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Monthly Archives: May 2021

Pentecost Proves the World Wrong

Immediately download Luther’s 1544 sermon here (blog post on book).

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“When [the Advocate] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16:8

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Today, many in American Christianity associate the work of the Holy Spirit, with the sense of belonging and unity that comes, for instance, when singing emotionally powerful music together.

Particularly in large crowds, like at a Megachurch.  

At the same time though, one might wonder how this Feeling that is created in such environments can be distinguished from those of secular rock concerts, for example. 

Can’t God’s gift of music simply be used in such a way that a variety of musicians – Christian or not – are able to reliably produce this Feeling?

Whether they are trying counter American individualism and “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” or not, it is hard to argue that such currents have not caused the church to lose focus…[i]

…and to miss the real work of the Holy Spirit in more humble things like simple water, bread, wine, and words…

Simply put, it’s not so much the song that should move us, but the poem…

The words of proclamation which bring love, light, and life are the main thing.

The announcing of the coming of the True King of the Universe is the main thing…

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Jesus Christ, in the latter half of the Gospel of John, speaks much about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, He also paints a rather dark picture as His Passion draws near.

At the end of chapter 14, He specifically says that the “prince of this world,”[ii] that is Satan, is coming, and “he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me”….[iii]

What a hard and confusing lesson for the disciples!

And so, it is no surprise that we also learn in these chapters that Jesus’ disciples are often disturbed and distraught….

In this fallen world, in this dark world, what is the main way that the Holy Spirit brings the believer in Jesus Christ comfort?

It is by assuring us that the Lord Jesus overcomes – in fact, has already overcome, just by His coming! – the devil’s work! (I John 3:8)[iv] (Merry Christmas!).

Even if many in the world, might say, and did say, that Jesus has a demon, the truth will be known!

And the Truth, the Living One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life cannot but overcome the Lie… the Evil… the Darkness. 

And speaking of the devil and demons, some say that the Gospel of John is unique in that it doesn’t have any exorcisms.

Not so, really.

The whole book is about One Massive Exorcism, that is, about Satan being cast out as he should be! 

“Now the ruler of this world is driven out!” (John 12)

“Now is the judgment of this world!” (John 12)

The great Lutheran Bible commentator Martin Fraanzman, speaking about our Gospel reading for today, brilliantly unpacks for us just how wrongly the world – exemplified by the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day – dealt with the Son of God come in human flesh:

“The world that assertsWe have a law and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God’ (19:7) is still blind to righteousness (8-9); the only righteousness that avails is in Him who dies for the world’s sin and goes in triumph to the Father, removed from sight but present to faith (10). The world that bullies Pilate into executing judgment by crucifying the King who bears witness to the truth (19:12-16; cf. 18-37) does not know what judgement is being executed when this King dies: The ruler of this world is judged (11; cf. 12:31 notes).”

And:

“The Spirit who witnesses through the witnessing disciples will present the crucified and exalted Christ as God’s atonement for man’s sin, God’s righteousness for unrighteous man, God’s judgment on the murderous and lying ruler of this world. Men will behold Him in that inspired witness, and men will repent…”[v]

The world is indeed messed up, but sadly even the Christian world often isn’t ready to hear these kinds of things… [vi]

They don’t want to think too hard about this deathly serious spiritual war for our souls, and the souls of all men, of which Christ speaks.

Again, they would much rather think of the Holy Spirit setting our hearts at ease in other ways…[vii]

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But we dare not slumber; we dare not go soft!

Christ’s work is about this dethronement of the devil as the prince and ruler of this world – and all the ones who stubbornly reject Jesus, following in the devil’s train…

I think from our very limited and, admittedly, anemic human perspective, we need loads of help here.

Because, generally speaking, we are in a bit of a fog, under the sway of the world’s currents, and run ragged first by our own emotions and feelings, and then by our own “motivated reasoning,”[viii] as some say today…

We are not necessarily so easily able to perceive the importance of God’s message for us these days…

So we need the reminder that God’s prophets speak of blaring trumpet calls which lead us into battle…[ix]

And here, perhaps it might also help to think on the stories of the men of old who would bring news of a victory in battle!

In the ancient world, without modern technology, people would run miles to give the news that victory had been obtained.[x]

This, in fact, goes hand in hand with the Greek word for “Gospel,” which means “Good News!” – a “Good Report”!

Martin Luther catches a bit of this theme – and perhaps wakes us up a bit from our spiritual slumbers! – when he talks about David’s defeat of Goliath:

“…when David overcame the great Goliath, there came upon the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been struck down and that they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it [I Sam. 18:6].  Thus this Gospel of God or New Testament is a good story and report, sounding forth into all the world by the apostles, telling of a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil.  Without any merit of their own he made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God.  For this they sing, and thank and praise God, and are glad forever, if only they believe firmly and remain steadfast in faith” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, 35: 358)

And so this is the primary way we are comforted by the Holy Spirit and message He brings!

First the Spirit advocates on behalf of Jesus – proving the world wrong – and then He does so for all of us!

The world stands defeated and condemned, and the Lord – and we with him – stand in the right.

Might does not make right, but right makes might.

The victory is truly ours!

It is a strange kind of victory though.

It is the victory of the Prince of Peace…

Who consistently, throughout His ministry, said time and again: “I tell you the Truth.”

It is simply attained by the Son of God just showing up, being who He is on earth… the Truth who cannot but prevail over all the lies of the devil… and his work of sin and death… [xi]

This is why the Apostle Peter says, for instance, that the grave could not hold Him….

And, in this way… the world is judged.

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What about the other two elements Jesus talks about? The Holy Spirit’s convicting man not only of judgment, but of sin and righteousness?

Let’s look at sin first.

In John 8:46, Jesus says:

“Who among you convicts me of sin?” or “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”  

And He goes on:

“If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?”

Again, behold the significance of this man, Jesus!

Christ’s very presence proves the world’s guilt.

And again, listen to Martin Luther talk a bit more about what Jesus is doing here. Pardon the extended clips from one of his sermons from the year 1544, two years before his death, but Luther is so good and compelling here I don’t want to limit him too much:

“What kind of kingdom is Christ’s kingdom? How is it governed? Christ explains this in the text when he says: “The Holy Spirit will convict the world.”

The kingdom of Christ is not to be a government established and organized in a worldly way. It is not to be run by human wisdom, power, might, law and order. Rather, the kingdom of Christ is to be a government of the Holy Spirit. It is to be a spiritual kingdom, in which Christ rules invisibly.Christ is not to rule externally, by physical force, but internally, by the word that the Holy Spirit is to preach. By the preached word the Holy Spirit will work in the heart of man.

“The Holy Spirit,” Christ says, “is to convict the world.” This does not mean that the Holy Spirit will conquer the world by armor and weapons and earthly power. Rather, the Holy Spirit will carry out an oral word or preaching office which is called God’s word, or the word of the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ. That is what is going to invade the world and attack it.

This is what it means to convict the entire world, not just a few people, not just one or two nations or countries. This is what it means to convict both Jews and Gentiles, scholars, wise men, and saints, who all excel in their respective kingdoms. By the term ‘world’ Christ does not mean the masses or the rabble. Rather, he means the very essence of the world, that which is most praiseworthy, that which cannot be convicted of anything at all in external earthly kingdoms.”

After talking about how the world would reject the “simple common people” of His Apostles –who they would not be able to overturn and who in fact together would do greater and more glorious things than Jesus – Luther goes on to state:

“Rather, the Holy Spirit will place you in a government by which you will judge the consciences of all men. That which is greatest in the world—that is, all its wisdom and holiness—will be subject to you. You will judge, convict, and condemn it. Furthermore, no one shall, nor can, escape sin, death, and hell, or get to heaven, who does not hear your word and desire to obey the same.”

“The Holy Spirit will also give you such comfort and courage that you will not be terrified as you now are. You also will not be deathly afraid of the world’s intimidation, anger, and rage against your preaching. Rather, you will confidently continue to convict, regardless of what both world and devil can do, and does do against it, with persecution, murder, and the power of all hell.”

This is the promise concerning the work that the Holy Spirit is to begin in the kingdom of Christ, which is the teaching office of the apostles. This is to be carried out by convicting the world as it finds it, and that is, outside of Christ.It does not exclude anyone great or small, learned, wise or holy, rich or poor.

In short, this is what it means to draw the world’s wrath upon oneself and to pick a fight. This is why one must be struck in the mouth. For the world, which rules here on earth, neither wants, nor can put up with, someone who does not want the world to be right. This is why persecutions must begin because of this. This is why one party must yield to the other, the weaker one to the stronger one.

Since, however, the office of the apostles is to be nothing but a teaching office, it cannot be carried out with worldly might and force. This is why the world keeps hold of its external rule and power against the apostles.

At the same time, because it is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, the apostles’ office of convicting, which confronts the world, is not to be hindered. It is to overcome and permeate everything, as Christ promised the apostles: “I will give you the mouth and wisdom which your opponents will not be able to resist.”

Luther then talks about how this powerful message has been shared by heralds through the ages, but now, things are to be “ratcheted up” so to speak:

“To be sure, the Holy Spirit has also previously convicted the world of the same thing. Just as Christ rules at all times, and the same Christ is “yesterday, today, and forever,” (Hebr. 13:8), the Holy Spirit has preached from the beginning of the world through the holy fathers Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and John the Baptist. Such convicting has been preserved by divine power.

Yet now it is to begin in earnest. Christ wishes to establish a public convicting that is to take place not only among the Jewish people but throughout the entire world until the Last Day.

This public convicting is to be much more powerful and penetrating so that hearts are struck and wounded. This is what was said in Acts 2:37 about the first sermon of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost. The apostle’s sermon cut to their heart. That is how they were enlightened and converted from their blindness…”[xii]

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So far the conviction of sin. What of righteousness?

Here, the question is this: “How is one to attain [righteousness?]”

Following up on what we’ve already heard, Christ replies here:

‘My going to the Father is righteousness.’ There you must seek and find it, not in yourself or on earth among men, no matter who or what kind of people they are.” (Luther, LW, 346)

Got that?

Any true herald of the Lord will tell you: There is only One you need to be paying attention to!

First of all, we need to recognize that the conviction of the Holy Spirit that is being spoken of here is something that we might call objective. God proves the matter of man’s guilt, whether man likes it or not.

We see this in Acts 3, right after our reading for today:

14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this….” (Acts 3:14-15)

Guilty.

Second, however, we note that Jesus says earlier in the Gospel of John:

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin…”

This doesn’t mean that those who don’t hear Him aren’t objectively guilty but that there is an important “subjective” element to deal with here as well. By saying “subjective” I mean we are dealing with individual human subjects, that is, human beings feeling personally convicted in their hearts. … where our sin emerges in our consciousness and we are able to recognize our evil.

As long as people are really listening, engaged… this will be the case.

And then faith comes by hearing the Word, and, so, praise God, some will believe Christ is their Savior!

That doesn’t mean, however, that all who listen and are internally convicted will confess their sin

…instead of suppressing the truth that they know and/or recognize

Yes, upon hearing the message of Christ, some will want to hear more, others will sneer, and yet others will react violently… but we are just talking about different levels of truth suppression here.  

Luther shows this quite effectively, with yet another story from the book of Acts, this time from his famous book written vs. the Dutch humanist Erasmus, The Bondage of the Will.

He talks about how the deacon Stephen quotes Isaiah 66:1, “What is the house that ye build unto me?,” in order to prove to the Jewish council that God did not command his people to build a temple to Him….

And here, Luther notes that Luke writes “they could not resist the spirit and wisdom with which he spake” (Acts 6:10), and that Jesus Christ Himself had said of the words His heralds would speak, “your adversaries shall not be able to resist.”

Luther recalls that in response to Stephen’s words the council “shut their eyes and summoned false witnesses against him” – to which he replied “You uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost.”[xiii]

Then Luther drops the hammer:

“He says that they do resist, although they could not resist”, meaning that they very well knew the truth the external word brought but internally suppressed it in unrighteousness (see Romans 1).

With his humanist opponent Erasmus and the whole Roman Catholic Church in his sights, Luther asks, with great rhetorical effect: “What is this but to say that their actual resistance will show their inability to resist?”(130-131)

In other words they know the truth, but they suppress it.[xiv]

Why, ultimately, does this occur?

It gets down to the heart of Luther’s battle with Erasmus. For Luther, the Bible was powerful, clear, certain and decisive and ultimately testified to Jesus Christ’s dying for all of our sins. Its law brought all people, whatever, their station, low – even “killing them” in a spiritual sense.

And its Gospel then raised them to spiritual life.

For his opponent Erasmus, salvation was attained in part by the power and freedom of man’s will, as doing good he cooperated with God’s grace…. That is how a man was converted!

In other words, Erasmus was much like the Jews in Jesus’ day who, blinded by their own sense of personal righteousness and goodness, could not see the critical message the cross preached to all men about their hopeless, desperate… sinful… state.

Luther marvels how Satan, who Jesus says “has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts” (John 12:40), prevents men from hearing and grasping the plainest words of God and how apparently, weak understanding, like that we might encounter in children… is ideal for grasping God’s words (133-134).

(So, man, bring the kids to Jesus and let the kids hear!)

One is reminded of John 9, where after healing a man born blind Jesus says the following:

““For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, the guilt of the world lays exposed.

Our Advocate, as prosecuting attorney of sorts, has brought matters to light. 

All of this is really to say, the One who is Truth prevails….the Spirit of Truth prevails…

Whether one is saved or damned.

And the world, of course, objects!

“My truth!” it screams out in pain….

And many, for example, say that it is hard for them to believe these days…

…but perhaps, even out of desperation, they will get to the point where they see that all must operate by faith, they do have some kind of faith…

…even if their faith might currently be in the wrong thing.

Pray for them.

Pray that “the Spirit… brings to them an inescapable sense of guilt so that they realize their shame and helplessness before God” (Tenney, 157).

For what the world thinks about God’s proclamation, how they feel about it, whether or not they “resonate” with it… it doesn’t change anything.

Jesus says “I have overcome the world,” and hence, as I John reminds us, our faith is the victory that has overcome the world….

This gets to another aspect of our text this morning:  “and [they] will no longer see me.” Of this passage the great St. Augustine, 5th century, said the following:

“And since the cry of unbelievers usually is, ‘How can we believe what we do not see?’ the righteousness of believers lies in this very definition [of believing]: ‘Because I go to the Father, [where] you will see me no more.’ For blessed are those who do not see and yet believe [John 20:29]. Those who saw Christ were not commended for what they saw, namely, the Son of man, but for believing what they did not see, namely, the Son of God… [Thus Jesus is saying]  ‘And by this faith of yours [in the unseen Me], in other words, [by] your righteousness, the Holy Spirit will reprove an unbelieving world.’” (Bruner)

We might have a hard time getting what he is saying here because many in our world today not only often thinks of faith and knowledge as opposites, but are basically eager to say that there is very little that we can really know…

…but today, painfully (for the world at least), we’ve focused on the Truth that not only believers, but unbelievers can know…

What could we say to the world? I think something like this:

Well, yes, it is the Christian *faith*.

But it is solid truth.

It is not just a nice story by which we, in need of some crutch in life, comfort ourselves!

No.

He really did cover Adam and Eve.

Save Noah’s family.

Chose Abraham.

Give Israel His Law.

Become man.

Heal the sick.

Cast out demons.

Raise the dead.

Unmask sin at the cross.

Was raised from the dead.

And all this sealed in the Scriptures, containing the truth He promised to lead His Apostles into!

For all the world!

For you!

In all honesty, what more could He have done?

Again, it is a strange kind of victory…

And as the Son of God attained it by just showing up and being who He is on earth, letting Truth prevail over sin, death, and the devil…

Let the same be true of us, His bride, as He, the God of Peace, crushes Satan underneath His feet.

The grave could not hold Christ and so it cannot hold us either. They can kill us but they can’t hurt us…

A contemporary Christian song I’ve heard ends by saying the following three times…

“Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness…”

And then this, again three times:

“Holy spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.”

But the Feeling which is reliably produced by the skilled musicians playing this song (and yes, aided by the incessant repetition) isn’t the thing.

No.

Rather, it is this:

Christ is in us and we are in Christ and therefore the grave is overcome by our very presence…

And so now, if our hearts long for the glory of God, as that song says…

Let us recognize that the truths in our text, as hard and difficult as they may be, indeed bring true glory to God.

Amen


Notes:

[i] Previous intro: What do you offer a world that likes to say “if it feels good, do it” when they start to suspect that there must be more?

I think of that old ground-breaking Coca-Cola commercial from a years ago, 1971, endeavoring to “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…”

The powerful element of song, to be sure, has gone a long way in promoting this kind of happy sentiment in the Church…

The temptation here is to simply think about the Holy Spirit as the one whose goal is just this…

What do I mean? Well, the Holy Spirit is seen as the one who would bind us together in song and more, who “carries us away” in His pleasant winds so to speak…

He is the one who, for example, gives us The Feeling that we are all one… that we are in this together… and that God is love and “love is love”….

A contemporary Christian song I’ve heard ends by saying the following three times…

“Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness…”

And then this, again three times:

“Holy spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.”

But is this really how we should be thinking of the glory of God?

To be sure, the gift of song is from God!

…but we must make something clear as well: while worshipping reason can be a very serious temptation of humankind as well, it, generally speaking, is the way of all flesh to depend on our powerful emotions and feelings for guidance.

And this is, in fact, perilous.

According to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is indeed our comforter, but that is not, for instance, because whenever we get powerful feelings of belonging from some “Christian song” that we are in His presence in a special way… brought before His throne, so to speak, through some kind of “means of grace”.

No – if we are going to attribute this kind of power to anything, God is going to hit us upside the head and point us to simple water, bread, and wine.

The fact of the matter is that this is simply what music – an exceptionally powerful tool and means of human expression – does. You don’t need to be a Christian to realize this: that it is able to create a powerful sense of belonging in those who find themselves carried away by particular songs and kinds of music which “resonate” with them, as we say today….

Now, none of this is to say that many Christian musicians do not use such music quite sincerely – or, for those who don’t, that God cannot chose to work through a person’s less-than-godly efforts to manipulate the feelings of others for their own ends…

It is, however, to say this: it’s not the main thing.

[ii] A nice summary of this character and his fate from a web site:

“From the moment of his rebellion, Satan’s doom was sure. God cast him from heaven to earth (Luke 10:18) where he gained dominion when Adam followed his example and rebelled against God

[From the moment of his rebellion, Satan’s doom was sure. God cast him from heaven to earth (Luke 10:18) where he gained dominion when Adam followed his example and rebelled against God (Genesis 3:6-7, 17–19; Romans 5:12). Satan is now called “the prince of the power of the air” (John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2), “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “the accuser” of Christians (Revelation 12:10), and “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). God prepared hell as a place of punishment for Satan (Matthew 25:41).”

[iii] More context: John 14!:

“…“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me….”

[iv] Undoubtedly thinking about how He fulfills God’s promise to crush the serpent’s head, Jesus had already spoken to His disciples about He’d seen “Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (see Luke 10:18).

[v] In a sense, Fraanzman seems to be saying that the Holy Spirit convicts the world by just “showing up” – the distinction between Jesus Christ and fallen man simply cannot result in a distinction between good and evil. Talbert seems to argue a bit differently, and, contra Lenski, insists on a translation of “because” “The prosecuting counsel will convict the world on three counts: sin, righteousness, and judgment. The explanation given of the three counts offers not the content of sin, righteousness, and judgment (e.g. of sin in that they do not believe) but rather the ground of conviction (e.g of sin because they do not believe). Read in this way, the world is convicted by the Spirit of prophecy: (a) of sin because the world does not believe in Jesus and that is the essence of sin in John; (b) of righteousness because, being glorified, Jesus’ righteousness is vindicated by God (cf. I John 2:29; 3:7; I Tim 3:16); (c) of judgment because the ruler of this world has already been judged, making judgment of his domain, the world, certain (cf. 12:31; I John 2:13-14; 5:18).” (Talbert, 227)

[vi] We also remember that Jesus’ disciples were not yet ready to receive everything that Jesus had to teach them…

[vii] One might wonder if in the Bible there is any comfort from God, from His Holy Spirit, outside of the context of victory over sin, death, and the devil – or even one’s earthly foes? I will need to examine this more but think it unlikely. One notes the words of Psalm 6 for example, where comfort it attained in the midst of one’s earthly enemies.

6I am weary from groaning;

all night I flood my bed with weeping

and drench my couch with tears.

7My eyes fail from grief;

they grow dim because of all my foes

8Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity,

for the LORD has heard my weeping.

9The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;

the LORD accepts my prayer.

10All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed;

they will turn back in sudden disgrace.

[viii] Psychology Today: “One of the most significant ways information processing and decision-making becomes warped is through motivated reasoning, the bias toward a decision that conforms to what a person already knows, and it occurs outside of awareness that anything sneaky is going on.” I wonder if this also can be said to happen regarding things we not only know, but think we know (i.e. knowledge which is not actually true). Also, it is interesting to think about this in terms of knowledge as “knowledge” in the first place: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2020/03/09/how-my-vocation-librarianship-taught-me-that-knowledge-is-now-knowledge/

[ix] https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Trumpets-For-Battle

[x] (you might remember the story of Pheidippides was “dispatched from the battlefield to Athens to deliver the news of Greek victory. After running about 25 miles to the Acropolis, he burst into the chambers and gallantly hailed his countrymen with ‘Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam’ [‘Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!’]”)

[xi] One commentator is on to something when he says that the Holy Spirt… the Paraclete… the Advocate is the “prosecuting counsel in a cosmic trial involving Jesus and the unbelieving world” (Talbert, 226).

To speak perhaps more accurately, He simply shows us Jesus, who simply shows up… and that is what happens.  

[xii] The full clip of content is below, and can be found at the blog post here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/martin-luther-christ-means-to-draw-the-worlds-wrath-upon-oneself-and-to-pick-a-fight/

What kind of kingdom is Christ’s kingdom? How is it governed? Christ explains this in the text when he says: “The Holy Spirit will convict the world.”

The kingdom of Christ is not to be a government established and organized in a worldly way. It is not to be run by human wisdom, power, might, law and order. Rather, the kingdom of Christ is to be a government of the Holy Spirit. It is to be a spiritual kingdom, in which Christ rules invisibly. Christ is not to rule externally, by physical force, but internally, by the word that the Holy Spirit is to preach. By the preached word the Holy Spirit will work in the heart of man.

“The Holy Spirit,” Christ says, “is to convict the world.” This does not mean that the Holy Spirit will conquer the world by armor and weapons and earthly power. Rather, the Holy Spirit will carry out an oral word or preaching office which is called God’s word, or the word of the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ. That is what is going to invade the world and attack it.

This is what it means to convict the entire world, not just a few people, not just one or two nations or countries. This is what it means to convict both Jews and Gentiles, scholars, wise men, and saints, who all excel in their respective kingdoms. By the term ‘world’ Christ does not mean the masses or the rabble. Rather, he means the very essence of the world, that which is most praiseworthy, that which cannot be convicted of anything at all in external earthly kingdoms.

In particular, Christ is thinking of those who wanted to be holier than everyone else, namely, the Jews. They after all had been given the Law of Moses and were called ‘The people of God.’ Christ earlier had said that they hated him and his disciples without cause, just as was written in their law. In this way Christ gave his apostles power and might. Indeed, he gave them authority over all the world, which was to hear them and be subject to their preaching.

Christ strengthens and comforts the disciples. Because they were simple common people, the preaching of the disciples would be despised by the world and would not have any prestige. In fact, wherever they would challenge the world with their convicting preaching, the disciples would be hated, suppressed, and suffer.

Nonetheless, their preaching would have power, strength, and force. Even though the world would thunder and rage against it with persecution, punishment, and killing—not only with all its own power and might, but also that of the entire kingdom of hell—the world would have to hear it and would not be able to overturn and resist it. “This is why,” Christ says, “you should not be terrified and saddened by the fact that I leave you bodily. For I wish to give you something in leaving which is far better than what you have had so far while you were with me.”

“I also wish to accomplish far greater and more glorious things than what could take place so far. The Holy Spirit will accomplish through you things which pertain to my kingdom far more glorious and powerful than you now imagine. He will do this so that you will not, as you do now, plan and scheme how to become rulers on earth and conquer great kingdoms” (which is all perishing stuff, about which God does not care, and where there has been always more fools than pious men).

“Rather, the Holy Spirit will place you in a government by which you will judge the consciences of all men. That which is greatest in the world—that is, all its wisdom and holiness—will be subject to you. You will judge, convict, and condemn it. Furthermore, no one shall, nor can, escape sin, death, and hell, or get to heaven, who does not hear your word and desire to obey the same.”

“The Holy Spirit will also give you such comfort and courage that you will not be terrified as you now are. You also will not be deathly afraid of the world’s intimidation, anger, and rage against your preaching. Rather, you will confidently continue to convict, regardless of what both world and devil can do, and does do against it, with persecution, murder, and the power of all hell.”

This is the promise concerning the work that the Holy Spirit is to begin in the kingdom of Christ, which is the teaching office of the apostles. This is to be carried out by convicting the world as it finds it, and that is, outside of Christ. It does not exclude anyone great or small, learned, wise or holy, rich or poor.

In short, this is what it means to draw the world’s wrath upon oneself and to pick a fight. This is why one must be struck in the mouth. For the world, which rules here on earth, neither wants, nor can put up with, someone who does not want the world to be right. This is why persecutions must begin because of this. This is why one party must yield to the other, the weaker one to the stronger one.

Since, however, the office of the apostles is to be nothing but a teaching office, it cannot be carried out with worldly might and force. This is why the world keeps hold of its external rule and power against the apostles.

At the same time, because it is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, the apostles’ office of convicting, which This confronts the world, is not to be hindered. It is to overcome and permeate everything, as Christ promised the apostles: “I will give you the mouth and wisdom which your opponents will not be able to resist.”

To be sure, the Holy Spirit has also previously convicted the world of the same thing. Just as Christ rules at all times, and the same Christ is “yesterday, today, and forever,” (Hebr. 13:8), the Holy Spirit has preached from the beginning of the world through the holy fathers Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and John the Baptist. Such convicting has been preserved by divine power.

Yet now it is to begin in earnest. Christ wishes to establish a public convicting that is to take place not only among the Jewish people but throughout the entire world until the Last Day.

This public convicting is to be much more powerful and penetrating so that hearts are struck and wounded. This is what was said in Acts 2:37 about the first sermon of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost. The apostle’s sermon cut to their heart. That is how they were enlightened and converted from their blindness.

Yet, on the other hand, whenever people do not want to accept such convicting, it is to effect their condemnation. They are to take offense, stumble and fall into eternal damnation. In this way, this convicting is to be a power unto life and salvation for the believers, but for the others it is to be a preaching and power unto death, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:16.”

[xiii] In Luther’s sermon spoken about in this message, where He speaks about the Spirit’s work, he closes by saying:

 “Yet, on the other hand, whenever people do not want to accept such convicting, it is to effect their condemnation. They are to take offense, stumble and fall into eternal damnation. In this way, this convicting is to be a power unto life and salvation for the believers, but for the others it is to be a preaching and power unto death, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:16.”

[xiv] More content from this blog post:  https://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/certitude-vs-certainty-can-neil-gorsuch-martin-luther-teach-us-knowledge-truth/

“In his famed work The Bondage of the Will, we see concrete examples of this (all following quotations are from the J.I. Packer translation).

Luther begins his teaching on the nature of Scripture by noting that Isaiah 40:13 “does not say: ‘who has known the mind of Scripture?’ but: ‘who has known the mind of the Lord?’” Not only does God reveal His own mind in the Scriptures, but He also brings clarity:

“the perspicuity [i.e. clarity] of Scripture is twofold… The first is external, and relates to the ministry of the Word [“all that is in Scripture is through the Word brought forth into the clearest light and proclaimed to the whole world”!]: the second concerns the knowledge of the heart [“nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures”!]” (BOTW, Packer ed., 73, 74).

This only gives us a clue of where Luther is going. Later in this book he uses Isaiah 8:20 (“…to the law and to the testimony…”*) to circle back to the importance of the clarity and decisiveness of Scripture. Simply from the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, he marshals passages from Deuteronomy 17:8, Psalms 19:8 and 119:130, Malachai 2:7 and more to make his case. He writes:

“if laws need to be luminous and definite in secular societies, where only temporal issues are concerned, and such laws have in fact been bestowed by Divine bounty upon all the world, how should He not give to Christians, His own people and His elect, laws and rules of much greater clarity and certainty by which to adjust and settle themselves and all issues between them?… let us go on, and overwhelm this pestilent saying of the Sophists with passages of Scripture.”

Luther goes on to point out that Stephen, in the book of Acts, quotes Isaiah 66:1, “What is the house that ye build unto me?,” to prove to the Jewish council that God did not command his people to build a temple to Him. And here, he notes that Luke writes “they could not resist the spirit and wisdom with which he spake” (Acts 6:10), and that Jesus Christ Himself says of the words His heralds speak, “your adversaries shall not be able to resist.” Luther recalls that in response to Stephen’s words the council “shut their eyes and summoned false witnesses against him” – to which he replied “Ye uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.”

Luther than drops the hammer: “He says that they do resist, although they could not resist”, meaning that they very well knew the truth the external word brought but internally suppressed it in unrighteousness (see Romans 1). With Erasmus (and Rome) in his sights, Luther asks, with great rhetorical effect: “What is this but to say that their actual resistance will show their inability to resist?” (130-131)

In other words they know.

Do we have such confidence of the external clarity of the Bible – and the knowledge of truth that it brings? If not, why not? Should we seek such confidence? If not, why not?

Quoting Isaiah 6:10, “Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive”, Luther is absolutely relentless:

“…reveal… how mighty is the dominion and power of Satan over the sons of men, which prevents them from hearing and grasping the plainest words of God, and makes them like men whom an illusionist has mesmerized into thinking that the sun is a cold cinder, or believing that a stone is gold… [Satan is the cause of man’s failure to grasp God’s words, and] if [he] did not do so, the whole world could be converted by a single word of God, hear once; there would be no need of more” (133-134).

From the parable of the sower: “the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.”

Man’s failure to grasp God’s clear words (i.e. trust) does not result from weak understanding, as men like Erasmus claim, but on the contrary, weak understanding is ideal for grasping God’s words (133-134). Of course the Holy Spirit figures into all of this as well, as He works according to and through God’s word…

Can we, if we adopt the more subjective posture invoked by many modern biblical scholars, ever hope to nurture such confidence? That we possess knowledge of the truth and can and should assert the same to others?

Where was Luther wrong?

Is he wrong about the perspicuity, i.e. clarity, of Holy Scripture? Is he wrong about the knowledge that it brings those who hear it?”

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

For Whom Are God’s Commands Burdensome?

Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum

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“…this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”

-I John 5:3b-4a

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Do you know who finds God’s commands burdensome?

The world.

This is why one can also read the following in the book of I John, where our text comes from this morning:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fatheris not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world…

But who doesn’t want to fulfill their desires? Who doesn’t want to feel good about who they are? And to go where their heart leads?

In some sense, all of this seems like it is just a part of being human. On the other hand, however, our sin twists every bit of goodness that might be in our natural desires and our need to feel good about who we are…

And God would seek to preserve us from the burdens this sin brings!

At one point in my life, I was a “Coordinator of Youth and Young Adults” at a church. And I distinctly remember telling a group of high-schoolers that God was like a good parent in that He didn’t want to control them, He just cared about them…

And one of the girls in the group just said, “Well, duh.”

She was, of course, a Christian…

At the same time, it’s not that those who are not Christian have never had such thoughts about parents… especially if they are one!

Nevertheless, the wisdom that this young woman had so intuitively grasped and knew deep in her heart, sometimes, it seems, is becoming increasingly foreign to our world…

As new religious impulses opposed to God’s ways take hold…

Really, when it comes to God, what could be worse than having to think of independent, self-respecting adults as something akin to children under the rule and care of their parents!

And, after all, we know the legacies we’ve inherited!

Aren’t oppressive institutions like traditional marriage are clearly outdated?

Don’t child-rearing and our notions of family need to be completely re-imagined?

And, certainly, cis-heteronormative patriarchy – particularly of the “white” kind – needs to go you see!

So we can be free, free, free!!!

And don’t get these folks started about the church!

I think about the dance song I my brother used to blast from his room during his high school years:

No no limits, we’ll reach for the sky!
No valley to deep, no mountain too high
No no limits, won’t give up the fight
We do what we want and we do it with pride

For many in the world, limits and boundaries – at least when not self-imposed! – are anathema… to be utterly condemned…

They want, as one put it “unobstructed human liberation”.[i]

So John goes on, later, to warn us: “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,[b] if the world hates you.” (I John 2, 3)

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So, how does the church – or should the church – see God’s commands?

If John insists that God’s commands are not burdensome for us does that mean that they are always easy to do?

No.

It simply means that following God’s commands is something the Christians knows they are to do, and really, ultimately want to do…

At the same time, it does not mean that following God’s commands is something that we will always feel like doing or be excited to do

… or that we will never have to work at

… or that people won’t need to remind us about. 

Why? Because even honest-to-God-Christian-believers, who are indeed new creations with new godly impulses, also have what the Bible calls an “old Adam,” as Paul talks about in Galatians 5 (there is a war going on within the believer!), for example.

And so, this is why the Apostle Paul says things like this:

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. 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13)

And this:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4)

And, from Colossians 3:

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Sadly though, the world seems particularly popular in the church today…

We actually get the impression from many today who claim the name of Christ that commands like these are indeed burdensome…

The impression is given that if the forgiven child of God is on the receiving end of something which does not immediately seem like a “gracious invitation” given to an equal…

….then the person giving or relaying that something almost certainly should not be paid any attention to….

If you, the person who “doesn’t understand grace,” tries to offer directions to these folks from God’s word, you might hear them say things like:

  • “God’s law is not a window through which we inspect other people’s sins, but a mirror to reveal our own,”
  • “You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior,”
  • The Old and New Adam, or Eve, are not unique to believers but are present in, and struggle against one another, in each human being.

Frankly, nothing could be more wrong than all of this…

If sin is lawlessness (I John 3), how can some  insist, for example, that God’s law removes faith in God’s word?…[ii]

And while many rightly states that our sins are first and foremost rooted in the supreme sin of unbelief, they nevertheless don’t see that that unbelief is lawlessness as well…

And so, they exhibit a lawlessness of their own…

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Given that some of these folks somehow remain true believers, what they really need to realize is this, also from I John:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

God wants us to be made perfect in love – and this means nothing less than being made perfect in His law…

But they don’t want to hear this, and sometimes we can see this in particularly clear ways.

For example, if you ask people in the theological academy who the greatest theologian of the 20th century is – that is, the most influential theologian — they will almost certainly say it is the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth.

Karl Barth wrote volumes and volumes of books, all of them characterized by his impressive grasp of history, the history of theological thought, and his skill in rhetoric.

And yet, because of new biographies like those of Christiane Tietz, we now know that Karl Barth was also, to say the least, less than an exemplary man.

As the editor of the journal First Things, R.R. Reno explains in reviewing the book, Barth’s private letters, made public by his children in the 1980s, showed that for some fifty years he “maintained a household that included both his… lover and his wife.”[iii]

You see, years after his marriage to his wife Nelly, Barth met the attractive young nurse and theology student Charlotte, and “falling in love” with her she became his full-time secretary and research assistant….  “Barth willfully insisted that his new love was a ‘necessity,’ Reno tells us, and she “became a permanent fixture in the household, with her bedroom door opening onto [his] office…” and Nelly left out n the cold.

“Love is love,”[iv] Barth said, and all his relatives, friends, and theological colleagues kept his secret, keeping his “reputation as an ardent spokesman for Christian orthodoxy… unblemished.”

Reflecting on this Reno says: “One curse of brilliance is its ready capacity to generate elaborate excuses for the inexcusable.”

Nothing could be further from Jesus’ command to become like children, could it?

Reno goes on to say that even before the letters were published in 2010, he had a pretty firm conviction he knew what was going on. And he concludes his article in this way:

“When I finished Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict, I could understand more clearly the triumph of the sexual revolution. Many of those who represented the moral authority of Christianity in the last century, Barth among them, seem not to have believed in the fullness of the Bible’s teachings. It’s not that some transgressed. Who is without sin? But in Barth and his circle one encounters the distinctively modern style of exculpation, which amounts to saying that sins are not really sins. In the next generation, the exculpation became more open and less defensive, until at some point those who set the cultural tone decided it was silly to maintain the illusion. Private rationalizations became public affirmations: “Love is love.”

It is not very hard to see how this is relevant today. If you haven’t heard Barth’s phrase “love is love” yet to justify this or that kind of intimate relationship, you will…

Again, the world and the church don’t always seem like they are that far apart.

In Barthian fashion, some prominent and purportedly “conservative” Lutheran theologians today seem to go so far to say that it is simply not possible for them to sin because the eternal law of God, is now, in a sense, really and truly behind them…[v]

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So what is going on here?

Don’t they see that the book of James speaks of the perfect law, the law of liberty?

Don’t they see that while the service of the world if bondage, the service of God is freedom?

Don’t they see that God’s commands are not burdensome to the new creature in Christ precisely because God has forgiven us and begun to heal the problem in us?

And that the law does not literally increase sin in the believer,[vi] but simply continues to unveil it that we might receive forgiveness?

How could any believe that God’s law actually removes faith in God’s word?

How could they not see that with His direction, there is indeed freedom, righteousness, the way of love?[vii]  

Well, I’ll tell you this…

Much of what they say can actually seem very compelling… and it is easy to get sucked into this vortex where love in fact becomes something less than what it fully is.

For example, one pastor recently shared a sermon online for today’s Gospel lesson, and one of the things he said was this:

Some things in life can be commanded and some cannot. A general can command his army to charge into battle to defend its country, but cannot command them to love their country. A boss can command his workers to meet certain production quotas, but he cannot command them to love their jobs. A parent can command that her child eat her spinach, but she cannot command her to love her spinach. We can command many things from people, but one thing we can never command from them: their love. We love because we choose to, because we want to, because we get to. [viii]

This, to be sure, is a powerful point this pastor is making. He has put his finger on something very true, compelling and real, hasn’t he?

Is he not right in that strong feeling and desire – a sense of wanting to be strongly connected to that which is loved – is certainly a core component of love?

And is it not true that love can’t be forced, regardless of which kind of love (eros, phileos, agape, etc.) we are talking about?

So why am I going to insist that he is incorrect? – and that this teaching is in fact dangerous? 

Because, in part, after insisting we get to love he rhetorically asks:

…why does Jesus say in our Gospel for today, “This is my commandment, that you love one another?” Isn’t this an oxymoron? Isn’t He commanding what cannot be commanded?

This is false. As any parent who has yelled “Stop!” to their child can tell you, commands are not antithetical to love but part and parcel of it!

And, not only this, but there are indeed times that one so loved appreciates commands!

Simply put, what love means in some situations does not speak to other situations that show us what love means…

The sermon fails to acknowledge that while these things like willing and eager consent in accordance with one’s desires are indeed core elements of love, we must say much more, particularly as love grows and matures….

Love, of course, is in large part action as well… And so while strong feeling is certainly a core part of the beginnings of any natural love, which always remains fallen – or any spiritual love, which begins to love for the right reasons and motives…. love also grows into action.

How do we love the children of God, after all?

“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands….” (I John 5)

Again, teaching like we heard above, from Barth and this pastor – as good as it might sound sometimes! – is  demonic at its core.  

It cannot understand not only loyalty and duty – but the desire for commands – as love.

And so, it steals, kills, and destroys…

Contrary to popular belief in some Lutheran circles, Christ did not come that the eternal law of God would come to an end… that the commands of God to us to love would end…

On the contrary, He came that the law of God would be fulfilled… first in Him with His perfect life lived on our behalf… and then in us.

And to that end He came to make clear – to reveal to sin-sick creatures like you men – that the law could not be used by us to attain righteousness before God… could never be used in order to attain such righteousness….

That, in fact, is precisely what those who rejected Jesus Christ were guilty of.

For example, right before we read that Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness in the book of Romans, we read that:

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness…”

The contrary picture, the correct picture, is the one we read about in the very first chapter of 1 John:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

That’s it.

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That said, I’ll be honest though – it is easy to see why so many people flee to the kinds of teachings we have been talking about.

After all, reading the letter of 1 John can be a harrowing experience!

On the one hand, we are comforted to know that the Apostle John writes his letter with the intention of making it clear we can be confident that Jesus forgives us and sets us at peace with God. He writes:

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Awesome!

At the same time, what else do we read?

Passages like these:

  • We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God[a] is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
  • “Anyone who loves their brother and sister[c] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.”
  •  “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  (I John 3)
  • “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 4)

Finally, we also read:

10 “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”[ix] (I John 3)

Maybe now… do you feel a bit burdened?

In that thoughts like these are forming?: “Do I know this love John speaks of? Do I even know the Lord?”

Maybe you don’t think that, and if that is the case, more power – godly power that is – to you!

After all, elsewhere in His Epistle John says this:

“…, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us…”

That said, I distinctively remember my high-school-self doubting whether I was or ever had been a person like those verses I rattled off described.

At one point, in those years, I had been trying to make it through the whole Bible. And the book I remember reading the most was I John precisely because of some of the verses about love I just shared…

I remember realizing how selfish my own feelings for even my friends were and wondering if I even really loved anyone. If love was seeking for the good of the other – without nary a consideration of how they made me feel… or my own advantage, reputation, significance, etc…

…had I ever even really loved anyone?

Was my love entirely selfish, and hence, no true Christian love at all?

Jesus also said in our Gospel reading for this morning: “greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Never mind my friends, or my brothers and sisters in Christ” I thought… “Would I even be willing to die for my immediate family members?”

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Now, I also remember concluding that, at the very least, I seemed to really love my immediate family on some level – and for their own salvation as well…

At the same time, what helped me the most is also this passage from I John chapter 3:

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything…

“ If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything…”

Like:

He knows that the fact that I want to believe in Jesus’ atoning work and obey His commandments is only there because He put it there.  

John, by the way, then immediately goes on to talk about those whose hearts do not condemn them, which we just talked about….

However, even those who feel like that often or almost always describes them – perhaps especially these people in fact! – will also remember and heartily agree with this bit from I John:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

So we, brothers and sisters, by God’s grace, we are not deceived….

On the one hand, the Apostle John reveals to us that here on earth we will never be without sin!

And at the same time… the fact is that while the infection of sin remains in us, and our ideas of love and motives for loving will never be fully pure this side of heaven…

…our Father in Heaven also does not want us to sin in what we say or what we do…[x]

And yet when we have sinned, when we do sin, we also hear that “we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world!”

(I John 2)

And God’s Spirit – the one that lives within us who causes us to love God’s commands[xi]– also speaks a comforting word to us from outside of us through the Apostle Paul:

“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]

So my friends – children of the living God! – be comforted and encouraged, and yes, graciously invited….

Believe the gracious command of our Lord Jesus Christ to receive Him, He who aims even this morning to forgive you all of your sins, to “announc[e] the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10)

And, above all, remember also these powerful and precious words from the Apostle John:  

“…see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.” (I John 2).

Remain in His love, for our Shepherd’s goodness never fails!

Amen


[i] Brad Gregory, in his interesting but faulty book The Unintended Reformation.

[ii] Steve Paulson says true Christian freedom is: “lived in love, given by and as the Holy Spirit, [it does] what the law demands and more — without the law. Look, Mom! No law!” He goes so far to say that “with the eternal law behind me… it would be impossible for me to sin, no matter how hard I tried.” Evidently, for Paulson in fact, the law “does not give,” but actually “removes faith in God’s word.” See https://mbird.com/2021/04/how-to-stop-making-gospel-into-law/  

[iii] https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/05/karl-barth

[iv] Reno essentially says that it is no wonder he rejected natural law and emphasized that friendship, not procreation, was the true essence of marriage…

[v] See note about Steve Paulson above.

[vi] Missing the point of Romans 7:8, for example: “But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.” It is important to look at the ways the Greek word translated “produced” here can be understood, and the rest of the context of Romans 7 and the book of Romans as a whole is critical.

[vii] Man is a slave of the law in that he tries to justify himself before God with the law (see Galatians and Gal 5:1 especially) when the law clearly is meant to condemn him and shut him up.

The Radical Lutheran, for example, insists that we equate being a slave of sin with being a slave of the law, and then say that we are slaves to God and not the law…

But Paul in Romans 7 says “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin….”

Paul can talk this way because as a new creation in Christ he is no longer under the law, meaning its accusation and condemnation, but grace.

[viii] He goes on to say the following:

Then why does Jesus say in our Gospel for today, “This is my commandment, that you love one another?” Isn’t this an oxymoron? Isn’t He commanding what cannot be commanded?

This sounds a whole lot like The Golden Rule. “Treat others in the same way that you want to be treated. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”If you do a favor for someone else, THEN you can expect them to do a favor for you. If I scratch your back, then you must scratch mine.

Many also think that this is what Jesus teaches: If you want others to love you, then you first must love them. However, if we look at what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, we see something very different. There are no conditions in what Jesus says! There are no “if’s” or “but’s”. There are no threats of loss or promises of reward.”

From here: https://crossings.org/a-new-commandment/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-new-commandment

[ix] Immediately prior to this we read: “…No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him… No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.”

[x] “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.” (I John 5)

[xi] I John 3: “…The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” Later in chapter 4, we read: “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2021 in Uncategorized