesus that God creates in our hearts! — that doesn’t mean that we won’t sometimes still need some guidance, encouragement, and reflection on how to best direct our activity.

That is also why in Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins this section of the book where he teaches and exhorts the Romans regarding all the ways they can show love by saying:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

And so here we are directed once again to the importance of the consistent presence and use of the Word of God in our lives….

So that our souls, our minds, might ever be transformed… renewed… and able to test in an informed way what God’s will is – and how it can best be applied by us in our individual circumstances…


As you, my friends, have been baptized into God’s family and have the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit written upon your heads…

…this topic should attract a significant amount of your attention.

God’s will will always be for us to love, and to increase in love for one another…

I think that this is why here in our reading he addresses these commandments that are so familiar to us so quickly.

In a sense, it seems like they are almost like an afterthought for him, as if they are obvious…

Again, we recall that Paul says:

“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law…”

Here is how I read this: the Apostle is saying that of course love follows these commandments!

And love is not doing any harm — or better, evil or ill to the neighbor[5] because it – motivated by faith in Christ and thankful for His gifts to us – is so busy doing good… that is, always operating in a I Corinthians 13-fashion![6]

After all, do those who always hope and who fail to envy think coveting is good?

Do those who are patient – and who are always looking to protect – think that stealing is acceptable?

Do those who are humble, kind and not easily angered think that murder is permissible?

Do those who always persevere, who honor others, and who are not self-seeking commit adultery?

Of course not![7]


Fair enough. Love fulfills the law, we can agree.

That said, perhaps you, like me, have wondered this though: Where is love and praise to God in our Epistle reading today?

When Paul talks about fulfilling the law in love, why does he only talk about some of the second table of the commandments?

We might think, for example, about how when Jesus explains to a Pharisee what the greatest commandment is, He first speaks of loving God with all one’s heart, soul and mind, before only then mentioning loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.[8]

So here, when we think of love – that I Corinthians 13-kind of love – we might ask,

“Doesn’t the Lord first and ultimately want us to never be self-seeking… and to always trust, hope, and persevere… to always be be patient and not easily angered… when it comes to Him?When it comes to our relationship with Him?”

Certainly! – and here one thinks about the importance of things like spending time in His Word, worshiping with His people, receiving His gifts, and being constant in prayer – something He invites us to do, and to be confident that He hears and answers….

At the same time, we might also remember Jesus’ hard-hitting Sermon on the Mount from the same book.

There He says:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

So here, perhaps a bit on the contrary… it appears that Jesus is summing up the law (and the prophets) in much the same way that Paul is doing so… giving the impression that it is simply the second table of the commandments that fulfills the law!

So, what is happening here?


A couple key points.

First of all, there is a very significant sense that even when the Christian does something like regularly hear God’s word, has worship, and receives God’s gifts, God does not intend that this would be something we imagine we do simply for our own sake, but for our neighbor as well!

On the contrary, it is good that we externally and publicly proclaim God’s word in prayer and song, showing loyalty, commitment, and love to God before our neighbor!

Though we should do none of this in order to be seen and praised by men, it does us well to remember that we certainly are unable to not be seen by men either!

We can’t not be seen!

And so all of this helps to put our neighbor on notice or to remind them that the proclamation that we make — and God we bear witness to — is a highly significant and important thing indeed, the most Significant and Important Thing!

There may well come a day when we will have to meet secretly, for example, and not in this large and beautiful sanctuary. That however, is not ever something we should seek!

The second point though, is that while all of this first table stuff is also for our neighbor, it will nevertheless not be as immediately relevant to them as the good deeds that we do for them in the vocations that God has given us (as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, teachers, students, employers, employees, rules, citizens, pastors, laypersons, etc).

This is, again, why Paul so confidently states that the fruits of the Spirit – love being the foremost – have no law against them.

God truly calls us to love all of our neighbors in the Name of Jesus, and He means for us to increasingly do this from the heart, as it is truly to His glory.

For it is to the glory of God to be known in the creation as the God who is love, the One who sent His Son into the world to sacrifice Himself for it that the world would be saved and not condemned!

We are His messengers, and we show this love by living as His people, following our Shepherd, in thought, word and deed…

And this is all by God’s design.

He also knows that our neighbor is not wrong to expect, at some level, that we are called to love them…

Hence, to them it will make sense that God is concerned to emphasize the second table of the commandments here too…[9]


This, however, can go very, very wrong as well… and it has.[10]

We need to remember, after all, that even if Satan does not trust God, He still knows God’s word well — and will exploit it.

For the last three hundred and fifty years in particular, sinful man, fooled by the devil, has made two very significant moves we should be aware of. 

First of all, using a passage like Romans 13 or Jesus’ statement about the Golden Rule, the first table of the commandments has increasingly been chased out of public life.

Don’t ever focus on that first table stuff about loyalty to God! We like the second table commandments where it talks about people being good persons! That, Christian, is what religion is for! Not loyalty to any particular God or church!

That is the first step. The second step is like it.

Using passages like I Corinthians 13, where Paul says something like “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast… but do not have love, I gain nothing”, one might wrongly promote the idea that good internal intentions – and never what one ultimately does with their body – is what really matters.

So… in history, as we have seen, what eventually didn’t matter that much was whether one really followed things like the second table of the ten commandments either!

As long as one was a loving and good person on the inside, they should do what they wanted to do… following their heart.

So much for Jesus’ observation that our hearts are evil!

Of course now we are seeing the fruit of this in a myriad of ways…

Just recently, some 60 United States Senators voted to make Gay Marriage legal in all 50 states, just in case the Supreme Court decision Obergafell, were to fall like Roe v. Wade.

Why did they do this?

Because, as people say today, “love is love”. Many of those involved in promoting their homosexual “lifestyle” believe they are being themselves… being truly authentic.[11] How dare anyone suggest – or worse, assert – that their actions are somehow intrinsically, that is by nature, disordered or harmful.

How dare anyone decry or even just challenge their assertions that “love is love” and that “if the hearts fit, the parts fit”!

Nevermind that homosexual activity harms both the individuals participating in them and the society that they are a part of.

We must, they tell us, not even suggest this as a possibility.

So, now, because of the rise of this thing we call “authenticity”, the “authenticity” of a “Sovereign Self” and individual, things are seen as love which are in fact, not love…[12]

Where will things go from here?

Well, we are seeing that become clearer, day after day, aren’t we?…[13]

Garbage is increasingly shoved into our faces and we are asked to eat it and say we like it.

And even though I, as a vicar, might say all this, you may want to think twice about what you say at your job, for example!


In any case, all of this naturally leads us into the end of the Epistle text today…

…where Paul guides, encourages, and helps us see clearly what God’s will is for us again as regards walking within His law, walking in love….

As we read it, more recent generations of Christian believers may have found it jarring that Paul would bring up the sins that he does [!] as potential temptations for Christians…

We should not be so shocked. Insofar as we are in this world, the Christian is continually both saint and sinner.

Though we are genuinely new creatures in Christ who have truly begun to desire the good gifts and will of God, we also will have our “old nature” or “old Adam” around our neck until we die.

So, what does Paul say to us? What kind of timeless guidance does the Holy Spirit think we Christians need?:

“…the hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day has drawn near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Make no provision for the desires of the flesh”.

What Paul is saying here is this:

You are a Christian, you have known and know God’s mercy and peace. You are a member of His household, so put your body to good use.

No plan B! Put on Christ and kill old Adam! Cut off your evil desires in their tracks!

And by the Holy Spirit that lives within you… love always the Ten Commandments!

You — follow them, both externally and internally.

In other words, run in the way of love more and more, and love one another ever more deeply!

In this way, you will honor your Father in heaven, and glorify His Name.

the One who died for you, so that even now, this morning, you might know He forgives you for all your sins and be at peace with Him…

For He is the One who died for all — and desires that all persons know Him… and be saved to the uttermost… be fully glorified in Him!

God grant this conviction… and corresponding love – this corresponding action – to each one of us!


[1] Started this way:

 “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…”

– Romans 13:1


Do what, more specifically, understanding the present time?

When we wake from our slumber… because our [final] salvation is nearer now then when we first believed… what is the Apostle Paul expecting us to do?

Well, he does go on to say more here, but we will be most helped if we first go back to the previous few verses…:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

And love, Paul also proclaims, goes hand

Love, Paul proclaims, goes hand in hand with the Ten commandments – at least it seems the second table

[2] Let me, for instance, read you a portion from Galatians 5:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?…”

He goes on to say: “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!””

As the Apostle Paul talks so much about freedom from the law here – certainly with the focus on things like circumcision and other ceremonial practices the “Judaizers” were attempting to force on the Galatian Christians – note what what he says here about the origin of this love that also fulfils the law: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

[3] More from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

[hath fulfilled] The perfect tense conveys the thou C ght that such “love” at once attains the fulfilment (as regards principle and will) of the precepts of the “Second Table.” It does not move from one to another by laborious steps, but leaps, as it were, to entire obedience. By its very nature “it has obeyed,” ipso facto, all the demands.

It is obvious that St Paul is not concerned here with the fact of the actual incompleteness of the obedience of even the holiest Christian. He has to state the principle; he takes the ideal, at which all sincere effort will aim.”

Bengel’s Gnomen:

Romans 13:8. Μηδενὶ, to no man) From our duties to magistrates, he proceeds to general duties, such as we owe to one another.—ὀφείλετε, owe) a new part of the exhortation begins here.—ἀγαπᾷν, to love) a never-ending debt. Song of Solomon 8:7, at end of ver. If you will continue to love, you will owe nothing, for love is the fulfilling of the law. To love is liberty (italics mien). The Lutheran commentator Lenski concurs, speaking of this paradox.

[4] The full quote: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

[5] Just any neighbor? More from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

They were, indeed, quite as truly bound to “love their enemies;” but the love in the two cases was not exactly of the same quality. The love of benevolence is not to be confused with the love of endearment.—For such special entreaties to Christian love see e.g. John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:14; and particularly, as a strictly parallel passage here, Galatians 5:13-14.

[6] Expositor’s Greek Testament:

Romans 13:10. ἡ ἀγάπη … κακὸν οὐκ ἐργάζεται. This is all that is formally required by the law as quoted above (οὐ μοιχεύσεις, etc.): therefore love is πλήρωμα νόμου, law’s fulfilment. Of course love is an inspiration rather than a restraint, and transcends law as embodied in merely negative commandments; but the form in which the law actually existed determines the form in which the Apostle expresses himself. It is apparent once more that νόμος is the Mosaic law, and not law in general; it is from it the prohibitions are derived on the ground of which the Apostle argues, and to it therefore we must apply his conclusion, πλήρωμα οὖν νόμου ἡ….

[7] One recalls what Martin Luther said about how the faith that God gives us in Jesus Christ naturally flows into love! In his preface to the book of Romans, he said the following:

“Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

And thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.

Therefore, pray to God to work faith in you. Else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.)

So far Martin Luther. But notice what he also says here also about love and praise to God: “Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

[8]Yes, we might recall events like those recorded in Matthew 22 where a Pharisee, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

How does Jesus reply?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

[9] Again, from the Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary:

They were, indeed, quite as truly bound to “love their enemies;” but the love in the two cases was not exactly of the same quality. The love of benevolence is not to be confused with the love of endearment.—For such special entreaties to Christian love see e.g. John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:14; and particularly, as a strictly parallel passage here, Galatians 5:13-14.

[10] One way this happens is when we rightly know others should love us but we are wrong in what we expect from others. See the footnotes here: ; and here:

[11] “So how did all of that happen? I think the author Meic Pearse gives us a nice summary.

First, he tells us why obedience is the cardinal virtue among “premodern” societies:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

Next, we hear about how the Western world and beyond has, in fact, come to be under Christian influence:

“….what the [Lutheran and then Protestant] Reformation did achieve was a long-term stress on the idea of integrity and inwardness that has become a leading feature of Western culture and which remains long after the religious motives which thrust it into prominence have been discarded by an ever-more-secular society. Its diffused, secularized form has become the inheritance even of the historically Catholic regions of the West so that it is today a key differentiation between “the West and the rest.” (54)

As early as the beginnings of the 1600s, he says we detect the shift to the secularized form he mentions: “The first shift had[, in the wider society,] radicalized traditional morality by internalizing it; the second shift radicalizes interiority and discards traditional morality…”: “The psalmist’s ‘truth in the inner parts / …wisdom in the inmost place’ (Ps 51:6) gave way to Shakespeare’s ‘To thine own self be true.’” (57)

One last shocking paragraph:

“Because stress on interiority had long been part and parcel of moral discourse under the first shift[, popularized by the Reformation], it was possible for advocates of the second shift to borrow its language and to sound more ‘moral’ than those who opposed them (because they were [the ones who] were more ‘honest,’ less ‘hypocritical’ and so on)—even as they cut loose from morality as traditionally understood. In the Romantic worldview of Rousseau, the individual is intrinsically good, while society is evil. For him, there is no question of people needing to put ‘chains on their own appetites’ but rather to break the shackles that society imposes on individuals: ‘Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.’ It is society that drags people down into badness; so the way to a better individual is by freeing them from the ‘chains’ of social constraints—and letting them be ‘true to themselves.’ By the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such thinking had spread beyond the narrow circle of intellectuals and been absorbed by the wider middle classes; it was beginning to affect popular thinking about morality….” (58)

Now, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day – people like Nicodemus – believed in traditional moral codes in their full rigor.

And so, when Jesus talked to him about coming into the light and not hiding in darkness: the idea was twofold:

Not only will God’s children embrace me, God’s Gospel incarnate in human flesh, but they will embrace me as I fully am, as the One who fulfills God’s Perfect Law, that is, who is the embodiment and fulfillment of traditional morality

…living life as it is meant to be lived to the full…”


[12] See footnote above.

[13] Well, a couple weeks back I heard about a woman named Aella. She is at once a political scientist (she is a libertarian), an amazing numbers-cruncher/data scientist, and a prostitute.

She recently did a survey to find out who is interested in bestiality, and a surprising amount of people responded positivity. Of those who were into it, the largest group was the male-to-female transgenders. Strong interest also correlated with sexual assault as a child. 

“Love is love”, they say, but soon, if not already, you will be said to be unloving because of your beliefs. And new laws will be made.

And Libertarians like Aella might well say to you “Doesn’t God say we fulfill the law if we just don’t harm folks?”, as they fail to see that we don’t harm folks not so much because it is in our own interests to not do this (with what we consent to and legal contracts and the like), but because true love – a love that goes hand in hand with the 10 commandments an that they have rejected – is at the core.

The man who shared the bit about Aella, also recently had the following to say about some of the Chritian events he had attended in Europe:

“One Christian leader said yesterday, “We all know what the problems are. We should stop talking about them, and only focus on solutions.” She’s right. Again: nobody has all the answers, so we have to work them out together. For me, though, it was so, so upbuilding just to know that I am not alone, that I have brothers and sisters in the faith who see themselves as on the same path, and who are eager to collaborate. Jan Simulčik, a Slovak historian of the underground church, who served it as a college student in the 1980s, told me that it was only when he was with the young men in his underground church activist cell that he truly felt free. I got a glimpse of that this week in Vienna. To be clear, I don’t mean to compare what we Christians today are dealing with to the grim situation that believers struggled with under Communism. Still, to share a couple of days with a highly diverse group of Christians from all over the continent, and trade stories — including miracle stories of conversion (on my Substack last night, I wrote about a young Austrian woman to whom Christ appeared, leading her to convert — helped me, personally, to feel free in a way I have not for a while…”

And what are some of the things that they might talk about in those meetings?

Well, everything that we have been talking about so far this morning would be a great topic…..

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Posted by on November 27, 2022 in Uncategorized


Leaving it All in Our Good God’s Hands


“…not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life..”

– Luke 21:18-19


Our Gospel reading from Luke this morning is not for the faint-hearted…

In that, yes, very extended reading, we see how Jesus foresees the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of earth as well!

Both appear to get blended together in this prophecy… As an analogy, think about how one looks at mountain ranges in the distance… it is not always easy to tell which one is closer and which is farther off!

Let’s first look at the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70 A.D. (not C.E.). The Jewish historian Josephus – an actual eyewitness to the event! – gives us an idea of what this was like….

First, he says that very soon before the Fall of Jerusalem there was a star resembling a sword that stood over the city, a comet that continued for a whole year, and chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were said to be seen “running about among the clouds” before sunset. He also recalls how priests in the courts of the Temple who were performing their work felt a quaking, hearing a great noise in the Temple, and finally, heard many voices saying “Let us remove hence…” (The Wars of the Jews, 6.288-300). The contemporary Roman historian Tacitus, possibly utilizing Josephus, shares a similar information…[1]

We recall Jesus spoke of fearful sights and great signs from heaven…

Josephus also tells us that Roman soldiers first marched on Jerusalem after a band of Jews took a fortress and slaughtered a Roman Garrison – and then these Roman soldiers were surprisingly defeated by Jewish insurgents! This was in 66 A.D., and at this time the Christians left the city. Eventually, more Jews across Judea, fleeing from incoming Roman legions, took refuge in Jerusalem and there fell under siege. Finally, Josephus gives us a detailed blow-by-blow account of the siege of Jerusalem: how Rome executed their win. In the end, he claims that over 1,000,000 Jews were killed during this apocalyptic event, which He attributes to God’s justice.

We recall Jesus telling His followers that as God’s judgment of Jerusalem would come, they should flee the city…

“In the first century, the historian Pliny wrote that Jerusalem was the most splendid city of the east, always full of pilgrims and tourists bringing prosperity.” The Temple, a complex administered by 25,000 staff including priests, musicians, guides, janitors, and vendors, was the crown of the city. Josephus wrote, “When strangers first saw it from a distance it looked like a mountain covered in snow with gold glittering everywhere since it was so bright white wherever it was not clad in gold.” Again, “Josephus [also] wrote that there was no doubt that this was a judgment from God,” and he believed this in part “because the Romans had orders not to harm the Temple itself, but in the fog and violence of war, it was completely destroyed.” Since the gold of the Temple had been melted after the Temple had been set on fire, all the walls and buildings except the foundation walls of the Temple Mount were pried apart[2] — each stone removed — so the precious metal would not be lost….

We recall Jesus telling His followers that not one stone in the Temple would be unturned…


In 70 A.D., the world was blown apart for God’s chosen people, the Jews. Why?

As Jesus said in our reading for this morning, “these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written…”

I am guessing that you know this is not the first time that Jerusalem and the Temple of God were destroyed.

About 650 years before this, in 586 B.C., it had occurred for the first time. In those days, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar leveled and torched the city, and had also looted, leveled, and obliterated with fire the entire Temple complex. After this, he killed some of the city’s inhabitants while taking the best, brightest, and most attractive as captives.

This was a devastating time for the people of God.

In order to make sure that this would never happen again, the people of Israel had, for a long time, doubled down on following God’s law.

At least, externally.

You see, if they could obey God’s law perfectly on the outside – since no one was perfect on the inside – then they could not only be assured that God’s blessings would come their way. They could also be sure that they could control God and his anger.

In sum, if they followed his rules, he would basically be obligated to reward and not punish them… To reciprocate. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…

But God, you see, won’t be manipulated like this. God always wants not just a contract and the fulfillment of common interests, but our hearts.

But the church forgets. In Luther’s day, the concept of “congruous merit” arose, which stated that “on the ground of equity” we could claim a reward – even the reward of eternal life! – from God for our works. 

In other words, were God not to compensate us, He would actually be committing an offense by violating that which is fitting. He would be unfairly discriminating against us![3] 

Even today, that a “Great Divorce” on God’s part would actually be justice… justified… doesn’t seem to be a possibility for many modern persons claiming Christ….

..we perpetually underestimate the depth and seriousness of original sin – and sins to boot.

As I think I’ve said before…

So much then for “we are only unworthy servants”! 

So much then for the parable of the eleventh hour! 

So much for radical grace and mercy! 

So much for “what do we have that we have not received?”! 


Throughout human history, man has tried to manipulate God. Control Him. Tame Him and put Him in His place.

Israel’s neighbors performed child sacrifice and performed fertility rites in their temples for their gods in order to bring rain and favor — and the Israelites were mightily tempted to do the same and did do the same..,

In sum, it seems to be like this: if we can learn the “laws of the supernatural”, the “principles of the supernatural”, we can actually control God where his actions are predictable because of our own worthy persons and deeds.

This is a stupid and despicable lie — and this is arguably why, more or less, God destroyed Jerusalem twice…

Today, there are still many who do this kind of thing in the church… attempting to manipulate God with their actions and feelings.

And man in general, man outside the church, is basically doing the same thing. They are trying to manipulate and control God, even if this is something they might often have little awareness of.

Contemporary man, at least our elites, often wants to be “secular” — where secular to them means “apart from God” or even takes on “anti-God” connotations.

Whereas ancient man and religious man still today is tempted to try and master the “laws of the supernatural”, contemporary secular man, in an analogous fashion, attempts to harness what they call the “laws of nature”….


[Summary of the below section: When the world is treated as if it is a machine (Newton), it is easy to forget God… “If you know how something works you can control it, use it to your advantage, or at the very least you can harness it…”]

Isaac Newton, the 17th century scientist who we remember as discovering gravity when an apple fell on his head, was himself a Christian, and certainly changed the world when he recognized that regularities in the creation could be carefully and consistently observed and mapped mathematically, allowing for all manner of accurate predictions.

Still, he also said that “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all’”

Some 150 years later we hear of the famous event when the brilliant “French Newton” Pierre-Simon Laplace (23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827) was asked by Napoleon where God fit into his mathematical and astronomical work, and Laplace famously replied “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.”

Now, Laplace was not necessarily saying that God did not exist. He was, however, saying that the question of God was more or less irrelevant in his scientific work.

The church has always said “lex orendi, lex credendi”, which when translated from the Latin roughly means “the law of prayer is the law of faith”. In other words, how one thinks, how one prays, what one does, will influence what one believes.

And so, in practice, when science is thought about wholly in terms of the “laws of nature” many felt and feel justified in methodologically excluding God from the picture and relying only on natural causes and explanations.

And, on the one hand, this makes some real sense to us. For all the times that they are wrong and we have wrongly cursed them, we also know that weathermen and women get a lot right – and we are happy that they search out things in terms of natural causes and don’t just concluded that “God is sunny and happy today…” or “God is stormy and angry tonight…”

And yet, this is also something desperately wrong about all of this, in essence, forgetting God – thinking of God’s creation — or “nature” if we want to avoid talking of the Creator — as a machine that we can understand well, control, and endlessly tweak (for again, if you know how something works you can control it, use it to your advantage, or at the very least you can harness it…).

Things get particularly bad when things like “social sciences” and then its offspring Marxism got rolling… where the fact that man has a soul as well as a body was left behind… a fact seemingly made “irrelevant” for how business gets done in the “real world”….

In my view, the brilliant Lutheran thinker George Hamann – recently discovered in the academic world – nailed the issue already 250 years ago when he, speaking of the new science that was captivating everyone, said:

“…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”.

And because so many scientists today, unlike Newton, do not know the Creator of the creation but have excluded him from serious discourse… no actual, serious science like that which Newton and Laplace practiced is in increasing jeopardy in America and the Western world today.

Nevermind the increasing lack of trust in big pharma, there is also the “replication crises” …where things that had seemingly been more or less proven and accepted as true in the past are increasingly unable to be replicated by those running the experiments again…


Many elite Americans think they still understand what good science is.

They don’t. At its best, those truly in the know recognize that there are vast differences between hard and soft sciences, know that dissent and challenge is critical to its proper use, get that striving for objectivity is key and is greatly hindered by conflicts of interest, and know enough to not claim too much for its powers…

My view is that those who have the lawn signs in their yards that proclaim “love is love”, “kindness is everything”, “no human is illegal”, and yes, “science us real” probably don’t see science the same way… (to say the least)

In fact, I’ll assert that most of these folks are actually “irrational” to the hilt… even as they use the proven rationality of truly successful science as a cover, a veneer, a patina, for both the goal of helping them fulfill their own desires… and to help them fit in with those they have come to admire in the world…

In sum, they know that claiming the authority of science for your desires, moral claims, and goals will certainly make these things appear more weighty, important…

…even as even real science continues to slip, making claims it can’t possibly support and prove…

That said, again, we can’t deny the power that men like Newton, Laplace, Boyle, Maxwell, and Einstein showed us… Rocket ships, nuclear bombs, and smart phones will do that to you, after all… And so again, knowing what really has been made possible, elite modern man wants, expects, to be in more or less full control…

Elon Musk certainly grasps science much better than the “woke” social justice warriors he decries, but he still has a lot of faith in its ability – too much faith – to offer us rational control over all of life’s problems…


At the very least, we often want to know what the weather is going to do and when…

All of us, to this or that degree want, expect, to be, in control… to manage our lives…

So enter this Gospel reading for today….

You think you are in control? More, you think you can manage Me, sideline Me, put me out of the game?

Not a chance. This world is passing away, and I, in fact, am going to blow it apart!

“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among the nations, bewildered by the roaring of the sea and the surging of the waves. Men will faint from fear and anxiety over what is coming upon the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory…”

On the extreme left of the cultural and political spectrum, maybe many can “spin” the earthquakes and famines, tsunamis, and plagues Jesus speaks of as something that we, if we would just be good politically correct humanitarians! – could responsibly manage…[4] But the Environmentalists and Green New Dealers are going to have a bit of trouble managing these things Jesus says are coming, spinning these things, to say the least…

Meanwhile on the extreme cultural and political right, men are more likely, I , submit, to be fatalistic in a sense, thinking, for example, that wars between nations – roughly equivalent to what we would today call ethnic groups – will indeed happen… So why try too hard to be peacemakers?

And among Christians who are indeed inclined to state they believe strongly in the Bible’s authority, there is often a belief that we can know pretty specifically when the end is coming – as man’s “free will” cooperates with God’s Spirit to know the day and the hour… For if you know that after all, then you can tell people more specifically when they need to decide to follow Jesus and to submit their hearts to Him…

Men go wrong in so many ways…

But this Gospel lesson today, my friends, cannot be constrained.

It is in fact God’s law, God’s judgment, seen by us in its full force…

It makes us aware of our sin quite well, that is, what our sin deserves…

We who would seek to put our Creator in His place…


My fellow believers, God’s law is not against us having some control, some management, in our lives.

In fact, one of the qualifications of a pastor is that he is one who manages his household well! (I Tim. 3:4)

At the same time, this text this morning reminds us who God is, both literally and as it reminds us who is ultimately in charge. Many things, simply put, are out of our hands…

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

We see this also in the comfort that Jesus gives to those who are persecuted in His Name.

“Do not worry, do not plan…. on what words you will say. I will give you the words that you need when the time comes…”

Don’t worry, it is out of your control. I’ve got this. Your back.

Go ahead and plan, go ahead and speculate a bit here and there, but always hold such things lightly

Perhaps you see or think you can prove that there are more earthquakes or plagues or tsunamis than ever before… and so this escalation shows the time is nearer still… but don’t forget that Jesus is telling us here to always be ready for the end to come…. the fig tree is always at least a little bit green…

You have the grace of God, grace that will keep you as His faithful witnesses – even unto death and the end.  He will make you ready for the slaughter at any time, even as you are ready to share God’s mercy – in its manifold forms – with your enemies.

So baptized children of God, in these last days where the church’s faith and love and mission focus is weak… be who you are, be who you were always created to be… live a Christian life! This is what you have been called to…

This is about being those whose trust is increasingly not in one’s self and one’s own strength, but in Christ.  For the sake of our neighbor. Like Paul, in Christ, we become less concerned about ourselves (see Rom. 9:1-5)..

For your neighbor’s sake, be actively seeking to be where He is at – about His Father’s business in the world… For you this means your various vocations: husband, wife, mother, father, grandparent, layperson, employer, employee, citizen, neighbor, etc. It is all for His glory so, whatever is at hand, do it for His glory!

For your neighbor’s sake, strive with all your heart to increasingly live within (not by) the 10 commandments according to their positive applications…

(the possibilities are endless!) For your neighbor’s sake, strive to consistently discipline your “old man” by fasting, praying, and giving alms…  And above all, for your neighbor’s sake, seek to sit at your Lord’s feet more and more that you might grow in your understanding and realization of every word that proceeds from His mouth…

Yes, seek to know and do God’s love more and more – unto the perfection that we will only know on the last day….

Like the Christians who fled falling Jerusalem, flee all idleness, carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life!

…and manage yourself, your time, your talents and treasures wisely…

Even as you remember He is in control because of His love for the world… for you.

In this alone is true peace and freedom and confidence found…


The fall, the end, of Jerusalem, was terrifying.

The fall, the end, of the world, will be terrifying.

But know that all things work out for the good of those who love Him…

Because He loves the world, coming ultimately to save it and not condemn it…

Remember this is the Jesus who said on more than one occasion: “How often I wanted to gather you together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Jesus foresaw the coming destruction, and He mourned over this….

He mourned because He knew that because of their impenitence that in 70 A.D. the world was going to be blown apart for God’s chosen people, the Jews.

For “these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written…”

And as Jesus lamented over the Fall of Jerusalem, I believe Jesus laments over the Fall of the world.

But don’t think that He won’t go through with the final judgment – or with sending the condemned, the damned, to Hell…

For those who will not have this Good and Fearsome God will not have His people either…. eventually. So He will rescue His people from their enemies forever and ever.

There will be a gulf forever separating the sheep and the goats, with the latter being unable to molest the former…

So when you read:

“At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Again: Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near!

Do not be terrified, but Rejoice!

Not a hair on your head will perish, for Jesus means to for your life in the fullest sense, your soul, to be with Him forever.

Our text talks about believers enduring here… note that this is speaking about something more passive.

We patiently receive that which God sends to us, both afflictions, and the power to endure the same, secure by faith in His Son and the forgiveness He brings!

So, you… be out of control!

Unlike this fallen and perishing world, recognize your Maker who still makes the events of all our times…

…and who will never give us more than we can handle…

For things that are not under our control but wholly in His good hands should always be our comfort….

So cling to Him through this coming ride, and you shall win your souls…


Image complements of

[1] 12 1 The temple was built like a citadel, with walls of its own, which were constructed with more care and effort than any of the rest; the very colonnades about the temple made a splendid defence. Within the enclosure is an ever-flowing spring;​40 in the hills are subterraneous excavations, with pools and cisterns for holding rain-water. The founders of the city had foreseen that there would be many wars because the ways of their people differed so from those  p197 of the neighbours: therefore they had built at every point as if they expected a long siege; and after the city had been stormed by Pompey, their fears and experience taught them much. Moreover, profiting by the greed displayed during the reign of Claudius, they had bought the privilege of fortifying the city, and in time of peace had built walls as if for war. The population at this time had been increased by streams of rabble that flowed in from the other captured cities,​41 for the most desperate rebels had taken refuge here, and consequently sedition was the more rife. There were three generals, three armies: the outermost and largest circuit of the walls was held by Simon, the middle of the city by John, and the temple was guarded by Eleazar.​42 John and Simon were strong in numbers and equipment, Eleazar had the advantage of position: between these three there was constant fighting, treachery, and arson, and a great store of grain was consumed. Then John got possession of the temple by sending a party, under pretence of offering sacrifice, to slay Eleazar and his troops. So the citizens were divided into two factions until, at the approach of the Romans, foreign war produced concord.

13 1 Prodigies had indeed occurred, but to avert them either by victims or by vows is held unlawful by a people which, though prone to superstition, is opposed to all propitiatory rites.​43 Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the  p199 mighty stir of their going was heard.​44 Few interpreted these omens as fearful; the majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the East should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world.​45 This mysterious prophecy had in reality pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, as is the way of human ambition, interpreted these great destinies in their own favour, and could not be turned to the truth even by adversity. We have heard that the total number of the besieged of every age and both sexes was six hundred thousand; there were arms for all who could use them, and the number ready to fight was larger than could have been anticipated from the total population. Both men and women showed the same determination; and if they were to be forced to change their home, they feared life more than death.

Such was the city and people against which Titus Caesar now proceeded; since the nature of the ground did not allow him to assault or employ any sudden operations, he decided to use earthworks and mantlets; the legions were assigned to their several tasks, and there was a respite of fighting until they made ready every device for storming a town that the ancients had ever employed or modern ingenuity invented.

[2]The southwest portion of that wall is exposed today, and is called the “Wailing Wall”.

[3] Even if, strictly speaking, as God, He was under no obligation and violated none of our rights in doing so…

[4] From:

“For twentieth-century fascism and communism, science supplied the best justification, whether socialist science or race science. Today’s justification is humanitarianism.[…] Impassioned hatred of enemies]” Still, even if humanitarianism is now the justification, it is nevertheless also supported by the idea that science itself indicates to us that this humanitarianism is best. We talk about morality now more therapeutically and medically now, in terms of being unhealthy (“toxic”, “polluting”) and healthy, not good or evil…

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Posted by on November 13, 2022 in Uncategorized


True Purity that Endures Forever


“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

– I John 3:2b-3


I recently read a crazy story[1] about a man who drove with his German Shepherd to the grocery store on a summer day. He left the window down, quickly popped into the store for a minute to grab a six-pack of beer, and came out to find himself confronted by an approximately 45-year-old woman who immediately said to him:


He asked her what she was talking about and she said, “IF YOU EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A HOT CAR AGAIN I WILL FIND YOU AND CALL THE COPS. YOU’RE AN ABUSER.”

He responded, “It’s only 80 degrees out. The AC was blasting before I went in, so the car is cool. I was only in there for a minute. And also, the windows are down. Look at my dog. She’s totally fine.”


The man: “Cars don’t just randomly heat up super quickly with the windows down. We’re not in a record heat wave or anything, we’re in a sunny summer day with a breeze. You can’t get mad at someone just for having their animal outside during the summer.”


On and on the evidently true story goes. He gets in his car only to be trailed by the woman. Deciding not to go home, he pulls into a dirt road and she skids her car lengthwise across the entrance to the road, blocking him in so he can’t escape. She then gets out of her car and screams and swears at him… again.

When she threatens to call the cops and he tells her to “Do it. Bring them here”, she pauses for a minute, maybe contemplating how bad things might look for her. So instead, she takes a picture of his license plate, shouts “Got it” and leaves with tires screeching…

The man continues: “I knew for sure she’d call the police, so once I was home (making sure I wasn’t followed) I did too. I called the department number and told them about the incident, my side of the story, about her reckless driving, and they told me a cop would call me back. Which he did, quite promptly.”

From there we learn that “the woman [had] stormed down to the police station to file a report in person” and the cop who took the report was the one he was speaking to. A K-9 officer, he said he kept waiting for her to get to the part where the he had done something wrong. The cop actually apologized to the dog owner, and they were able to have a good laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation.

Commenting on the incident, the author talks about how it was so important for him during this whole situation to keep his cool (he mentions he was an emergency medical technician in college), and then makes the point that this woman, even though she showed a very ugly and even evil side of human nature, probably really believed that what she was doing was for the good… She was no sadist, who enjoyed causing harm and pain and misery to other people…

So, what to make of all this? What this story reminds me of is any person who has a fanatical devotion to an idea of moral purity and loses touch with reality…

We might sometimes get a kick out of this fanatical and misled devotion to purity… but we also know such things are not always funny…


Our text today also talks about purity, but in a good way… in the right way…

“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

I’m going to try to unpack this Scripture this morning by speaking about 3 themes:

  • God’s final purification
  • How we are made pure
  • Living in that purity

First, God’s final purification

Again, our text for this message comes from I John 3:

The pure in heart—that is God’s people—will “see him as he is…” — and hence, fully be like Him!

And the immediate context for this Appearance, this Meeting, this Seeing God, is the end of the world!

Man certainly makes his own attempts at purification, but of course God’s purification, His final purification, stands out!

The Moon the color of blood,

the sky being rolled up like a scroll,

the veil being removed!

…a loud trumpet,

and Angel armies accompanying the King of Heaven and Earth, riding on a White Horse.

The Great Last Judgment of the sheep and the goats.

These are the kinds of things the church talks about now, at the end of the Pentecost season: the “Last Days”… the end of the world!

Here, though, remember: God’s people are ultimately not to be afraid, but encouraged!

Again, when this day comes you, the “pure in heart,” are told to “Lift up your heads!”

You are not to fear this judgment, for this judgment is one for your enemies…

The True Judge of Heaven and Earth comes to save those who trust in Him, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted,

The pure.

The time for those who hate us is not long… we will be rescued by our Conqueror when He comes again.

Perhaps it will even be something like the scene in the story the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — where the royal priesthood of believers wield swords and participate in the final battle….

This battle where The Evil One will be defeated forever….

With the result being that people from all tongues, tribes and nations – will be saved by the Rider on the White Horse, Faithful and True, the Son of God.

It will be “Back to the Garden of Eden…. And more

“Let them praise his name with dancing

and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

For the Lord takes delight in his people;

he crowns the humble with victory[!]”

So we read in the Psalm appointed for today.

How can we not rejoice?

For this world, the empty way of life… all which opposes the goodness God brings… is indeed passing away.

Much more awaits us.

And so:

“…we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

Now, if you are like me, perhaps you think at this point “Have I ‘purified myself’?

I mean, it seems kind of important.”

As Lutherans, we don’t really talk this way, right?

So what does this mean?


Yes, how are we made pure?

And, well, first, what does it mean to be pure?

Have you heard the phrase “pure as the driven snow”? Driven snow is snow that has been blown by the wind, into drifts and such.

The kid in me concludes that it’s the kind of snow you can eat.

In any case the expression isn’t used as much these days, but it is used to speak, sometimes disparagingly, about things like moral purity, chastity, and virginity.

(also rarer terms these days).

And of course in our everyday language, pure means something that is uncontaminated.

There is no defilement or spoliation. And to purify something means to bring it to this state.

And if a person has been purified, is pure, this evokes the idea of not only outer, but inner cleanliness… to the very center of one’s being. Through and through.

How, then, does the Bible say this takes place? It says that true purity, purity that lasts and is never faked, is rooted in God.

Only God, after all, is truly good… truly pure.

So, when it comes to us poor sinners, being pure, in the most simple sense, means to believe and hope in God, as opposed to the world, false in its love, which rages against Him.

In I Peter chapter 1, the Apostle says “you have purified yourselves.” How?

By submitting to what you heard: you believe, Peter says, the words of testimony about Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

And glorified!

And revealed in these last times for our sakes!

And it is because of this wonderful truth, Peter says, that you have true love for each other.

Therefore, he says “love one another deeply, from the heart,”

This is what it means to be pure.

Our text in I John says much the same thing and throughout his letter in fact John has a lot more to say:

  • If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with each other, and His blood cleanses us from all sin!
  • Keep His word, His teaching, His commandments, abide in Him… [by this, the love of God is perfected in us…]
  • You know the love of the Son of God who laid down His life for us. So, beloved, let us love one another!
  • Do not love the world, or the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, the pride of life… Even if they hate you because of the paths of righteousness in which you walk!
  • As the Son is, so we are in this world! We love because He first loved us.
  • If we abide in the Son and in the Father, we have the promise of eternal life.
  • And we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming….

Again, this is what it means to be pure. These things have to do with being pure…

Our full text for the day is in many ways a great summary of all these things… I think the King James version said it the best:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”


As a bit of an excursus here, the world knows nothing of this great love that makes us pure…

Instead, not having the love of God, it can only try to purify the world with its power…

We see it in the story I told about the woman determined to punish the German Shepherd owner, futile quest though it may have been…

And we certainly see it in contemporary politics, where passions sometimes seem to rise to a fever pitch…. Election day, as I am sure you know, is coming up…

Contemporary skepticism about our elections aside, attitudes towards elections, I think, often deteriorate such that they become, in microcosm, a sign of “the world’s quest for purification”…

Four years ago, when things were also crazy but nevertheless still far more sane than they are today, I was reminded that down in Texas, one candidate was saying “Y’all means y’all” while in California another chose a more direct approach to communicate roughly the same thing: “we stand united against hate”.

In either case the message actually mimics biblical themes of purity: those who understand what is good, what is righteous, will “resonate” with these themes… they will unite with us… against the hateful, the evil, the impure…

Others, of course, take some real offense here to such affirmations and counter with their own slogans, seeking to gather enough actual voters to give them a majority…

And then, if we pay attention to international news or even just history, we see can see how if politics and political systems fail we will be in danger of war…

And here, the German military historian, Carl von Clausewitz, said that war is simply politics by other means. Expanding on this, “The political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

The “political view”, of course, is often not only the defeat, but the humiliation and punishment of the opponent. The impure enemy.

And devotion to ideas of moral purity and what must happen to those who are impure can get pretty ugly… and sometimes, people don’t even get a chance to raise an army and fight…

We might think about the Nazi death camps, Stalin’s purges, Ruwanda, or the Cultural Revolution that took place in Mao’s China…

And it might be very easy for us to be led to hate here as well, hating those who are against us or who we hear do such kinds of evil…

Even as we often might also develop our own exaggerated ideas about the evils of others… perhaps about the “inhumanity” of those who commit such atrocities….

Perhaps with the cartoonish Disney villains we knew as children in our minds, it might be hard for us to realize that people who do really bad things often also really do mean well…

Devoted to what they consider a noble and pure vision – they find themselves led into awful evil… into heinous acts….


How can we avoid getting caught up in this ourselves? And how should we respond to those who hate us?

By recognizing that we are God’s saints, and that we are here to be a Sign of Contradiction in the world…

He calls us saints by Christ’s blood, and He, by love, continues to make us conform to His Son’s image….

So how can we Live in Purity? How can we “Keep yourselves pure…”  as the Apostle Paul urges in I Tim. 5:22?

The question of living in God’s purity has to do with what God’s purity and holiness is.

It is this:

He, and He alone, is the One who is Good – and the Love which burns through Evil en route to rescuing those lost in the darkness.

In Christ’s work — completed through a foolish cross no less! — we see the charred remains of sin, death, and the devil.

He did this for us.

And so when it comes to us… the implication is that we have – and we create – spaces and places where this message can be heard, believed and lived.

The mission we have is never about God’s people being intrinsically superior to others… this is about True sight, True seeing…

Being blessed to know not only where the bread is which we share – the Forgiveness of sins which heals and nourishes… but also knowing where True Life is in Fullness.

What is that?

There is a King we know who is simple.

Who loves His people, who is loyal… but who does not let sin go unpunished….

Who will not allow us to live in our lies, our lusts, our pride and selfishness….

He is ready to Refine us again, and He will stop at nothing to make us more His…

So don’t say, for example, “am I my brother’s keeper?” They are all your brothers!…

You are to love your brethren in Christ first of all,

…and in this world you must look to provide for family first,

…but all are your brethren, God’s “offspring” all, they are all men and women for whom Christ died…

The Christian life never has as its goal alienation and cutting one’s self off from others, but we call people — even our enemies who might still listen — into our spaces, into our places, to participate with us “in the life that is truly life”.

Though He has hard words, demanding words, damning words, Jesus’ default orientation is not to condemn, but save,

…and His heart is now ours. Where He is, there also will His servant be…

This is the life to which he has called us….with these truths we must practically wrestle, in the church… and beyond…

And this will also, on occasion, require a love that is tough and maybe even a real fight… Where hard actions that are absolutely necessary must and will be done…

And here, we look to our faithful Lamb to shepherd us through such difficult decisions… as He rightly channels our desire to see His divine goodness and justice reign…. 

Always remembering that even our best-hearted attempts to purify what we all know needs purifying will nevertheless always be infected with the leaven of sin that remains in our hearts!

As Paul says: “ Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” For as we talked about last week, even the Christian’s good works remain to some degree tainted by our sinful desires and loves, and will be in need of the blood of  Christ…

And He is indeed is always eager to forgive us, to cleanse us, to purify us…

So know that, believe that, and be at peace saints of God!

Whoever desires, let him take the water of life – this pure water – freely!

Anyone who is thirsty…

With Him, we’re ready.

We’re in the clear, clean and pure…

We were washed and we ARE baptized, belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with His Name firmly affixed to our heads…

We are His. So come Lord Jesus, and Purify…


[1]  “Karen” in recent years has become a term of derision for a kind of certain kind of stereotypical “middle aged woman”. The Urban Dictionary tells us she is “typically blonde, [and] makes solutions to others’ problems an inconvenience to her although she isn’t even remotely affected…” I was unaware of how charged this particular idea/meme had become, finding these articles as well:;

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Posted by on November 6, 2022 in Uncategorized


How to Best Fear the Maker and Give Him Glory

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church in Clam Falls, Wisconsin on 10/30/2022


“Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”

-Rev. 14:7


Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Reformation day, the day we remember and even celebrate a certain pastor and professor’s recovery of the Gospel in the medieval church, just over 500 years ago:

The recovered Gospel… that is the good news of the free grace of God – not by works – offered in Jesus Christ…

At the funeral of Martin Luther, in the German city of Eisleben on February 22nd, 1563, four days after his death, his pastor Johannes Bugenhagen, said, “…[W]hat shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears?”

And he then preached for about forty minutes, and his sermon text was the text that we read in Revelation today in place of the Old Testament reading…

It begins by saying “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people…” The Greek word for angel here is ἄγγελος, and it means either a heavenly or earthly messenger.

Reasoning that Luther had been monumental in the church in his recovery of the heart of this eternal Gospel, Bugenhagen applied this text to Luther.

Luther was that angel, that messenger.[1]

We’ll come back to that idea a little bit later on[2].

For now, we can definitely say this:

However one might feel about Bugenhagen’s assertion, Luther did indeed vigorously proclaim that eternal Gospel which brought joy and peace into the hearts of men!

And yet, how much can our world today understand this?[3]


After all, today, people as a whole really, really, don’t fear God…

Alternatively, when we talk about our lives and their meaning – when we stop being distracted by our screens that is – we are a nation of self-help.

The Victorian Brit Samuel Smiles started this in the late 19th century as his ideas caught fire around the world…

…and years later Dale Carnegie taught us how to make friends and influence people.

Today even “pastors” like Joel Osteen have joined the self-help chorus.

Recently however, I heard a pastor and theology professor speak about the resurgence in popularity of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism!

Evidently, going by the name of “mindfulness”, “resiliency training,” or sometimes simply “grit”, this revival of Stoicism can be seen in a number of quarters: on the psychologist’s or counselor’s couch[4], in the corporate boardroom, and particularly, in the U.S. military… popularized especially by Admiral James Stockdale.[5]

Even though this modern form lacks the comprehensive worldview of the ancient form – which believed in all the traditional forms of virtue Christians would uphold and that would serve the common good of one’s fellow man – this new Stoicism nevertheless still has some real practical value for those who are attempting to survive in the contemporary world…

With personal happiness and peace of mind through “imperturbability” as its goal, it not only talks about the enduring value of some virtues like justice, courage, wisdom and self-control – but also like its ancient form proclaims to its disciples that we can’t always change others or the events that surround us but that we can change how we react to such things

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one of the best-known Stoic thinkers, aptly summarizes the Stoic mindset: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

In other words, we can all to some extent “remain aloof” and control our emotional responses to the things that happen to us, whether this be “fate”, as in the ancient world, or the “laws of nature” we speak of today.

“Mind over matter,” so to speak…

To sum it up, as the author puts it, it “offers its adherents a resource for life’s challenges, steels the nerves for hardships, and provides perspective”…

Luther wisely said “[I]f if you want to begin with, and treat of, physical freedom, you will become so muddled and confused that you will lose both freedom[ of the body and the soul]” … and in some ways, it seems like Stoicism might agree with him here!


We cannot deny that in some regards a resurgence in Stoicism has a lot of good practical advice that, really and truly, is not wholly incompatible with the Christian life….

  • You are not that significant, so prioritize your brief life!
  • Be a realist in the world and seek increasingly to be prepared… practice good habits and techniques to help you in this quest.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and be tolerant of others and thankful!
  • And remember, you will die….

But again, even as death is acknowledged here…

it is not feared.

For the Maker – the Creator of all! – who tells us that the wages of sin is death

is not feared…

…but instead is seen as impersonal, one with nature, insignificant to our greater questions…

Again, against all modern man’s doubt, this is what the Bible tells us, and will continue to insist ( : ) ), is the problem: man does not fear the Creator!

As better as it might be than living by one’s every feeling and whim, self-mastery under one’s own self-power is still not what God has in mind for any man…

And for Stoicism today and for that of the ancient world… being right with, being pleasing to a personal God who is here and not silent is not what man has in mind either…


There are more problems. I said we really, really, don’t fear God today. Why do I say this?

The author of the article, chaplain John Bombaro, points out one more thing… Modern stoicism, again, is modern, contemporary…

…and so, it, being popular, in almost all cases has been highly influenced by and therefore fits well into the predominant value system that is dominating the Western world in general and America in particular

And he notes contemporary Stoicism not only getting rid of any of the aspects of the ancient version that one might think could never bring personal peace, but also shows that it really fits in with the self-justifying environment we find in today’s modern life

That environment, he says, is humanitarianism.

Among our “best and brightest”, if you simply feel an affinity for what is considered “humane” by our society and culture – like today abolishing ethical, biological and all national borders for instance – you are a “good person”…

You certainly need not worry about things like death after judgment, the afterlife, and where you stand with God!

As Bombaro rightly puts it, Stoicism fails to realize that “from its conception, the heart is a thorny bramble…

And especially the modern Western heart. I think this is really illustrated well in the following quote as he mercilessly critiques this contemporary form of Stoicism:

“due to the failure of the rationalistic Enlightenment, our postmodern milieu is decidedly post-rational. Behavior is largely the result of visceral reactions, sentimentalism, and emotionalism — the core behind today’s radical individualism. What is more, one’s feelings and behaviors are quite divorced from a sense of duty or traditional roles. Such norms have been demolished, right down to gender roles and parental duties. People may be imperturbed by others, but it’s the kind of narcissism that actually doesn’t care about others. Hence the meteoric rise of abortion, homelessness, crime, alienation, isolation, loneliness, suicide, conspicuous consumerism, and entitlement. All of this should sound familiar from the lips of the Pharisee who, in his laudable self-control, said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:11-12). But neither was he justified.


In many ways, I think this critique can also point out the flaws of the better, more ancient form of Stoicism as well.

In other words, while that ancient form is better at borrowing insights from the law of God, published definitively in the 10 commandments, but also written on the human heart…

…it nevertheless fails to see that even a man who is righteous in the world’s eyes can have desires can be self-centered, turned in on themselves… twisted and disordered and unable to reach what is truly good…

Men and women of the cross, baptized into Jesus Christ, this goes for us as well…

Let us never forget that our Lord said that no one was good but God alone and that even His own disciples, though they rightly gave good gifts to their children, were in fact evil.

In the book of Romans that we heard this morning, it is made clear that the law of God reduced every human heart to silence.

Again, Stoicism, for all its good aspects, still falls into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself… in both the modern and ancient forms….

And the Muslim or religious Jew or Mormon? Some may indeed fear God and His law… but they still will not be justified by their works…

And even when our perishing pagan neighbors sense that something good and wonderful has transpired through him, their reflection before God ultimately reeks of self-glorification and a veiled ingratitude:

Ultimately, in line with the world’s pattern and in fact in serving the world’s spirit the creation and not the world’s Creator, Jesus Christ – both the religious and “non-religious” predictably think, every time:

“I’m a good person”, “I did it”, “I must have done something good”, “What a good boy am I”… 


No. They are not.

To feel this, to think this, to say this… is to mark one’s self for Satan and his servants.

Again, my fellow Christians, note that after they had been following Him for a good long while, Jesus called his own disciples wicked.

Luther was well aware of this evil and corruption that persisted within, and felt it in his bones… down to the core of his terrified conscience…

My friends, do you think you, apart from Christ’s cleansing blood, can escape that judgment?


In any philosophical or even religious system of men, elite or not, well-thought-out or not, “the need for rescue from ourselves and renewal from above, as well as reconciliation [is rendered] unnecessary, much less reconciliation through blood atonement…” (Bombaro)

But this is a lie.

Again, the whole world, and every man according to the nature he receives at birth, is unspeakably wicked, each one finally devoted to his own comfort, self-satisfaction, and glory…

Romans 3 says it doesn’t matter who we are talking about.

All have violated His commands.

All have sinned.

Missed the mark.


Fallen short.

All of us deserve the wrath of the Only One who is just.

All philosophies or religions – whatever their good aspects – still fall into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself…

But Romans 3, again, says:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

Even the good deeds some might think they can point to are insufficient… spoiled.

Not done in God’s love and for God’s love to the benefit of our neighbor.

This is what God’s law shows us, as it shuts us up.

But to what end?

Here, Luther helps us again: “To say that we are nothing and constantly sin when we do the best we can does not mean that we cause people to despair (unless they are fools); rather, we make them concerned about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

And then, finally, we are ready to hear again our reading from Romans:

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”


This, and this alone, gives us true peace with God!

The contemporary philosopher Sartre said “hell is other people” and Stoicism, in offering “imperturbability from others”, would give us some kind of peace but in a way that necessarily kills love for neighbor…

But Jesus Christ removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh[6], granting us not only peace with God, but reconciliation with all others in the family of God!…

As He puts it: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”


Now, sometimes when I was young, I thought “that would be a really good place to stop the sermon” when the pastor kept going, but folks – there’s more I’m eager, excited, to say on this Reformation Day!

So please be bear with me brothers and sisters!

If you would with me, let’s now think about our text again, with some help from Hebrews 9 which says…:

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27-28).

That second time is what our reading from Revelation is talking about.

It should be a time of comfort and joy for us!

The creation made new! Our fearsome enemies will not prevail but be defeated![7] In fact, in the book of Luke, when Jesus speaks of His coming again, He urges us to “lift up [our] heads”…

And so we, as ones who are truly His people, can fear God not with a servile kind of fear, but a rather a “filial fear”, giving us the picture of a child honoring, respecting, and revering his father…

All that said….

Let’s be honest and deal with the facts here…the context of our reading certainly gives us the impression that this will nevertheless be a frightening time for most everyone![8]

As we go on in chapter 14, we see this arresting picture describing the fate of those who reject Christ:

“[they] will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” (Rev. 14:10)

And perhaps here, we might tremble as well…

For, again, which one of us is without sin? Which one of us has a completely undisturbed conscience?

What do we do when Satan, eager to accuse us and make us doubt we are Christians, throws our undeniable and many sins in our face – and looks to drive us to doubt and then despair?

Always remember, even though this world is an exceptionally evil place – and even though we Christians continue to struggle with evil – this is precisely why Jesus came, comes now by comforting us with His Spirit, and will come again in glory to make all things new….

Even as Christ will come the second time to judge and “not to bear sin” know that this wrath that is nevertheless poured out upon the world in the last days is wrath that Jesus Christ Himself would take on Himself, take into Himself.

And He, in fact, did, if we have eyes of faith to see.

For it was the price of all sin, the wages of every sin that has ever been committed, that nailed Him to that cross…

So yes, Jesus Christ would, Jesus Christ did, taste this passion of God’s hot indignation, and drained that bitter cup down his throat to the dregs….

For He could do no other. For our God, whose mercies are new every morning, is never one who ultimately desires the death of the wicked!… 

It doesn’t matter if you are Martin Luther, super-sensitive to your sin via God’s law

…or like those who Luther lamented were largely untouched by the law’s sting…

Satan wants you to believe God desires the death of the wicked, because this is what he believes himself.

If he can’t get you to dismiss the Christian faith entirely (his first choice), he wants you to believe that you or your neighbor are too wicked for God… he wants you to believe this message isn’t for you, your neighbor, or both…


That is so very wrong… as these warnings, heard right now, are always meant for our final good, particularly now as the days grow darker and the world increasingly deceives, propagandizes, tyrannizes… demands our loyalty to it and not the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world…

And so at this point – finally, right? ( : ) ) – I want to bring things back around to the meaning of this Angel or Messenger in our text. I am reading you a bit from a great sermon I found online about this text…:

“Th[e] good news about Jesus is the eternal gospel that is going to be proclaimed. All the Caesars of this world, all the Sanhedrins, the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth, all the civil and religious powers that try to extinguish the gospel – they cannot stop it. That is the message of this text in Revelation. And it certainly was fulfilled in the case of Luther and the Reformation. It is not restricted to Luther alone, of course. This text gives encouragement to the church in all ages. But it was fulfilled in a very notable way in the case of Luther.

Luther was in a battle. He sensed it deeply. He felt the assaults of the devil. He faced fierce opposition. Both civil and religious powers lined up against him. Luther was excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the emperor. And the reason was precisely because Luther was God’s “angel,” his messenger. He restored the gospel to its place of prominence, flying directly overhead, like the sun shining in midheaven, the bright light of its noonday brilliance dispersing the clouds that had shrouded the message in darkness.

For Luther, that eternal gospel was too precious a thing for him to compromise or back off. He would rather be criticized as obstinate than to yield in the pure proclamation of the gospel. What gave him the courage to confess the faith so boldly? The gospel itself. Luther knew how much the pure gospel meant to him, freeing his conscience from the burden that had long weighed him down. And so Luther placed his confidence in God as his mighty fortress, no matter the threats of pope or emperor. “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.”

Luther was so very right.

To honor the Creator the most is to believe Him, to trust Him and His promises. This is our highest worship.

Believe me when I say, on His behalf, to you:

The Lamb has been slain and by his blood ransomed people for God, people loved by God, from every tribe and language and people and nation. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” And He is the One who “loves us and who frees us from our sins by His blood”.

This is the Eternal Gospel, and it is for all of us. For you too!

“Fear not!”, Christ says,

“I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[9]

So let us overcome all in Him!


[1] “…believe it or not, beginning already in Luther’s lifetime, people identified this angel of the Revelation with . . . the messenger of the Reformation, namely, Martin Luther. They saw Luther as this angel having an eternal gospel to proclaim to every nation. As early as 1522, just five years into the Reformation, a man named Michael Stiefel wrote a poem called, “On the Christ-Formed, Properly Grounded Teaching of Doctor Martin Luther.” In the opening stanza Stiefel says, “John wrote for us of an angel who would set forth God’s Word with complete clarity.” And there Stiefel plays on Luther’s name, because the German word he uses for “clarity” is lauter. Lauter, Luter.

That was in 1522. In 1546, at Luther’s funeral, the preacher, Johannes Bugenhagen, made a similar comparison. He said: “This angel who says, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized.” So from then on, the linkage was established: The angel of Revelation 14 became associated with the person of Martin Luther. And that’s how this text came to be a reading for Reformation Day.” From:

But were they right? Were Stiefel and Bugenhagen justified in seeing Luther in this vision from Revelation? And how does this apply to us today? That’s what we’ll consider now, under the theme, “An Eternal Gospel to Proclaim.”

[2] One more critical of this says: “Hoenegg could see Luther as proclaiming judgment upon Papal darkness, but this interpretation seems too uncertain. What would a passage like this mean for the Christians in the midst of pagan darkness, if it could only refer to the Reformation and to Luther? Would that not also mean treating the book of Revelation as a play-by-play of the End Times? Better, I think, to recognize that the angel proclaims a judgment upon sin which comforts God’s people. Sin and the devil will not triumph. Though you suffer now, God will render judgment upon His enemies. Luther and the Reformation is a historical example of the faithfulness of the holy God, whose victory will be complete.” From here:

[3] Luther, however, also was not immune to discouragement when it came to this accomplishment…

Many of the Reformation’s critics, for example, contended that the Christian lives of the Reformers and their followers were worse than – or at least no better than – those they criticized…

One of the biblical texts that Luther always emphasized was the following:

“For each tree is known by its own fruit. Indeed, figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor grapes from brambles. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.44-45).

The Gospel message creates new persons in Christ! New trees with new and good fruit!

Luther understood the power of sin’s pull on all of us, but of course he still believed that the Gospel would produce a significant change in each individual who believed.

Therefore, he truly felt the sting of this accusation that those following “his teaching” were no better than their opponents. 

And he had to deal with the fact that he sometimes actually agreed with this critique…

And so he wrestled with why there was truth to the accusation. Why were those hearing the Gospel still so weak in good works and the new life?

The answer, surely, has to do with the fact that men – even those who were listening to Luther’s sermons week after week and who he believed were believers – are often obscenely blind to the magnitude and depth of their own corruption

…and correspondingly, their ongoing need for the Gospel.

Luther knew he – even as a teacher, a doctor of the church! – struggled to articulate how bad things were as well. For example, he said that:

“So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is.”


“…who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin…”

Thinking about the kinds of people that he knew and loved in his day – and where they stood with God – Luther said this:

“[Some] fear God for the sake of God alone; they do the best they can and very conscientiously avoid evil.

Others fear God for the sake of God, and, at the same time, for the sake of the threatened punishment; their works are less good and perfect…”

And, as he put it elsewhere, there are also those who simply fear God only because of the threatened punishment. “These,” Luther tells us, “only seem to do good…”

For they are not even Christians yet… but are only at the very beginning….

And yet also, in his lecture on Psalm 51, Luther talks about how en route to his discovery of the Gospel, he, on the one hand, was greatly disturbed by death as the wages of sin

but on the other hand very few others seemed to be concerned about this impending punishment…: 

“I believed that everyone’s heart was as disturbed and as fearful of the perils of death as my own. But when I carefully investigated the situation, it became evident to me that among 10,000 persons there are hardly 10 who give thought to this important matter…”

In other words, Luther owned up to his own naivete here about the positive effects the Reformation would have.

Even though the Bible made it clear that man had knowledge of the reality of God, his law, his own culpability and even that he deserved death for this (Romans 1), it also said that he suppressed this knowledge…

Because we are able to suppress our natural knowledge of God and counter it with beliefs, idols, of our own making, man in general, unlike Martin Luther, does not live in fear of God, fear God

And it has always been so…

[4] Bombaro writes “Put into the more recognizable terminology of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), modern Stoicism aids persons to understand their minds, specifically the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. CBT uses techniques like negative visualization to aid people to inoculate themselves from undesirable thoughts and feelings by intentionally imagining possible negative outcomes and imaging how you might respond in accordance with your role or duty. This gives the person a sense of power and control over themselves in any situation through preparedness. Further, it liberates the will, empowering the person to “be themselves” without caring much about what others think or societal expectations.”


[6] As prophesied in Ezekiel:

“…I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

[7] This sermon sets the scene well: “Our reading for this morning occurs in the middle of a section which begins in chapter 12. This section describes the “end times”, which begins in chapter 12 with the description of the woman and the dragon, which we looked at about a month ago when we celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This vision portrays Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection and the cosmic, heavenly events associated with it. Chapter 13 then tells of two beasts, who join the dragon to form an “unholy trinity” and to torment God’s people. In verse 7 of chapter 13, John says, Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation (Revelation 13:7). John’s vision tells us that God’s people over all the world will be tormented by the dragon and the beasts and no one on earth will be able to stop them. Or, to use the famous words of Martin Luther, The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal (LSB 656:1). In other words, Revelation 12 & 13 are painting a picture of “the old evil foe” jumping on top of Christ’s church and trying to prevail over it. From here:

[8] Not all wrong!: “Choosing Revelation 14:6-7 for Reformation is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the selection is entirely too short. It separates the first angel of Revelation 14 from the other two, and in the process somewhat distorts the intent of the passage. These three angels are harbingers of God’s coming wrath upon the earth. The second angel, for example, follows after the first, crying: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The third also follows after and foretells the coming torment of those who worship the beast. Their torment will be unending and they will have no rest day or night. Therefore, while the first angel calls forth a cry to fear God and worship Him, the emphasis falls upon the judgment. Fear God and give Him glory, because He is about to demonstrate His righteousness and holiness in judging the earth. This judgment is indeed a source of joy for His people, as the Psalm declares “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:12-13). But the message of the three angels is one which should cause the earth to tremble and not to rejoice. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12).

[9] “…this gospel comes from heaven. It’s God’s gospel. It’s not man-made, so man cannot destroy it. It’s an eternal gospel. It will last forever. And God means to have it proclaimed. His messengers will preach this gospel to every nation, tribe, language, and people. What is this eternal gospel, the good news that is being proclaimed? To use the language of Revelation, it’s about “the Lamb who was slain,” the one who “by his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” It’s about “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” It’s about Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He, Jesus, our exalted Lord, comes to us and says: “Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

” From:

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Posted by on October 30, 2022 in Uncategorized


Sermon Video: Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All 

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Waseca, MN. Oct. 16, 2022


“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

-2 Tim 3:3-4


Brothers and sisters in Christ!

As he has since chapter one of 2 Timothy, here the Apostle Paul continues to talk about the importance of successfully guarding the pattern of sound teaching he passes on….

“Sound teaching” is teaching that is rooted in truth and in the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, and hence this sound or healthy teaching will make you healthy and holy….

On the other hand, what do we see in our world today?

It is far, far worse than junk food… it is garbage. 

The information we get from our media – and even in our business, government and educational institutions as well! – has progressively fled from notions of objectivity and impartiality (even if some are loathe to admit this) 

…and now, accusations of “fake news” or “disinformation” appear across the political spectrum, as those opposing one another seemingly use words as best they can to win…

…to win. 

And here is a thought:

In this context, how might we interpret the popular statement “knowledge is power”? 


Here, my former vocation of academic librarianship is interesting in this regard… 

Some in that profession continue to say reasonable-sounding things like: “[people] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived”.

This, I believe, goes hand in hand with something I just saw from a popular, local Twin Cities reporter. She said, “The truth makes me tick…”

On the other hand, I read (red) others insisting that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is […] historically situated and embedded in power relations” and its production “never occurs outside power relations”.

That idea sounds complicated, but maybe it really isn’t. Maybe it’s as simple as what another academic librarian says…. It’s not even so much that knowledge is power, but “it’s more reflective of reality to say, ‘Power is knowledge’”.

Power is knowledge.

Cue the great contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty, now deceased: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Got that: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Rorty thought that was a good thing. For many an elite contemporary person then, knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related. Don’t necessarily go together.

Knowledge is “knowledge” [in quotes]…

Just this past week listening to a podcast I heard someone say that what ultimately matters between one set of ideas and another is what is effective… what is effective in the class struggle… the rich vs. the poor…

Your political orientation, left, center, or right… might not matter though… Increasingly, whatever direction one leans, everything seems to take a back seat to effectiveness, basically power… 

Whatever words and skills that you pick up – and that you can employ — to get the job you and others want done done – that is ultimately what is important.

Do you see how the role of things like common definitions and facts (“facts” in quotes) diminishes here?

What is important is that there are only other persons who exercise power over their circumstances, their worlds, and who trust each other or not…

We might say this is knowledge as conceivable, useful, trust.


Do you see why I am bringing this up?

People who have this view–even unconsciously–are definitely going to struggle with what we heard from the Apostle Paul this morning about “sound doctrine”. That is, his idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]…”

Why? Because the definitions of words change, can change, and we will change them as best we see fit and desire… Because all things, after all, evolve.

Radical transformation – not necessarily understood in a Christian sense – is what life is all about!

Even human nature is liquid, fluid, alterable… Authors from the past die and we move on, radically reinterpreting their words for our era.

For the world, if there is a movement of the Spirit, it is about changing what has been considered “natural” and changing the future – not “tradition” in any sense!

This, my friends, is the modern myth. 

This is what the contemporary itching ears want to hear….


In Christianity, on the other hand, knowledge can be said to be power as well, but for a very, very different reason.

Knowledge is power because our understanding of knowledge is that it is not just conceivable useful trust but justified, true, belief.

If we do not believe something, it cannot be knowledge that we personally possess.

If we sincerely believe that something is true but it is false–it is not –this can hardly be called knowledge.

Finally, knowledge is something that can be justified – believing something is warranted because good evidence and reasons can be given…

This is the classical definition of knowledge, and it goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.

It doesn’t matter if your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.

If Christ is not raised – really raised from the dead! – all your words and works are ultimately in vain!

Sometimes well-meaning Christians say we uphold Scripture and not tradition. This though, is misled.

We do uphold traditions not contrary to Scripture—and our greatest tradition is Scripture itself, and the greatest content of the Scriptures is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Christ crucified and risen for the world’s forgiveness, life, and salvation…

So, like the runner in the relay race, pass on the baton.


Today, in the world, as has always been the case, there is a battle for men’s souls.

Stories like Harry Potter, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Lord of the Rings are right. 

It is all about good vs. evil.

Behind the veil, there is a spiritual war between light and darkness.

But don’t be afraid, because knowledge is power.

And as the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to Timothy, your power is through the Holy Spirit who creates a new man, an “inner man,” in us….

He does this through the Word of God, through the Scriptures, our great treasure. 

The Bible, my friends, is the very word of God Himself!

Pick it up. Read. Learn. Inwardly digest.

Struggle through it and with it. Buy a study Bible. Get kid friendly Bibles and stories and read them with your children and grand children…

And remember this jewel, this treasure, comes as a whole. It is not a necklace where we can get rid of some of the beads we don’t like, for example.

It is the jewel, the tradition, that must be handed on at all costs… 

It is not so much “Scripture or Tradition” or “Scripture and Tradition”: again, the Scriptures are basically the Tradition 


Struggle with this concept if you must.

For I hope you know…the world around you is very, very skeptical…

What’s that you hear from them?

The Scriptures are old… 

They are discredited….

They are irrelevant… 

There are all kinds of reasons to doubt them… 

Maybe they just “contain” the “Word of God” – perhaps just the tender and gentle stuff about Jesus?

If they fancy themselves more sophisticated, you might hear: “Didn’t Martin Luther, the 16th c. Reformer, for example, throw out the book of James and Revelation?” 

Why are you listening to what that preacher says? Who has transplanted him from the Middle Ages to here?

Christian, don’t you know the Bible not only tells us about Jesus, but is full of some other more questionable things as well?






Don’t you know we are Americans?!

I mean, yes, I know in the Gospel reading a couple weeks back it talked about how a Master just expects his servant to do what he asks and the servant seems to think even a Good Master should do this, but… But we don’t ever believe we unworthy servants only do what is asked of us (Luke 17:10)…

We certainly don’t think fear should ever be a component of how anyone is “ruled”! We don’t think that really has a place anymore.

And things like the death penalty, for example, don’t belong in this world….

Biblical ideas like headship we know lead to abuse. 

And we like it when everyone is equal in every single way! We like it when people are free! We like harmony! – and when we can get lost in the music with those of like-mind!

Haven’t you felt the power of the crowd? Haven’t you lost yourself in the excitement, gotten taken up into something that is bigger than yourself?

Don’t you like that, want that, feel that… too?


Well, no. Tempted sometimes though.

I do have an alternative that I find compelling however…

It’s called the Christian church, and while its patriarchs and matriarchs don’t rule like the rulers of the world, they have guarded and passed down the sacred treasure.

The sacred jewel.

Do not be deceived brothers and sisters! 

Stir up the fireplace! Now! Do not let the flame go out!

You have not been given timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline….

The sinful world wants a lot of things, and in many of the things it wants, there are echoes of good.

It wants unity! It wants harmony! It wants equality! It wants justice! It wants freedom!

It wants everyone to feel good about who they are and their neighbors as well. It wants, as the commercial said, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…

In a sense, it is good and right to want all of these things.

That said, there is mass confusion about what these things ultimately look like, and how one can achieve them.

It doesn’t matter if you have the impression your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.

Rhetoric without truth dies.

Again, if Christ is not raised – really raised! – all your words and works are in vain!


Satan loves all the confusion he is causing today.

And he hates the clear Gospel and that you have it.

He hates that men like Luther didn’t really throw out the book of James and Revelation, but rightly pointed out their relative importance compared with books like John and Romans…

He absolutely hates most of all what Martin Luther did, bringing out the stark clarity of the situation he found himself in….

He hates that Luther was “mean”… meaning he didn’t care if persons didn’t like him because of the message he preached.

He hates that such a man clearly revealed his, Satan’s, hand…


Now. I don’t want to give the impression that I think Martin Luther always handled things perfectly.

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus…”

It is true that “faith and love” are to form the atmosphere, so to speak, in which the “sound words” are to be preserved.

That said, let us not forget the battle we are in, the need for tough love…. and the admonition to be as wise as serpents.

A little parable to share….

I read it about three years ago and think it is particularly appropriate to our day and age and the questions and challenges that face us….


“Once upon a time, there were 10 brothers who were charged with guarding a gem the king had given to their village — a beautiful stone that promised them the king’s favor and protection.

When charging the brothers to secure this precious gem, the king gave them clear instructions:

“My enemy will constantly be scheming to take this gem away from you. He will threaten you with violence.

He will mock you and turn your friends against you. He will try to convince you the gem is not really yours or you don’t really need it.

But no matter what approach he uses, don’t fall for his tricks.”

One day, the king’s enemy approached the 10 brothers with a small army behind him.

“I imagine you’ve come here to steal our gem,” the oldest brother said.

“Absolutely not,” the enemy insisted. “I think it’s wonderful that you have it. I just hate to see the way your brother is using the gem.

His tone is always abrasive and arrogant when he talks about protecting it.

It gives the rest of you a bad name. Dismiss him from his post guarding the gem, and my army will leave you alone.”

The oldest brother always found his youngest sibling a bit irritating and embarrassing, so he considered this a no-brainer and immediately gave the enemy what he asked.

A week later, the enemy returned with his army, now claiming he had problems with the second-youngest brother.

“This guy has been saying the gem doesn’t belong to certain people in the village, people he doesn’t like. This is unloving and cruel. Disavow him too, and we’ll be friends.”

The oldest brother wasn’t especially fond of that brother either, so he once again gave the enemy what he wanted.

But week after week, the enemy kept returning and asking for the oldest brother to separate himself from another one of his brothers until, eventually, the oldest brother stood alone — the sole remaining guardian of the gem.

Seeing that the man now had no one left to defend him, the enemy walked up to the oldest brother, whispered, “You fell for it,” into his ear, stabbed him through the heart, and walked away with the gem.

The writer of this “parable of the guardians” explains:

The king is Christ. The gem is, [ultimately,] his salvation.

The brothers are Christians. The enemy is the devil, and his army is the mob of anti-Christian voices in the world.

And the moral of the story is this: No matter what they say, the devil and this world won’t be content until they’ve taken Christ’s salvation away from you.

So don’t throw your fellow believers under the bus to escape persecution. All you’ll do is hasten your demise.”


You see, first the world tells you they don’t like the way you say it.

Then, you discover that they simply don’t like what you say….

Folks, there have been times when the message of the Scriptures has been far from men’s hearts… this seems to be happening again today…

Like we are told about the account of the ring of power in the movie about the Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge…”

In the movie, the loss of the ring arguably seemed a good thing in one way: because that ring of power increased corruption and evil. 

When the Scriptures are far from our hearts though, that is when our corruption will come… has come….

It is a good thing the true power that defeats evil and corruption, God’s Word to man, has never been wholly lost…

And now, in these last days, we have it even clearer. The  Apostle Paul writes:

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…

A pattern of very, very sound words!

Merry Christmas!

These are life giving words!


Be encouraged brothers and sisters! Do not let things like suffering and persecution in the world discourage you – or slow you down… 

When Jesus rhetorically asks “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”, know the answer is “Yes” and cry out “Lord, make me trust you always through it all, to the end…”

He will. 

When Paul begins to encourage Timothy in chapter one, he brings up how his faithful mother and grandmothers passed on the faith to him. As one ancient commentator (Theodoret) put it, “nothing helps like a domestic example”.

That is true. I remember when I was a teacher in Slovakia for two years, hearing the stories of the serious Lutherans who had come through communism because of faithful grandmothers who taught them.

Thanks be to God for faithful traditioners such as these!

So Paul writes “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…”

Be faithful to God’s word. Be faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pass The Message On.

Realize that the best way to guard the faith is not to play defense, but to go on the offensive. To learn it, to inwardly digest it, and to proclaim it.

This is not something that you can do in your own strength, but with the strength God provides: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us…”

By grace through faith, not by works…Christ has been crucified for your sins that you might have peace with God… 

…and by His work has overcome the world!

He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The same yesterday, today, and forever!

The victor over sin, death, and the devil.

And the King will return, to finally set all things right.

Pray and don’t give up, for Christ prays for you and does not give up. (Heb. 7:25, Rom. 8:34)

So, by His Holy Spirit…

continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….

And Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All.


With footnotes:

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Posted by on October 16, 2022 in Uncategorized