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Woe! For our Good God Blinds the Church!

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Clam Falls, Wisconsin, March 19th, 2023


“Who is blind but my servant,

    and deaf like the messenger I send?

Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,

    blind like the servant of the Lord?’”

– Isaiah 42:19


Imagine, for a moment, that you are blind.

In physical blindness, you cannot see how to get here or there, and you must rely on others – or use certain tools to grope about and find your way… a good, safe, and dependable way to walk in.

Now, with spiritual blindness, you also cannot see how to get to your destination. 

In order to safely arrive there, you can only do so when you rely on the Light of the World… and the one who is the Way.

In the Bible – like in our Old and New Testament readings this morning! – we sometimes read how God’s people and even appointed leaders are blind.

There is the blindness all men have to be sure – a blindness by nature – but there is, frighteningly, also a blindness that God’s people can fall into… (see, e.g., Matthew 23:2)

Again, this is all throughout our selected readings for today… 

Israel, in Old and New Testament times, rejected God’s will and His promised Messiah…. 

In the Isaiah reading, we not only hear this hopeful word: 

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

    and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

    I will not forsake them.”

But sadly, this:

“But those who trust in idols,

    who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’

    will be turned back in utter shame.

“Hear, you deaf;

    look, you blind, and see!

Who is blind but my servant,

    and deaf like the messenger I send?

Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,

    blind like the servant of the Lord?

You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;

    your ears are open, but you do not listen.”

How can we prevent this? 

Well, in the Bible we are told that if we do what the Lord desires, if we are aligned with His purposes, we will know that we are pleasing to Him…

We are told to taste and see that the Lord is good…

And Jesus tells us that anyone who wants to know if His teaching is from God will find out if he does it… 

The writers of the Epistles in the New Testament are not shy to say that if one does God’s will, walking in the light as Jesus Christ is in the light – with His blood cleansing us from all sins (I John 1) – one will have a true and godly confidence that God is pleased with their actions… 


And as we act, my friends, we are to test everything – everything – with Scripture. 

And we will find out that when we do this, when we really do this, it will put us at odds with the world…

God’s word tells us that man’s greatest problem is idolatry. 

And idols are not just images. Coveting is said to be idolatry (Colossians 3:5). 

The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther helps us to better understand here in his explanation of the First of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me (basically, before my Face)”:

“A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”

God wants you!

God means to covet, to steal, our hearts brothers and sisters… to be the One who consumes us in His Holy, Purifying Fire…

And He is not silent! 

As all truth is God’s truth, all things, created by Him and very good, point to Him, the Truth… 

As G.K. Chesterton once said:

“You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him.” 


God will be all-encompassing in one way or the other. 

The world, for example, ultimately will make politics and religion one and the same. 

It can’t help itself, because man is religious by nature. Even those who claim to be non-religious – just something like “secular humanists” – end up being religious, for even they have their many idols, things other than God in which they rely for all things.

And even though God is all-encompassing for the Christian in a positive way, as Chesterton said, ultimately we make a critical distinction here: 

Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what is his, and to give God what is God’s. His Kingdom is not of this world, and we are strangers and aliens in this fallen world. 

God rules the world not only through His church, but through any of those He places in positions of political power and authority… all who should do His will.  

The world does everything in order to achieve pleasure, what it thinks will make it happy, give it comfort, and achieve peace in this life. 

We, on the other hand, are to recognize that God’s blessings on earth will always come in the midst of suffering, both in the sense that we receive everything passively through Him as a gift, and that He uses real forms of pain, what we usually call suffering, for our good.  

The world, when at the height of its own natural powers, assigns some men as oppressor and others as oppressed by the power of its Narrative or Mythology – and attempts to control life’s circumstances so that paradise can all at once or progressively be achieved by humanity’s innate goodness and rationality… 

As it further disconnects from God in its drive to do so, it must “tear[] down statues, edit[] old movies, put[] trigger warnings on old books [and even change them], and… cancel[] some historical figures [while] reinvent[ing others] as members of an oppressed group” (Cochran). 

We, however, are those who recognize that all men are God’s offspring, created in His image, and that the True Oppressor is the Demonic One. 

Furthermore, that all men are called to the act of dominion, that is to be stewards of God’s creation who humbly manage it and attempt to improve things in our backyards as we can – even as only Jesus’ return can restore it and make it whole!

We know our fathers were not perfect, but while being honest about their failings, we nevertheless honor them, covering their sins in mercy…

As the world worlds – that is, does what it will inevitably do – it will finally declare most everything of significance to be social constructs, making and assigning what is true… Truth is what works for them, for getting them what they want. This means that nothing is real in itself, by itself, but that by man’s words there is power to make all things new… to make them what the world wants them to be in order to liberate the good people from the bad oppressive ones. For such power is all there finally is…

The Christian however, does not assign, make or create truth but observes it, recognizing both power and authority. He recognizes that highly regarded and influential men of the Western world like Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Foucault were not only wrong in important respects, but disastrously so. For reality always limits us, as it is gloriously real apart from our words… because of the love of God, whose words created everything out of nothing… 

But the world doesn’t care. The world approves of abortion and even infanticide, encourages psychologically damaged kids to cut their bits off and be the other sex, says that marriage is whatever we want, and that any sexual activity is OK if it is consensual, with this age creeping down all the time… 

We are those who know that every life is valuable to God, that He created us male and female, that He means for one man and one woman to be together for life, and that the only proper place for sexual activity is the confines of Christian marriage, the good, true, and proper fireplace for the fire. 

The world, when its fallenness truly ripens (or rots) – and its arrogance feels unbounded – will shamelessly lie to get what it wants. It will say that being privileged is evil, that it is never right to act in accordance with prejudices and stereotypes, that families are whoever cares for you, that no one should ever be called an “illegal alien”, and that it would be best if all groups had an equality of outcome, with quotas being the answer…

The Christian should recognize that nurturing and educating children is theirs and our godly privilege, that fair observations which lead to generalizations about certain groups are part and parcel of life, that natural families have a special bond due to their being flesh and blood, that God implies it is a curse for foreigners to gain influence over a nation, and that He means for some to achieve greater rewards than others.

The world says, in Tower-of-Babel fashion, that we should be citizens of the world, that it would be good if we own nothing but share everything, that hierarchy is evil, that patriarchy is toxic and that we would almost always certainly be better off with women ruling us…

God says that He made all the nations and “mark[s] out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”, that private property and personal ownership is a blessing and gift, that He chose the Apostle and their successors to rule the church, and that He was pleased to provide good men to lead His people… with women and children leaders being mentioned as curses…


Christians today have been so concerned about not offending anyone – and becoming as innocent as doves – that we never bothered to become as wise as serpents (Cochran)…

Folks, in case you haven’t noticed, the world doesn’t care that it is hypocritical. 

Work needs to get done after all. That men and women like you say you have godly “principles” and care what the Bible says is the problem, and you stand in their way. 

But always remember what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12-17:

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

So, this morning, it is appropriate that the Apostle Paul leads us as he does…

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…

Even though the Bible translation we used this morning doesn’t clearly indicate this, Paul does go on to tell us to “make fruit of goodness, truth, and righteousness” and to “put your stamp of approval” on what pleases God (the text we read says “find out what pleases God” but that is not the best translation…).

He then says: 

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light….”

All is to become illuminated, enlightened… by God’s Word.

Again, the problem is that the world, stealing and then modifying some ideas from God’s word and will, think that it is Enlightened. 

And believers are not immune to this virus, this virus that actually does not cause sight, but blindness…

Even fellow Christians may persecute us, as full of the world’s Spirit, they are confident of what they condemn us for. 


This will leave us confused, as this is a burden and a sanctification process that is extremely difficult:  Being driven back to Scripture to find out what God’s law – God’s love – really looks like. 

But we should not give up, because Jesus said we will suffer.

Always keep in mind it is not our suffering or even confusion that saves us. 

It is the One who suffered for us who saves us in the midst of suffering… even when the world is working us over, gaslighting us… and even our own hearts are mistakenly condemning us….

Again, with spiritual blindness, you cannot “see” how to get to your intended destination. You do not even understand what that destination is..

In order to arrive safely to it, you must rely on the Light of the World… 

This, the Bible tells us, is going to get much harder. Jesus, after all, tells us the love of many will grow cold and asks whether when He comes back he will find faith on earth.

He says that He and the world are fundamentally at odds.

That if the world hated Him it will hate us.

That the way, the path, of light and not darkness, of true sight and not blindness, is narrow – and that few find it. 

Mark my words, you will be called a Fundamentalist and worse. 

Get ready. No matter how sweet you are, no matter how kind your words and actions, no matter how much good you do in the world, you will almost surely be called a prude, fascist, a racist, a Nazi, an anti-vaxxer, a homophobe, a transphobe, an Islamophobe, an anti-semite, and a sexist… maybe even in the church.  

Not because the Bible tells anyone to do truly evil things. 

Not because the Bible encourages us to hate anyone… 

Not because God wants to be against them and not for them (we know God desires that all would know the truth, to repent, to be saved). 

…but simply because as the world, in its blindness, does what its heart wants – as it chases false and foolish promises, hopes, desires – Christians who get in the way will need to be dealt with. 

They will need to be hated: that is, shamed, marginalized, excluded…

As Jesus’ death on the cross draws many to Himself, others will pass Calvary by en route to setting up new locations of persecution and punishment for those who are alien, foreign to it.

Where Christians can be lifted up and exposed to public shame and scandal. 

The Christian is like the immigrant to a new country that can never fit in, that never quite manages to adopt the other’s culture…

Because He can’t. Because this world is not our home. 


This will only get worse as with our Evil Woke World Government reveals itself to in fact be religion more and more and more. A friend of mine, Matt Cochran, puts it bluntly:

“G.K. Chesteron famously wrote: “You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him.” Well, the Marxist would say the same about class and the Queer Theorist the same about heteronormativity. Feminists likewise view everything through the lens of men oppressing women. Critical race theorists view everything through the lens of whites oppressing people of color. Every individual, institution, social custom, and field of knowledge is placed under the judgment of Critical Theory’s narratives[, that is, the pragmatic view of truth devoted to revolutionary progress…] Nothing is immune, including other religions. And in every one of those narratives, goodness is defined purely in the pragmatic terms of successful liberation of the oppressed from the oppressors…”

Baptized children of God, you who have been brought out of darkness into His glorious light…

…again, the godless among us borrow biblical metaphors like Enlightenment or being awake in order to undermine the Bible itself.

Of course, again, these Woke people claim that they are awake. 

They are not sleeping, but there eyes are opened…. They see, they “get it”. 

They see reality, what everything critical is all about.

But they don’t. They are deceivers, also being deceived.

Remember though you may not have been born physically blind, you too were born spiritually blind, in darkness.

Jesus, however, has healed our blindness and will keep us from falling into blindness again…

Even if your church, more concerned about what the world thinks then what God thinks, were to exclude you…

Like the blind man, you could, perhaps, be kicked out of your congregation… or perhaps, at least, lose any position of influence you may have…

But God will never cast away those who humbly depend on and even cling to His every word… 


Children of the Most High God, of the King of Heaven and Earth, listen:

We can imitate Jesus’ wisdom – arguably like how the man born blind did in our Gospel reading today! (John 9) – no matter how intelligent we are…

We can learn, we can see, how Jesus was wise to His enemies’ schemes and traps.  

When the world uses your principles against you and demands that you denounce this or that on their terms, you are under no obligation to do so. 

Rather, always make your condemnations on God’s terms and not your enemies’.

You see, the world’s accusations have no credibility because they, despite their power, have no credibility… because they have no respect for the truth. 

They undermine and twist true authority. 

And so when the “culture war” finds you as it comes knocking at your door…

…as revolutionary religion that is no respecter of a separation of church and state, that is no respecter of some distinction between religion and politics, shows its face more and more…

…and as the world inevitably infects the church and steadily gains influence within…

…remember God’s words, and remember the implications for all those who are caught up in it will be absolutely lethal … 

As Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians:

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God [ – yes God – ] sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness…”

O love not the world! 

Love not the world! 

This world that perishes and will ultimately burn in the flames!

Do not let that be you! 

Do not let that be your Christian leaders! 

Do not let that be your teachers, your pastors! 

And do not say “I am just a layperson, how can I know what is true?”


Please, my friends… for the sake of Jesus Christ, I urge you to get ready. 

Don’t think your Sunday meal here is enough! 

Fill yourself with the meat of His word!

Learn to love God’s ways – which are not ours! – now, this side of heaven! 

Drink His Spirit like never before…

Do things like devotions with spouse and/or kids, spend time each day reading the Bible, worship with all God’s people whenever it is offered, set aside time exclusively for prayer, and practice small acts of kindness you might not otherwise attempt.

And realize God may be calling you also to get others ready, particularly your family, your friends, and your closest neighbors… 

That you might say unto them: 

“Wake up, sleeper,

    rise from the dead,

    and Christ will shine on you.”

Because unlike you, even if others may never pick up a Bible to read it, they will read you, and they will see the light of Christ shining through you…

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as all these things happen to you remember how our passage from Isaiah ends:

“It pleased the Lord

    for the sake of his righteousness

    to make his law great and glorious.”

And remember always that no matter how far you might fall, failing yourself to reflect the light of Christ… failing yourself to be a light-bearer because you are dwelling in your own darkness… that Christ is always there, knocking at your door.

Yes, perhaps that creates some anxiety. After all, this is the Self-Same One who we heard this morning:

“lay[s] waste the mountains and hills

    and dr[ies] up all their vegetation;

turn[ing] rivers into islands

    and dry[ing] up the pools…”

And yet, unlike the power-brokers of the world, He is not looking to make you dependent on others, to demand reparations from you, threatening to fire you from your job until you conform to His artificial and unnatural whims.. or insisting you just be willing to endlessly “dialogue”, or rather just “listen”… 


His heart is the opposite of such as these, for His Heart of True Love has already overcome the world…

He is coming to eat with you, to spend time with you, to teach you to overcome the world too, and to offer you pardon and power, sweet and free forgiveness and a new life that goes and sins no more… 

For He has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you, even if all else, father, mother, sister, brother, pastor, church, might…


Let’s close with a short passage from I John: 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them.”


with notes:

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Posted by on March 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


The World’s Wealth, God’s Wealth, and Gen Z

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Feb. 26, 2023


“Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

– Matthew 4:10


“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

“No,” Jesus says. 

Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

In some ways, all of this might seem a bit much. Did the devil really think that he was going to pull this off?

Get Jesus to bow down and worship him?

Perhaps the devil was just getting really frustrated by this point, with his more subtle temptations – like trying to get Jesus to turn stones into bread to alleviate His legitimate hunger – failing so badly…

On the other hand, perhaps when we really do consider the appeal of the world’s splendor, or its glory… one can understand this move…

For truly, the world and its glories can be intoxicating, and which man is exempt from its temptations?

There is so much to experience! So much to enjoy!

Who would not like to have more material plenty, wealth, money? 

Why not have a grand mansion with lots of well-developed land? Would it be wrong for me to have two or three or four? And I love to play golf. Why not have my own beautiful course as well? And a large swimming pool, some beach front property, a home in the mountains, my own tropical island, and perhaps a fast sports car or two might be nice.

And why not strive to have success and influence in all that I do? Why not dress to the nines and look to impress my friends and neighbors with the skills and gifts that I possess and have developed? 

And how about power? Showing that you are able to effectively manage things, others, and the circumstances you find yourself certainly shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing! 

And if that leads to increased status, attracting a more beautiful spouse (or maybe two) with whom you can share the great times – the people, the food, the music, the games, the dancing, the entertainment, the fun – why the hell not?

I mean, I don’t need to worship Satan to do all this right? Sell my soul? Even if, yeah, I might need to spend a little less time on all that stuff Jesus talks about…

Yeah, maybe his offer to the man Jesus Christ to worship him seemed plausible to Satan…


There is a popular hymn called “What is the World to Me?” that always strikes me as powerful in its message if not a bit grand in its spiritual ambitions.

It opens with this line: 

“What is the world to me

with all its vaunted pleasure

when you, and you alone,

Lord Jesus, are my treasure!

You only, dearest Lord,

my soul’s delight shall be;

you are my peace, my rest.

What is the world to me!”

“You only, dearest Lord…” Gotta love the sentiment…

The hymn also reminds us that 

“The world seeks after wealth

and all that money offers,

yet never is content

though gold should fill its coffers…”

“The world is like a cloud

and like a vapor fleeting,

a shadow that declines,

swift to its end retreating…” 

What is the world to me? Is it really true that: 

“I have a higher good,

content with it I’ll be;

my Jesus is my wealth.

What is the world to me!”?

What does that even look like? Have you figured it out yet? 

I know family is one of God’s greatest gifts and is indeed a true kind of wealth, and yet, they too are to play second fiddle to our Lord!

So perhaps the things I talked about earlier were a bit crass, right? While it might describe some of the young and restless, perhaps many more, getting a hold of their more wild feelings and desires… 

…just want to really know a sense of meaning and purpose; to know a life that has not been in vain!

Maybe, perhaps, just to be praised – or perhaps just known – as a good person by the ones around them… 

Maybe, perhaps just to know the love of one man or woman, and to know the joy of having close family members or friends who will stand by their side, and to have a sense of calling, vocation, in their life…


Here though, I think it is reasonable to say that many increasingly feel like they have no real wealth or very little wealth in this world. 

They feel no weight of glory in their life at all… 

You probably have not heard of the philosopher Robert Nozick’s rather jarring idea of the “Experience Machine”. I learned about it a few weeks ago. Fifty years ago, this man wrote:

“What matters other than how people’s experiences feel “from the inside”? Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience that you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences? If you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences, selecting your life’s experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select the experiences of your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there’s no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? Nor should you refrain because of the few moments of distress between the moment you’ve decided and the moment you’re plugged. What’s a few moments of distress compared to a lifetime of bliss (if that’s what you choose), and why feel any distress at all if your decision is the best one?”

The writer Rod Dreher quoted this in an article he wrote that goes on to talk about the increasing popularity of psychedelic drugs that many younger people are looking to for comfort… Pointing out how these drugs seemingly allow one to “escape” the world, he sees the “Experience Machine” as being a similar escape and asks:

“Would you plug in? This is the concept behind The Matrix — the idea that everybody lives inside a mass hallucination, when in fact their bodies live in a kind of suspended animation. This is the substance of the red pill vs. blue pill choice in the movie: would you prefer to live within a pleasant lie, or within the unpleasant truth?”

Now, many of you would no doubt argue as Nozick did and say we want to be people who are not dependent, people of great character and strength who are not just hooked up to a tank but hooked up with reality, and what is really real.  

Dreher points out however, that someone he would not expect to be interested in this wrote him to say that she was… 

In an article titled “Young, Christian, And Eager To Escape”, we hear about an an orthodox Catholic Gen Z reader, 26 years old, who “says she would plug in to Robert Nozick’s ‘Experience Machine’”

This young woman says things like “the social impetus of going out and making it for yourself doesn’t really affect us anymore…. In a declining economy, housing costs are through the roof, full-time decent work hard to come by without higher college degrees and connections, and stifling health insurance costs discourage her and many… Because of the economic struggles, she feels her outlook as far as marriage and family go is “overwhelmingly bleak also” and she worries about declining fertility the longer it takes to find someone…

Many in her generation 

“…feel stuck in lives we didn’t want, didn’t choose. We feel failed by the voices that told us things like ‘just get your college diploma, it’ll work out’ or ‘life is always hard when you’re young’. We see peers older than us still living barely making it every day, and we see our parents pushing off retirement. And the meaning has been sucked dry from our lives for the most part…”

She says her generation feels it was lied to and that this largely explains the increasing drug use in our country. And “Given a bleak enough outlook, most people would choose not to think about, feel, or come into contact with any of life’s problems…” 

She shares these chilling words as well:

“This generation knows “that their efforts will never produce the results in material wealth those same efforts might have in their parents and grandparents generation, so they instead cling to a darkly pessimistic outlook, and consider it to be virtuous that they reject the idea that they will ever be happy, fulfilled, etc. in life. Nihilism As Virtue is a strange sense of being, because Gen Z wears it with a smile on its face, becoming almost giddily addicted to the latest trends re: escapism and compelling others to do the same because, after all, life is meaningless, and it will never get any better, so we may as well, right?…”

She ends by saying this: 

“To come full circle, I myself find that I spend a great deal of time engaging with escapism. I also spend a lot of dreaming about what life could be like, if only things could be different, or alternate universes existed where my worth in terms of the world was higher. So I can’t honestly say, considering that, and all the problems I’ll likely face in the next five years, that I feel confident I wouldn’t say yes to the Experience Machine. And I highly doubt a lot of Gen Z would, either.”

Rod sums things up again, sharing his own confidence in this woman’s faith: 

“What struck me so hard about this letter is that I know this young woman’s parents, and I know that she received a solid traditional upbringing in a faith-filled home. She has faith herself, and not just a notional faith. And yet, the bleakness of her generation’s prospects are grinding her down.”


Again, many feel endlessly discouraged… for they feel like they have no real wealth in this world.

…that they have nothing of the world’s splendor.

Well, they are surely not all innocent here. Critiques could be leveled against them to be sure. But let’s leave them alone this morning…

Because the Western world – a wild West if there ever was one – is certainly a mess like never before…

I mean, look at their Gen Z’s wider cultural context. 

They see young women cutting off their breasts and men their members and our educated elites and popular media influencers swoon with approval. Even pre-pubescent children are taking hormones, without their parents knowing. Grooming pedophiles who would prey on children are increasingly present and grow bolder and more open about their designs. They were forced to mask up and go to school online for two years and many had to take a “vaccine” that was known to have particularly bad side effects – myocarditis and the like – on their age group (at least the men). Race-baiters exist around every corner. Any of those wise enough to be concerned about rapid amounts of cultural change due to things like a surfeit of immigration and dearth of assimilation are shamelessly called racists. 

Of course, increasing problems have been picking up steam for a while. Should we talk about all the fruits of that “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” revolution that killed folk culture, high culture, church culture? 

One child of the sixties writes about the “rapid removal of all landmarks, signposts, objective measures and maps which left us where we are now, lost boys and girls trying to invent our own ideas of the good, condemned to repeat every stupid mistake in human history, which really defines our age…”

My own generation has been divorcing like mad since we were born. 1/3rd of us were aborted, and there is no way we, much less the Millennials or Gen Z, will be collecting any social security. And to top it off, fewer and fewer of those who get married want many kids – or any kids…

Men and women.

The Daily Mail reports: 

“The famous American work ethic helped the United States become the economic superpower of the 20th century. 

But experts warn the decision to prioritize careers over families has set the country on an irreversible path to economic destruction. The reason? People do not have enough children anymore.

A baby boom in the mid-20th century saw the average woman give birth to between three and four children. Today, just 1.6 children – the lowest level recorded since data was first tracked in 1800.

This could lead to economic devastation in America down the line – as the federal government would need to collect more taxes to fund programs such as Medicare and Social Security – while dishing out less benefits to each person.

The downward trend of American fertility has accelerated in recent decades, as the ‘Instagram generation’ of millennials and zoomers prioritize their careers, travel and relaxation over building families.”

Feminism, often popularly felt to be the belief that a woman can do most everything a man can – has not helped here… So many thinking it was a good idea for both parents to work – so a bigger piece of the American Dream could be attained – has really been a disaster for the American family.

Men, for example, by nature programmed to be protectors and providers, are increasingly no longer seeing the incentives or the point of getting married. Or even going to college, as colleges don’t want them (particularly if they are white) and women continue to graduate at far, far higher rates. 

Many of them themselves did not know stable marriages growing up… and they see that upwards of 70-80% of marriages end when the wife ends it… and with the law being stacked against them in ways that are often shocking…

Maybe some better politicians who also lead and inspire could be of help here. 

At the same time, what should we think when a majority of citizens no longer trust the electoral process?

And, when a wildly disproportionate amount of newly college-educated women vote en masse for the politicians who say they’ll make provision for them and any children they might bear…

…much like any husband would have been expected to do previously? 

Like everything else, it is now just a responsible and reasonable choice you make in the Experience Machine that is yourself.

Me, myself, and I. 

Who else matters, really?


I don’t know about you, but I am looking for some answers. Even if we surely don’t have all the answers.

What is a better way to live? 

Now, I would never be tempted to join the Amish. 

In fact, I worked with a guy this past week who lives in the country, and is close with a young Amish family.

They want out, he says, as the community’s legalism suffocates them. I do not know if it is true of all Amish communities, but I know for many that if you leave the group, you will be shunned and told that you are sealing your damnation by leaving the group. This was the case with the community of my co-worker’s friend.

That said, this past week I heard a report about a group that seemed a bit like the Amish, but much better. They are called the Danthonia Bruderhof.

This group of about 200 from the state of New South Wales in southeastern Australia has a large farm and lives off the land in a commune-like fashion, evidently somewhat successfully. 

They live, work, and serve together because they believe that God has called them to do this… even as they recognize this kind of life is not for everyone (it also seems you can here without  having to worry about leaving your salvation!)

I heard a podcast program which in part talked about this community helping to cater a wedding featuring the food grown on their farm… meat, dairy, veggies, and fruit. This is not unusual for this community that has their church, neighborhood, and workplace “all rolled into one.”

The article reports that 

“It’s a self-contained village, complete with school, a sign-making business that provides income, an on-site doctor, and 5,500 acres.

The Bruderhof have 24 communities in seven countries. Because of the women’s skirts and head coverings, people sometimes mistakenly think of the Bruderhof as Amish. But unlike the Amish, the Bruderhof have all things in common and personally own nothing—except clothing and toothbrushes. They resonate more with the early Hutterites, who believed strongly in the Great Commission and welcoming new neighbors…”

They use technology judiciously as they will often carry the latest cell phones in their pockets. Some are also responsible for recording all their agricultural data, for example. 

One member of the community says, summing things up: 

“Our way of life, our expression of faith community, is not about retreating from the world, but actually being an encouragement both to the church at large and also to people that don’t share faith that another life truly is possible. And clearly, that starts with our faith and a life that’s centered on Christ…”

Sounds pretty good, huh? 

Some tough questions though…

1) I mean, is it a good thing to leave your parents overseas, 10,000 miles away, as one couple did? Are your parents taken care of? Are they able to see their grandchildren? Happy with the arrangement?

2) I know I’d have to think twice before joining something like this! On their website, we read “Once someone has become a member, all of his or her earnings and inheritances are given to the church community, and each receives necessities such as food, clothing, and housing.” And if someone does decide to leave the community – and with it their vows of poverty and obedience – and decides they want to leave their child who is also leaving the community an inheritance like the Bible says would be good to do, that is too bad… 

One can perhaps see why monasteries in the past were for single persons…

3) And really – no property except for clothes and a toothbrush? Is that really wise? Do these communities ever work on larger scales? 


OK, I don’t want to come off as too immediately critical! 

There is no doubt something here with these folks, and it got me wondering if some Lutherans – especially struggling younger folks – might feel called to communities like these.. 

After all, we remember that even when God gave his law to Israel in the Old Testament, he specifically said that other nations would be attracted to the way of life of the Israelites!

What this tells us is that communities that approximate obedience to God’s law in one way or another, will find themselves surrounded, in general, by Earthly blessing. His commands really are for our good, our wellness, our health… because He cares. 

We dare never forget this or even that the early church was in fact commended in Acts for trying to live in a more communal fashion!

With that said, we dare not also miss the bigger picture. When Jesus talks about worshiping the Lord Our God and serving him only, He means to direct us to something more than just directions about how to live in this world, even as living by every word that comes from the mouth of God certainly does not exclude this kind of thing…

People loved by God, whatever we strive to accomplish in this world culturally and politically – whatever kinds of earthly communities we find ourselves to be part of – there is something we must know above all.

The Bible readings this morning tell us that the true history of the world is critical for finding our place in the world, being able to navigate in a broken environment, and understanding where we are and whose we really are.

God made Adam and Eve and they turned from Him and fell. As the Apostle Paul most unpopularly sums up the matter, “[Eve] the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” 

And when Adam went along with this and listened to his wife – for whatever reason – we are told in our Epistle reading that he took all of humanity down with him. In Adam’s failure we all sinned and sin and die…

God however, has begun to reverse the curse. For if we have ears to hear, we will also hear where we need to go during such a time as this… 

What does Paul say right after his words about Eve’s deception?: 

“…women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

I know this sounds crazy and wrong to so many but think on this. Children are always a gift and blessing and bring joy. Children grow up to be those who serve others. And it is God’s intention that we all grow to be those who serve one another with His good news.

The One who fulfills this to the nth degree – the One who we should think of first and foremost when we hear these seemingly insensitive and shocking words from Paul, is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This is the Promise we read this morning in Genesis 3:15, about the woman’s offspring crushing the head of the Serpent.

And here, I think I can do no better than echo the words of one of the most beautiful Christmas hymns I know: 

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, 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.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come peasant, king to own Him;

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,

The virgin sings her lullaby;

Joy, joy for Christ is born,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Mary is quite satisfied with this arrangement. And so looks you in the eye and says “Listen to Him”.

Everything He has said. Through His Apostles and Prophets. In His Holy Scriptures.

Repent always, receive His forgiveness always, and treasure every word from His mouth.

And you will reign forever in glory and splendor with Him. 



Posted by on February 26, 2023 in Uncategorized


Response to Mahler’s “The European Peoples and Christianity”

Sent to the author one year ago.

I am sure others could do better. His words are in italics below.

Given that this post is still online and I have heard of no retractions, should we not assume that this remains the author’s thinking — and that subsequent statements should be understood in light of these words?


“There is a reason that Christianity was able to convert the European Continent. It was not, as some would claim, simply a matter of the sword. Christianity was able to supplant the Old Faiths as it was their fulfillment, and it is the Truth. The European Peoples have always sought after truth, and it was this that they found in and it was for this reason that they were drawn to Christianity. Our old gods were our explanation for the world given what we had then seen of the Light. When the truth of Christ reached our shores, we embraced it as our desire for truth saw it for what it was: God finally revealing Himself to His true children…”

First of all, again, drop the “our”. The EU aside, these are distinct peoples now, different ethnic groups. I lived in Slovakia for two years and I can tell you, they do not see themselves as one or the same, even if blood connections in most families are certainly closer to their surrounding nations than others, quite obviously. Second, no one is denying that there is not light that has been given to the nations, but the light given in Psalm 19, unless it involves some “Gospel message” in the stars that can be translated and that we are no longer aware of, is saying nothing more than Romans 1, which leaves us condemned. Per Acts 17, men seek God but do not even seek Him rightly, with appropriate fear, love, and trust. They seek the power of God for motives that ultimately fall short of His glory. That they stumble upon Him as they find themselves in places where He dwells (particularly among His people) is ultimately no credit to them. As Walther said, there is no doubt that in this or that locale there was a rumor of salvation, a veiled intelligible message, that had been passed down (like the butchered flood accounts around the world), but men need the assurance, nay certainty, of the truth of the Gospel as revealed in Jesus Christ. Even Luther is very interesting here when he speaks of the Old Testament God and the somewhat veiled Gospel message they had (see LW 13 on Psalm 90, definitely worth the read). So when you say “Our old gods were our explanation for the world given what we had then seen of the Light” how is this actually not horrendous blasphemy and syncretism of the worst kind? And again, going along with this, as I said to you before, “To say that culture is downstream from genetics ultimately does not work because the highest aspect of culture is the cult, or worship. Our worship of the true God, which hence creates good culture and formation, does not derive from our biology…”

I believe… that God presented Himself to us in two revelations: the second, and arguably the lesser of the two revelations, is the Bible; the first, and arguably God’s greatest and most glorious work, is Nature…” 

Saying creation, by the way, is better. : ) Great for antagonizing your secular allies who need the Gospel more than our politics. And the greatest thing about the creation, of course, is the incarnation – because the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. And the creation doesn’t reveal Christ on its own, apart from the testimony of those created and called by God to proclaim the whole counsel of God and pass it on in the Holy Scriptures. 

“Only the Europeans, of all the peoples of this Earth, truly understood the first revelation. Without access to the second revelation, we interpreted the first as best we could. Intuitively grasping that we are made in the image of God, we created gods in our image. Our mythology is all to the glory of God. Our innate and inextricable reverence for the natural world is an expression of our unique intuition that it is the natural world, more than anything else, that reveals to us the face of God.” 

I’d submit that that mythology is not to the glory of God but is utter and damnable idolatry. And to say “Our innate and inextricable reverence for the natural world is an expression of our unique intuition that it is the natural world, more than anything else, that reveals to us the face of God” – what? In heaven there will be no tears, pain, suffering and death and right now in the natural world that is all around us. If Jesus Christ, as the God-Man, is seen as the “pinnacle of the  natural world” according to his human nature I’ll agree with you, but otherwise, how is this not a completely false statement? Again, it appears to me that you are operating as if there were some point in human history that God could have been understood, and, it seems, worshipped rightly (though not completely), without words from God, a message from God, to create faith. Again, Psalm 19 might give us the “words of the stars” but that is all law and no promise, and so right worship could never have taken place. Communication, explanation, revelation, was necessary (Chemnitz is all over this by the way). As it stands, you, in effect, appear to be intent on making the Europeans morally superior when the focus, insofar as we are Christians, should be this: all of us are in blind and groping darkness without a word from God revealing Christ breaking through… That is true salvation.  

“To gaze upon the vastness of the sea, to lose oneself in the depths of a forest, to stand in awe of the stars on the night of the winter solstice, or to stand before a tree that was ancient when Christ walked the Earth is to come closer to God than any scholar who locks himself away from the natural world to drown himself in words. God’s Word reveals to us His plan, but it is Nature that reveals to us His truth. Our ancestors were not misguided in their reverence for and even their worship of Nature, for the God of the Bible is Nature’s God and Nature is His first and greatest work.”

We need the Word, the Logos. Again, when you say that “Our ancestors were not misguided in their reverence for and even their worship of Nature, for the God of the Bible is Nature’s God and Nature is His first and greatest work….” how is to not embrace paganism? Yes, the natural world should promote worship of the Divine Mind responsible (in both senses, as originator and sustainer) of it all, and in whom we live and move and have our being… Man is created to worship and indeed will worship the creation because it is so impressive – at least after they look up from their smartphones. Nevertheless, this is ultimately what we call idolatry, per Romans 1. Man has turned away from God, turned away from the messages passed down from his ancestors, or distorted the messages (again the damaged flood accounts)… And, as the O.T. makes quite clear, there is darkness, “Europe” not excluded (nor prophesied about, I note)…

“When Christianity arrived upon European soil, it was only the second of God’s revelations, little more than words on a page and stories relayed by men.”

The power of God for salvation for all who believe. Comes in weakness to those who “are not”.

“It was European thought, European philosophy that gave flesh to the bones. Even as we raised great cathedrals into the sky, we also constructed the theological underpinnings of the faith.”

How is Scripture really not enough here? Neither Plato or Aristotle give it strength, though they might, in certain areas, track with it. Scripture is ultimately God’s Word, not man’s, and it is its own interpreter and, first and foremost, provides its own context as well…. We can certainly be thankful for the good, true, and beautiful things that we have in our Western heritage, coming from the very beginnings to the civilized ancient world to the Middle Ages until now, but we also aspire to keep it in its proper place… 

“Our greatest minds have taken the ancient roots of our Culture and our People and shown that they are not at odds with the God of the Bible, but rather that they were the groundwork necessary for our ancestors acceptance of the Faith when it finally found them.”

There are indeed good, true, and beautiful things in all cultures around the world, and we should recognize that there are certain things that have indeed been achieved in some places, among some peoples, and not others. There are good and bad habits in all cultures and they are not all equal, to be sure. There are certainly places I would prefer to live, as the Law of God is at least externally adhered to in some places better than others. 

Nevertheless, God levels all of them to humble us and to prepare the way of the Lord! For what do we have that we have not received? 

“Though born in Judea, Christianity did not truly have a home until it reached Europe. As Christians, we are God’s chosen people.”

You seem to almost make “Europeans” and “Christians” one in the same here. That only confirms liberal and leftist stereotypes that really are ultimately unhelpful, not only in a political sense for Christians, but as regards the proclamation of the Gospel. 

“We are faced today, as our ancestors were repeatedly in the past, with an invasion of our homelands by uncivilized, barbarian hordes.”

Clearly, those who would give no thought to limiting immigration are creating massive issues, whether to intentionally destroy Christianity or not. Immigration should always be limited, and assimilation and enculturation and integration are not evil but good things. 

“Our gods did not leave us, He simply revealed Himself.”

Those gods were indeed false and evil! Does not Yahweh puts up with glory for no one but Himself?! 

“Christianity is not a veneer laid over a pagan structure; rather, Christianity is the beating heart of our Culture and it is the soul of our Volk.”

No, it is not. But you are, at the very least, in danger of making this the case. And, of course, as much as Luther was a nationalist in a sense, he also often complained about the ongoing paganism and unbelief of his people. 

“We may no longer call Him Odin or seek intercession from Wotan, but our God is as He has ever been and we are, as we have ever been, His true People.”

Seriously, I stop here to learn, knowing full well the history of missionaries and their debates over these matters: What evidence would you put forth that Odin should be connected with Yahweh – and Jesus? 

“We do not honor our ancestors or serve the interests of our People when we deny truths we have known for centuries.”

Agree – maybe we can build on that. What am I clearly missing?  

“European thought forms the foundation of that Civilization, but it [also?] does so with Christianity.”

Again, a leveling must occur, even as that which is good, true, and beautiful can indeed be redeemed, I believe. Those customs, those traditions. 

“Just as a tree torn from its roots inevitably withers and dies, so, too, must the West perish without Christianity. Naturally, the reverse holds equally true: Without the West, Christianity will wither and die…”

I do not believe this. Luther’s rainstorm. I don’t want to lose it, but I do not believe this for a minute. 


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Posted by on February 23, 2023 in Uncategorized


The Glimpse of Glory We Deserve and the One We Need

Preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, Minnesota, Feb. 19, 2023


“But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank….”

– Exodus 24:11


Would you like to see God?

I mean, when we love someone, we long to see their face, right?

Perhaps even more so if that person we love is akin to a King or even the real King of Kings.

I remember the words of a popular worship song I’ve heard a few times:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart

I want to see You

I want to see You

To see You high and lifted up

Shinin’ in the light of Your glory

Pour out Your power and love

As we sing holy, holy, holy…”

Then lots of repetition occurs, singing, for example, the following refrain seven times in a row:

“Holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

I want to see you…”

Such a popular worship song might make some of us feel really good. 

How well though, do any of us understand the words we sing?


What does the Apostle John, for example, say about seeing God in all His glory?

Bluntly, He says that “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). 

And later he quotes Jesus saying that no one…

“…has seen the Father except He who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).

Jesus is saying that only He, the Son who is from God, has really seen the Father. 

Why? Well, the Bible does tell us of several instances of what happens to men in God’s presence:

In Numbers 17:12, after the Israelites realize their arrogance in challenging Moses’ brother Aaron, they cry out, “Look, we are perishing! We are lost; we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we going to die?”

In the book of Job, after he encounters the “golden splendor” and “awesome majesty” of the Lord (37:22) out of a whirlwind, he exclaims “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes…” (42:5-6)

Early on in his book the prophet Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord, exalted and seated on a throne. Isaiah is overwhelmed and can only cry out: 

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John sees a particularly strange vision of Jesus Christ as the exalted son of God, and writes “I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last…’”

Even angels in the Bible promote a similar reaction…

We read that at the appearance of one angel, the Roman soldiers at the tomb of the risen Christ “became as dead men” (Matt. 28:4)…,

And even when it comes to believers, what does the Bible tells us is the first thing that almost all angels say to them when they appear?

That’s right: “Fear not”. 

Evidently, what every angel must learn in their Angels 101 class. For in their presence, sinful man’s natural response is one of fear. 

Terror of the Other. Terror of the Holy.


In the book of Exodus – in the chapters before and after where our Old Testament reading this morning was from – we learn a bit more about all of this. The fearsome presence of God, seen particularly on Mt. Sinai.

And yet, perhaps because of the kind way God had approached him, Moses wants to see God’s face as well…

Well, the text says that he wanted to see God’s glory… 

You see, even though Moses talked to God as one would a friend in the temple, he – the greatest of God’s prophets! – wanted to see more (Exodus 33:18-20)!

But his request was denied as God said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20).

And so Moses was told that he could only see God’s backside…by hiding in the cleft of a rock and watching God’s glory as it passed him by…

At the same time, I think it is very interesting to note that prior to letting Moses see his back side, God nevertheless revealed something about himself, saying these words: 

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation…” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

The context of John 1 discusses a similar revealing of God’s good character as God becomes man. It reads:

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

One Bible commentator helpfully sums up matters this way:

“John discusses God’s fullness (hence, His glory)… and points out that no one has seen God (in this fullness), but Christ, who declares Him ([and] who was God in humbled flesh, according to Philippians 2:8 and the earlier context of John 1).” (See also 1 John 4:12) 

So there is no contradiction here, as God does indeed speak face to face with men, but not while in all His glory, or fullness.


Something similar happens in our Gospel reading for this morning.

On the one hand, there is the element of fear in the presence of God, in this case the voice of God the Father:

“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified…”

There are echoes of our Old Testament reading here, where we read:

“When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain….

As we read on in our New Testament lesson, however, 

“But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus…”

It is interesting that here the presence and words of Jesus bring comfort to Peter, James, and John.

After all, this is not uniformly the case in the Bible when Jesus’ disciples encounter him. 

One recalls, for example, Peter’s initial reaction to Jesus, with His miracle where He causes Peter and Andrew catch a multitude of fish…

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees. ‘Go away from me, Lord,’ he said, ‘for I am a sinful man.'” (Luke 5:8).

But now, even though Jesus has been transfigured on the mountain, His own presence – even revealed to be a divine presence! – causes no fear or discomfort in the disciples whom He brought up the mountain…

In fact, in reflecting on the significance of this event I came across a wonderful quotation from one preacher whose comments I read online:

“As Christians, our highest satisfaction will come when we see our God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and when we stand before Them in perfect uprightness. Heaven will provide us with that privilege – an undiminished, unwearied sight of His infinite glory and beauty, bringing us infinite and eternal delight. We can begin to understand why Peter, after seeing only a faint glimpse of that glory, wanted to make a camp on the Mount of Transfiguration and stay there permanently! (Matt. 17:4)….”


The event of the Transfiguration was truly a remarkable occasion…

You heard the Apostle Peter recall it in glowing words that we heard in our epistle reading this morning, as he spoke about how he and James and John were “eyewitnesses of His majesty”…

He also, however, said this:

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

In the Gospel text for this morning, the Father proclaims of His Son Jesus, “Listen to Him!”

And yet, when Peter recalls the event, he only talks about how the voice of the Father said “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The reason is because Peter does want to talk about how God speaks to us, but has done so particularly in the Holy Scriptures!

Truly, it is instructive to see what the Apostle Peter, who really could have complete assurance that he had felt the positive effects of God’s presence at the Mount of Transfiguration – a “mountaintop worship experience” if there ever was one! – had to say his hearers about the sure and certain experience of hearing God’s very words. Let’s hear it again, with a slightly different translation:

“…. we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…”  (2 Peter 1)

Peter is saying that the Holy Scriptures, the prophetic message, provide us with God’s very voice, giving us the surety and certainty that lasts not just for a moment, perhaps in the midst of some good feelings that may have been produced, but for a lifetime!


So, let’s talk about that prophetic message. The message really is always, in various ways, about who we ultimately are, and who our God ultimately is…

The great 17th century Bible teacher Matthew Henry said:

“A full discovery of the glory of God, would [have] overwhelm[ed] even Moses himself. Man is mean, and unworthy of it; weak, and could not bear it; guilty, and could not but dread it…”

You see, the problem, as Henry identifies, is found in us. Because of the sin that inheres in us – because of the sin that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s fall – the full and good glory of God does indeed destroy us. 

For Scripture clearly tells us that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1:13). 

Correspondingly, there are times that the Scripture speaks of the law being weak, for example. Why is this? It is because the problems in us are what make the law weak, and what ultimately makes it fatal to us… 

One preacher rightly reminds us that 

“Our sight here on earth is virtually like blindness compared to the clearer vision we will have in heaven (1 Cor. 13:12).” 

This is indeed why the law cannot make us righteous, but rather breaks, kills, and condemns us.

Here, however, Matthew Henry goes on with news we need to hear, reminding us of some of the other good things we’ve talked about this morning: 

“…The merciful display which is made in Christ Jesus, alone can be borne by us…[it is] imperfect knowledge of God in the present state, even as revealed in Christ; for this, when compared with the heavenly sight of him is but like seeing a man that is gone by, whose back only is to be seen. God in Christ, as he is, even the fullest and brightest displays of his glory, grace, and goodness, are reserved to another state…”


What does this mean? 

Even though you are his new creation, you remain a sinner, one who is saddled with an old Adam, and hence, until heaven, God’s glory – even God’s glory as revealed to you in Christ – must be veiled for your sakes….

This is why he comes to us in veiled means. In humble and simple and even boring ways and will never terrify us or cause us to fear. 

For God came as a simple and humble baby in human flesh. He also comes to us through the simple means of words, words spoken to us in love that mold and shape and form us.

And He also comes to us in humble and simple means like bread and wine… a holy meal…

Thankfully we do not get the kinds of revelations of His glory we want, which is what we deserve, but the revelations of His glory that He knows we truly need. 

This is why in John 12 Jesus talks about how God will glorify Him by lifting Him up… that is lifting Him up on a cross… so that He will draw all persons to Himself.

This is our powerful but veiled King – who finally desires not that man be terrified as he deserves, but rather comforted! 

And we saw an incredible foreshadowing of this in the text I chose for this sermon today from the Old Testament: 

“But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank….”

Did you notice the word “But”? ““But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites…” 

Instead, God brings these men up His holy mountain in a space with an amazing sapphire floor, clear as the sky itself… 

There they see Him, there, they eat and drink in His presence…


In I Cor. 1:29, we read:  

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…


“…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God…”

And so we foolish, weak, lowly and despised ones… in this time and age, are nevertheless made able to embrace in faith God’s glorious brightness!

God’s glorious brightness!

Though it be concealed beneath humble and simple things – foolish, weak, lowly and despised things – like the cross, like water, like bread, like wine, like simple and humble words… (which the world constantly abuses with the Earthly power it is drunk on, treating them only like power tools!)

And, amazingly, it is through these foolish, weak, lowly and despised things that we foolish, weak, lowly and despised ones begin to have revealed to us everything we ultimately need to know…. 

As 1st Corinthians 3 puts it, we can therefore begin to have the veil removed…:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit…”

And so we too then, Jesus says – in spite of our lowly estate! – are the light of the world (Matthew 5), as we walk in the Light that He is and He brings! (I John 1)…

Peter even says we are “partakers of the Divine Nature!” (2 Peter 1:4)

Let us remember here that as this becomes increasingly true what it is men of God say we should boast in…

The Apostle Paul says that he will boast in his weakness, and also adds in the book of Galatians this: 

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world…”

And I so love hearing what the prophet Jeremiah says. He says that we should boast:

“…that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight…”


So, finally, what does this all mean?

How much do you think it matters?

“What really satisfies you? New clothes? A new job? Promotion? A new house or car? A great meal? A fun time? A vacation? Don’t set your heart on such paltry earthly pleasures. The redeemed will be able to see God…” (Macarthur)

Philip, is a better model for us! He, speaking for all the disciples, said to Christ, “Show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8).

After all, Revelation 22:3-4 reminds us that “The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve him. They shall see his face”.

David says of himself, “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). 

And Paul hits us with this: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

So all of this means we are not those who are left with the word:

“…you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

We are instead those who repeat Jesus’ answer to Philip:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

…and say “This is it!  Amen!” 

With notes:

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Posted by on February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


Abounding in Good Works with an Easy Yoke

“I’m not relying on my own merits, as I have none, but I put my hope in Him who is goodness and holiness Himself… We can never have too much confidence in the good God.” — Thérèse of Lisieux


Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Feb. 12, 2023


“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…”

– Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a 


“Trust and obey… there is no other way…”

We sing that in one of the hymns you have in your hymnal. And some good Lutherans might get a bit nervous about this!

Trust sure, but “Obey”? 

What? Do you think you can earn, merit, your salvation? Don’t you know why the Reformation happened? Don’t you know that man is so focused on works that other men will even take advantage of this?

That last stated concern, at least, is true.

During the days of the Reformation, do you know what happened?

The idea was like this. The highest authorities in Rome had a great, grand bank account. A bank account of merit, of worth.

This merit could be distributed to those in need, as they had need, making them worthy.

Of course most of this merit that the church dispensed was earned by Christ, but much of it was also earned by the saints. The saints were those who did even more than was expected of the average Christian.

They made it to heaven right away, and then they had merit to spare. Merit that the church could distribute to those in need.

If you were a Christian who was a bad Christian, you would make it to heaven eventually. It might, however, take a long time. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. This is what the church called purgatory.

And they, with its treasury of merits, could help. For a certain fee, er, free will donation, you could access these merits, which would decrease the amount of intense suffering and purgation (by fire) that you would need to undergo in purgatory.

And, I mean, even better if you could do this not for yourself, but your parents, grandparents, children, etc.

This is all rather shocking when you think about it. If you have ever been to the largest Cathedral in the world, St. Peter’s in Rome, it is rather mind-numbing to realize that the entire thing was built on the backs of simple people who believed all of this was true.

And Rome hasn’t changed. Even though there was no promise of a specific amount of years that would be taken off, I recently heard a man share how after his Roman Catholic grandmother had died, they got a letter from the Roman Catholic church saying that they would do a private mass for her, to facilitate her soul’s entrance into heaven, for a donation…


So, what was Rome’s main problem?

Rome’s problem is the human problem writ large. 

It has to do with a misreading of the Bible; largely because the Bible is not believed… 

In our Old Testament reading for today we see that God promised his people life when they walked in His ways and death when they abandoned His paths.

So, at one level, Rome might seem to be on target here. For God, don’t blessings for right behavior and curses for wrong behavior go hand in hand?

They do. Even if the text from Deuteronomy is not about heavenly blessings, but earthly blessings. 

It works like this: 

First, by grace, from all the nations God chose Abraham apart from works, with “Abraham believ[ing] God, and God crediting this to him as righteousness!

And then, by grace, apart from works, the Lord chose His descendents: Isaac, and Jacob, later called Israel. 

Then the distinct people the Bible calls Israel came from Jacob’s 12 sons. 

As Solomon would put it, “You separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be Your inheritance…” (I Kings 8)

This grace and inheritance, as Jesus teaches us, always was meant to include immortality. 

To echo our Lord, God is not the God of dead Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but living Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… 

And even though Moses would not receive the earthly blessings of the promised land, as he was kept from this – he would certainly receive the eternal promised land by faith in God’s mercy and promised Messiah!


One might think this grace which chose Israel would produce humility. But Jesus tells a stinging parable in Luke 17 that shows the problem that often occurred.

The idea of grace got twisted, as it was combined with a pride in one’s own person, status, actions…

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus then, right on cue, goes on to talk about little children. 

This Pharisee’s problem was that he did not have the hidden heart, or core, of the Bible – even just the Old Testament of those Scriptures! – in his heart. 

He did not see the centrality of God’s gracious act of  adoption.

Or, at least, the centrality of God’s grace of adoption of wicked people, apart from works, by faith in the promise… the Promise of the Messiah who would come and came in Jesus Christ…

He should have seen it. 

In Luke 24, in the story of the Road to Emmaus, Jesus exclaims to the two men that He is walking with: 

“‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…”

And, going along with this, the Apostle Paul was absolutely clear that by keeping the Law no person could be justified or declared righteous….

And not only did Jesus know that the Old Testament was clear that He, the Messiah, would come – fulfilling God’s prophecies and promises – it was also clear that no man would be justified by His works…

In Psalm 130:3, we hear: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”

Psalm 143:2 states “Do not bring Your servant into judgment, for no one alive is righteous before You…”

In Daniel 9 we hear the prophet say: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous [Lord], but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!”


And even right before our passage today in Deuteronomy, we hear something that is absolutely remarkable from God through Moses…

We hear Him say: 

“For this commandment I give you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, that you should need to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it for us and proclaim it, that we may obey it?’ And it is not beyond the sea, that you should need to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and proclaim it, that we may obey it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it…”

And just what is that word that is to be heard, believed, and yes, obeyed (“obey” here, by the way, simply means listening such that the words are taken to heart)?

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 10, quotes this passage by saying that this is not the righteousness of the law, which the Pharisees, for example, practiced, but the righteousness of faith. 

And right before that, he says this of his own people, the Jews:

Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone… Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ[, who is that stumbling stone for the Jews,] is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes…”

Think about this. 

Paul says this and goes on to quote the passage from Deuteronomy about trying to bring God down or ascending to heaven to reach Him – even as that book is the one that is the apex of God’s law!

Even there, he is telling us, the Promise that is grasped by faith, the very Gospel of Jesus Christ, was known by Moses, was known by Israel, and should have been known by more! 


Nevermind though. 

We, as human beings – as fallen human beings – even as redeemed fallen human beings who are washed in the blood of the Lamb! – cannot avoid thinking about life according to law. 

We, we ourselves – by our own efforts and will and powers – will get to where the divine is. We will cross the sea or descend into the deep to find Him. We will ascend to heaven to be with Him…

No, no, no.

Luther called this the “opinio legis” – the opinion of the law.

All men, all fallen men in particular, think in this way. Like the two-year old who can’t, we say “I do myself!”

Blessings, good things, are earned by me, merited for me, because of my own person and powers resulting in my good behavior. 

I can always make myself worthy, redeem myself, even reach heaven, through my positive actions…

We, like so many did in the Old Testament and like that Pharisee who thanked God he was not like other men… continue to find a way to ignore God’s word of promise and grace – which we are to freely take again and again – but to instead live according to the things we do, we accomplish… the things we do by our own powers for God…

And when we do – because man does and will – this is why God will give us over to our delusions, that we might be brought to our senses. Turning up the law a thousand degrees…

We see this in our Gospel reading for today, a section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

It is here that Jesus makes it clear that even though the Pharisees are the most noticeable exemplars of following God’s law externally, they still are not cutting it.

Hence, he says that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven…”

He turns up the volume, getting to the heart of the law.

It is not just enough to not kill anyone, you are not to hate them or call them a fool.

It is not just enough to not commit adultery, you cannot look at a woman with lust.

It is not just enough to not make oaths, you must simply let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”…

Hence we also hear from both Paul that: 

“Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them…”

And James (2:10): 

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it…”


We will not teach Him.

He will teach us.

We will not ignore Him.

He will command our attention.

We will not act as if He does not exist, or as if He has not promised that He is, by His great mercy, our Father – and that we are His beloved children.

Children whom He means to delight in. 

Children He means to be close to. 

Children He means to spend time with.

What do I mean?

Well, I think Jesus makes all of this very clear and graspable in a way when He teaches us two main things.

First, when He assures us that His yoke is truly easy and His burden is light. 

Elsewhere, His Apostle tells us that His commands are not burdensome. If they are for us, we have something dreadfully wrong.

Second, when He invites us to abide in Him. He is the vine and we are the branches, He says. You can do nothing without me, He says. Here, we have the distinct impression that if anything that is good comes out of us, it will be because we are connected to Him.

And here is the thing: we, like God’s chosen people of Israel in the Old Testament but in a New Covenant way, a New Testament way, are already fully connected to Him. 

Not because we were baptized, but because we are baptized…

There was a time in your life when God, through His appointed servant, put His Name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – upon your head and publicly declared you to be His own, a member of the Kingdom of God.

Because of Christ’s work, you too, with Him, were buried in death, raised from the dead, ascended to God’s right hand, and now are called to be and reign with Him now and forevermore, being good and doing good, as your Lord does.

If there has not been such a moment in your life – if you in fact have never been baptized – I urge you to talk with me more about it after the service….


You see my friends, with this salvation, this knowledge, we can overcome the world. 

We can be the kinds of soldiers that Christ calls even today and needs today.

Even if the church at large goes astray…. Even if its leaders fail… We can still know God and confidently walk with Him, as He guards our hearts from lies. 

Oddly, I sense that this happened with probably the most popular – or at least the second most popular – Roman Catholic saints. 

The French girl, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known affectionately as “The Little Flower” .

Wikipedia says that “Thérèse has been a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics and for others because of the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life…”

One of nine children, Therese was born in 1873 to Louis and Zélie and at the age 15 entered a convent of “very aged nuns, some odd and cranky, some sick and troubled, some lukewarm and complacent”… where she remained until her death from tuberculosis at the early age of 24….

If you look closely at her, she seems to have grasped a few things that Martin Luther came to learn: the centrality of the grace and mercy of God in Christ for sinful people and the doctrine of vocation, including God’s call to find joy in the littlest things.

After hearing one preacher say, in good Roman Catholic fashion, that “No one knows if they are worthy of love or of hate” she heard months later another visiting priest preach about abandonment and God’s mercy and this, she says, expanded her heart… 

Shortly thereafter, she got 

“the [four] Gospels and the Epistles of St Paul bound into a single small volume which she could carry on her heart. She said, ‘But it is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my hours of prayer, for in them I find what is necessary for my poor little soul…”

Later on, she would famously say 

“I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less…”

In many ways she was like Luther.

Like Luther, Therese also took a trip to Rome which put her on notice of the church’s worldliness, was highly scrupulous, sensitive, and stubborn, not having a temperament “not formed for compromise or moderation”, revered but did not focus on Mary, saw that believers would struggle with some sins their whole life, found comfort in the church’s mystics, emphasized God’s and the Christian’s descent and not ascent, and ultimately found relief by turning outside of herself to the gift of God’s grace.

Unlike many later Lutherans and other Protestants, she did not conclude that living the life of a nun was a bad thing – but feeling called embraced the role with fervor while yet keeping all the things mentioned above in the forefront…

The Wikipedia article says many interesting things about her, but I found this to be particularly moving: 

“Therese deliberately ‘sought out the company of those nuns whose temperaments she found hardest to bear.’ What merit was there in acting charitably toward people whom one loved naturally? Therese went out of her way to spend time with, and therefore to love, the people she found repellent. It was an effective means of achieving interior poverty, a way to remove a place to rest her head… ”

We also read that “the smallness of Therese, her limits”, became her grounds for joy, rather than discouragement.

Again, going against the popular and even more refined Roman Catholic piety of the time, she wrote that she wanted to go to heaven by what she perceived to be an “entirely new little way”. 

“I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus”. The elevator, she wrote, would be the arms of Jesus lifting her in all her littleness…

In spite of all Rome’s errors, I believe that St. Therese not only began to overcome these – even as many in Rome perhaps did not see this subtle subversion of its doctrine! – but lived in such a Christ-like and in fact Lutheran way that Rome could not help but take notice of the devotion she inspired…

In the heat of the theological battles of the Luther-led Reformation of the church in the 16th century, the Lutherans were keen to emphasize that Jesus had said: 

“…when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty…’”

300 years later, it doesn’t seem that someone like St. Therese failed to understand this. 

It seems almost laughable that she would have found herself capable of what the church calls “works of supererogation”, that is, works that Rome teaches go beyond our duty, what God calls us to do…

Thanks be to God!

When people – from whatever background – have, read, and rely on God’s word, these are the kinds of things that inevitably begin to happen…


Again, in our reading for today, we read that blessings in life are associated with doing good and curses and death are associated with doing evil.

We also read this, a word that the Lord meant to be encouraging to people who He had declared were His own precious people: 

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…”

Again, do not think you will call God down from heaven or ascend to heaven.

When we are energized by the old Adam, or the old man, who still resides within us, we may indeed be inclined and tempted to deceive ourselves. 

When we have performed some good external action we might think that there is nothing that remains to be done or accomplished.

This is false. As those whom Jesus has forgiven, made holy, and continues to work with in spite of our ongoing sin, we can, in peace, strive to act with the love of God.

In like fashion, we also may be tempted to perform our own good works – works that we feel are more important to accomplish – instead of the works that the Lord has given us to do for example… the works that the Ten Commandments direct us towards.

This also we cannot do, for we live not only by God’s grace, but every good word, command, that comes from God’s mouth.

He has come down to you, to be with His people, to dwell with His people… 

And He dwells with us still. He comes to us still.

He has sent us messengers – and given us a message, to let us know that we are not alone, we have direction in this world, and our work is not in vain…

Hear this bit from our Epistle lesson again: 

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I[, Paul,] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow…”

God is making us grow. 

It is not only Apostles who need to be reminded that the true word of God always does this without fail, being at work in those who believe (I Thes. 2:13).  

So sit down. 

Be still. 

Abide with Him. 

Listen to Him. 

Be small. 

Descend, to meet with your Lord, who descends….

Whenever you drink the blood of Christ and eat His body, call out in joy with David: 

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered!

…blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not  count his sin!”

You have a God who suffered the worst this life had to offer to bring you back to Him – who will lead you to be children of God, not acting like “mere men” as the Apostle Paul said, but becoming “sons of gods” – or even just “gods” with a little g! 

Scripture says so! 

Don’t doubt His love for you or His easy yoke.

And so don’t be afraid to talk back, even saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” if you must…

Because He always turns back to us, and He is big enough to hear that kind of desperate cry as well. 

That kind of trust, faith… that has nowhere else to go… 

But Him.


With footnotes:

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Posted by on February 12, 2023 in Uncategorized


Private Pastoral Counsel Regarding Dr. John Pless’s Influence

Dr. John Pless, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW)


First, context for those who need it.

Now… a man (we’ll call him Jake) contacted me on Facebook almost two years ago… He knew I had written this (the first edition of the post).

Some details below from the conversation have been changed.


A local pastor hosted a continuing Ed class and invited all his online listeners to come, (of course I was the only one who did, and I did feel a bit sheepish, but thankfully there were a few other laymen so I didn’t stick out too badly). Here’s the thing, Dr Pless taught it. And frankly he taught it extremely well, it was truly a pleasure to learn from someone who has that kind of knowledge of Luther.

The first thing I have to say is- That man (Dr Pless), is NOT an antinomian, the topic he covered was Luther’s letters of pastoral care, and one of them was to Agricola (yes, that Agricola). He covered the letter on the last day and while he quoted Paulson once and Forde twice, throughout the week, he also quoted Jack Kilcrease, Dr Kleinig.

Throughout the week, not a single syllable that he spoke could in any way be considered outside the bounds of what I’ve been taught is legitimate Confessional Lutheranism.

Of particular note, he gave a brief explanation of Agricola’s error, and it was precisely the explanation that I was given by my pastor at the time (who was fond of teaching Pastor Surburg’s observations of soft antinomianism).

Now I’ll never appreciate Paulson or Forde’s teachings, but it’s clear to me that Dr Pless is not Forde or Paulson.

Dr. Pless quoted Luther as saying “you must set aside the Decalogue”, but he was extremely careful to explain when, why, and who Luther taught to do this- those suffering persistent depression, and then only when suffering a specific attack.

Anyway, I thought I would give you my perspective after I got an up close look at Dr Pless and the way he teaches.


Jake — Thanks for writing this. First of all, this was in person? I know that pastor and know that he likes and respects Dr. Pless, his beloved teacher, no doubt. I too, have learned a lot from Dr. Pless over the years and respect him. He is knowledgeable and a good teacher, and he also will always give you the pure Gospel. I do not think he wants to throw out God’s law. I do not think he is like Paulson and Forde in the things he believes or does not believe either.

This said, the problem like Dr. Pless is akin to the problem with Pastor John Drosendahl[, whose views I described in the article]. It is almost always what they do not say, what they will never say, what they seemingly will not be caught dead saying. One last thing:

Pless, I am sure, has a presence that demands respect and gets respect. This is the man who sent some 20 or more young men to the seminary when he served as a campus pastor at the U. of Minnesota. I’ll stick with my eval. though, because I am confident it is true after listening to the man for many, many years.

I am not calling him a heretic. That said, this post starts to point out the issues.


It was in person at the pastor’s church.

I re-read my message to you and I apologize to you, it was far more terse sounding than what was in my head when I set down to write it.

What I wanted to express was a sense of relief that we don’t have a fire breathing radical, antinomian running roughshod over the seminary.

The topic of the class was one that has weighed heavily on my mind for some time both for myself and for others, it was and will be very helpful.

You know that I have NO love whatsoever for Forde and Paulson’s teaching and I never will, I’m firmly in line with my Pastor’s thoughts on them and my Pastor is firmly in line with Dr Scaer’s (and yours) thoughts on them.

I like your blog because I LIKE your thoughts and careful way that you arrive at them, as I’m sure you’ve noticed I have tendency to shoot from the hip and spray verbal bullets in every direction without regard for who and how badly that might wound, your careful way of expressing your thoughts are a good influence on me.

Your last blog is a case in point….


Jake — well, I now want to say that I didn’t mean for my last comment to be a rebuke at all. I am glad some of what Dr. Pless had to say was helpful to you. You see, this is the thing: he is indeed focused on delivering the Gospel to hurting people and I also know he does not want to pitch God’s law. That is great. I know he is not a fire-breathing antinomian and, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone in the LCMS is. I think the antinomian temptation, however, is strong with us in that we are so very hesitant to speak like Paul. Ever! You know? And that is why the whole 3rd use question is such a perennial struggle. Again, the strength of our theology and our current pastors is indeed delivering the gospel and giving the peace of Christ to sinners. Which we all are and we keep needing it! We do divide law and gospel well here, but the issue is the struggle to talk about sanctification in ways that don’t sound stilted and formulaic and, of course, sound something like Paul! : ) Glad you could go to that pastor’s church!… Thanks again for your continual engagement Jake. You shoot from the hip a bit, but don’t lose that either. It is not always a bad thing, I think! (so long as we also listen to correction, can admit when we went too far, etc…).


Thank you brother!

Jake, recently:

I owe you a profound apology- Dr Pless is worse than I thought. You right, I was wrong. I am sorry.


Pax, fighter. Onward.


Will do!


I do not know what news specifically prompted Jake’s apology to me, but if it this post didn’t do it for him, maybe it did for someone else (post since deleted; cataloged in a FB post from Jan. 23 at 11:06 am):

Tell me again about the rude people on Twitter who blew this thing up. Sure.

We need new leadership.

Lord have mercy.


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Posted by on February 8, 2023 in Uncategorized


My Letter to President Harrison about the Large Cataclysm of 2023 (and More)

As most folks reading this blog would know by now, President Harrison has basically given the new edition of the Large Catechism a clean bill of health.

Clint Poppe, who has been a challenger to him for the LC-MS Presidency, has weighed in:

I continue to maintain that all copies of the book should have been destroyed and that Dr. John Pless, especially for allowing Steven Paulson to participate, should no longer be an LC-MS seminary professor (see my letter to Harrison about this below).

The LC-MS really needs to take the views of its sharp Gen Z members into consideration. See this short thread (also see here).

I like Larry Beane’s attitude. To a member who said he was deciding to leave the LCMS because his trust in pastors and church leadership was at an all time low and so would be a “churchless confessional Lutheran” the good pastor said this:

“Can you imagine living in the days when Arianism was was winning? When St. John Chrysostom was in exile? When Luther was excommunicated? When the king of Prussia forced Lutherans into a union with the Reformed?

This is our cross. We don’t have the option to flee. We live in the church militant.

There is literally nothing that is more worthy of fighting for than the truth of the Gospel – not family, country, or self-defense.

This is why Paul gives us the picture of the militant Christian in Ephesians 6.

Gird up your loins, sharpen your sword, grab a quiver of arrows, and let’s have at it.”

Here, by the way, is AALC seminary President Jordan Cooper’s evaluation of the project. I’ve commented on a few of his tweets there, including here:

It looks like Issues ETC. will be having him on. If you have good questions you’d like Pastor Wilken to ask him, consider contacting Pastor Wilken, who is on Twitter or at @toddwilken and also at

Here is my email to the President, which I sent before the decision was made, followed by the content of my two Facebook posts on the issue (also posted before the President’s decision):

President Harrison,

Greetings to you in Christ Jesus! My name is Nathan Rinne, and I am a Lutheran layman concerned about the direction our Synod seems to be taking as indicated in the CTCR’s new edition of the Large Catechism.

I know that you have put this project on hold. Nevertheless, my level of concern remains very high.

Even though I do share many of the thoughts of those who became aware of this issue through the 19-year-old layman Ryan Turnipseed (by the way, have you read this August 2022 post from Ryan at Gottesblog? In my mind, that a young man like this can make such astute observations speaks well of his future in Christ’s church!) – namely the issues pertaining to CRT and gradual capitulation to the demands of the “LGBTQ+” crowd – I think my concerns go even deeper.

I believe one of the most insidious things about this new edition of the Large Catechism is the presence of ELCA theologians, particularly Steve Paulson. In his 2011 magnum opus, titled Lutheran Theology, Paulson made the claim that Jesus Christ committed his own personal sin (see here for the briefest of summaries). When I heard Paulson had been published through CPH yet again (he was also in the most unfortunate The Necessary Distinction book), I decided to get involved with the online discussion (see here, for example).

Even though Paulson has been so bold to say that Christ committed his own personal sin, this has not stopped Concordia seminary professor John Pless from promoting his work at almost every opportunity. In a 2011 LC-MS Reporter article “ELCA’s Paulson to speak at Ft. Wayne seminary,” Pless said of Dr. Paulson that he “is an outstanding theologian with a deep grasp on insights from Martin Luther for contemporary Christians.” And David Scaer reports (in Scaer, David, “Is Law Intrinsic to God’s Essence?”, p. 11) that in 2018 Dr. Pless also wrote an article titled “Twenty-Five Titles in Twenty-Fives Years,” that touts Paulson’s same 2011 Lutheran Theology book. I am sure Dr. Scaer could fill you in on more of the concerns he has had about Dr. Paulson.

It pains me that Paulson wrote what he did and has never taken back what he said. I know some have asked him to at least clarify, but the one time I know that he did address his claims he really did not give an explanation at all, but really artfully dodged the issue.

Of course I would be concerned about all of this even if Paulson were not such a compelling and charismatic figure. But he is. I once wrote this about him:

“Now, I know Paulson’s teaching and style hold no appeal to many folks, even many highly intellectual folks. They find him confusing, even uninteresting, and ultimately not worth listening to. I, on the other hand, am drawn to it like a moth to the flames. Paulson is highly educated, knows his historical theology inside and out, is highly creative and sensitive to human nature, skewers contemporary philosophical outlooks (and ancient ones as needed), deftly alludes to and addresses our current cultural moment, and uses intense rhetoric which is clearly backed up with intense conviction and thought. In my mind, there is basically nothing not to like.”

Pastor Harrison, I appeal to you as the head earthly shepherd of one of our Lord’s most faithful remnants. I pray that you would feel some of the confusion and anger and horror that I know many of us feel when we think about what Paulson said, and how Dr. Pless has continued to unapologetically promote him.

I believe that John Pless – like Dr. Gene Veith has done when I talked to him about it – needs to publicly recant his support and promotion of Steve Paulson, and that if he will not do this (not to mention addressing all the other essays which he approved in this volume!) that he should be removed from his teaching post from CTSFW for the sake of the church.

As with Paulson, I bear no ill will towards Dr. Pless. I would write concerning Larry Vogel as well, the other editor, if I knew more about him. I do know what Pless must know, however, and has publicly said.

I hope you will prayerfully think on my words, and consider the kinds of things that I think need to happen. God bless you on your service and most difficult of callings!

Pax Christi,


PS – Please feel free to share my email with anyone you please.


Facebook post #1:

I am deeply grieved today.

I understand that my church body, the LC-MS, has published a new edition of Martin Luther’s Large Catechism and that it includes an essay from Steve Paulson, who has written that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Innocent Lamb of God, committed his own personal sin.

Given some of the other questionable things about this new catechism as well, saying we are witnessing the fruit of out-of-control tolerance doesn’t even begin to do the situation justice.

I cannot comprehend this, and will explain why with a story from the early church, when men actually feared God (complements to Timothy Tennent, from whom I quote):

“According to the story, John, the Apostle of love, was inside a Roman bath house getting cleansed, as was the custom of his day. However, through the hot steam he suddenly realized that the heretic Cerinthus was sitting just across the room. John immediately jumped up and fled the bathhouse, explaining that Cerinthus was inside and he didn’t want to be killed when the building collapsed under the righteous judgment of God! Why such a strong reaction? Cerinthus was one of the gospel’s chief opponents.”

John wasn’t wrong about God’s judgment, even if he didn’t get the timing quite right. Lord have mercy.

Here is a screen shot of that post, which was shared 22 times:


Facebook post #2:

We didn’t start the fire.

Concordia Publishing House actually put forward an edition of the Large Catechism which included an essay from an ELCA theologian who has publicly proclaimed (in his 2011 magnum opus) that Jesus Christ committed his own personal sin.

I am convinced that tolerating things like this explain the many other deep problems with the “Large Cataclysm of 2023”.

Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison announced yesterday the book was being withdrawn. As one highly respected pastor put it, “[Concordia Publishing House’s streak of publishing great resources has come to a spectacular end, a veritable crash-and-burn”

Who is ultimately responsible for this? It is easy to point to President Matthew Harrison, who wrote the forward to the book. That said, it may sadly be the case that President Harrison did not actually know the contents of the book, but trusted another.

Who is that other one? He is the eminent and highly respected Concordia Theological seminary professor John Pless. I’ve now done an updated review on one of Pless’s most important (and disturbing) books here:…/a-critical…/

Please note that Dr. Pless is also a good friend of Steven Paulson, who is the man who believes Christ sinned. He seems to never miss an opportunity to promote the propagator of this God-hating (that is what this is) teaching.

Why? Well, John Pless says that the problem in today’s church is that “The chief aim of the church is thought to be producing a culture that runs counter to that of our world, a culture defined by biblical values. The Gospel is pressed into the service of the Law. It becomes a means to morality, not a word from God that forgives for Jesus’ sake” (12).

Pless is exactly right that the proclamation of the Gospel is what is absolutely central to the church’s mission and that it must not be a “means to morality”. As he goes on to state:

“The Gospel alone has the power to forgive sins and make alive the heart that is dead to God. This is why Walther insisted that the Gospel must always predominate in Christian preaching and witness” (13).

One can understand Pless’ conviction that the church’s chief aim is not to produce a culture that “runs counter to our world”. Again, the Gospel is the main thing. At the same time, is not the proclamation of the Gospel also connected with, in a sense, a specific kind of “culture”? And one, indeed, that “runs counter” to that of our world?

This is one of the issues that any honest person must have with many contemporary “conservative” Lutherans. It doesn’t seem like even the best at our seminaries, with some rare exceptions (one who recently left), are able to think this way, recognize simple and obvious truths like this.

Thanks for reading.

Screen shot of that one:



Posted by on February 5, 2023 in Uncategorized


Clinging to Christ, the Power and Wisdom of God

Magdeburg Days

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Jan. 29, 2023.


“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe..”

– 1 Corinthians 1:21


Do you believe the book of Genesis is a true historical account?

Do you believe that, years ago, God destroyed the entire world in a flood?

At the beginning of 2 Peter 2, the Apostle Peter wrote:

“Beloved, [my letters to you] are reminders to stir you to wholesome thinking by recalling what was foretold by the holy prophets and commanded by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

Most importantly, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. “Where is the promise of His coming?” they will ask. “Ever since our fathers fell asleep, everything continues as it has from the beginning of creation.”

But they deliberately overlook the fact that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world of that time perished in the flood. And by that same word, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Brethren, let us be humbled.

Let us remember that is not only men today, our contemporaries living in the last days, who scoff at those who believe the Bible records man’s true history…

The 16th century church reformer Luther reminds us that

“…when Noah built the Ark and said the world would be submerged, this was foolish talk in the eyes of men. Likewise, Lot had to be a fool for saying that Sodom and Gomorrah would perish. Moses and Aaron were fools in the eyes of King Pharaoh. In short, God‘s word and his preachers must be fools, as Saint Paul says” (WLS, 3728).

My friends, do not be fooled by those who think the church’s highest purpose is to contribute to a sense of self-empowerment or some semblance of morality in civil society….


It is about believing the message of man’s sin and God’s grace from the beginning of time.

The church’s highest purpose is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Crucified, risen, and ascended so that all men, blind and wallowing in their own corruption, might be lifted from the pit up to God once again.

And so know for certain how God will be pleased with you:

Hearing and believing the word of God is the highest form of worship!


But what are these wild words that we hear from the Apostle Paul in this week’s Epistle reading?

In sum, it is saying that it is God’s intention that worldly wisdom – even the best wisdom this world has to offer – should not and in fact cannot be the means of knowing God (from the Concordia Self-Study Bible)!

If you know God, you know God because He brought You to Himself, revealed Himself to you, and enlightened your heart with the message that you are a silly, stupid, and straying sheep and that Jesus Christ is your Good Shepherd who put Himself between you and the Wolves that would steal and kill and destroy your soul.

Again, the world’s wisdom should and in fact cannot be our means of knowing God. It doesn’t matter if that wisdom comes from Oprah, Joel Osteen, or Jordan Peterson – nobody is going to cut it.

This is why just a chapter later, the Apostle Paul will go on to make the point that

“the natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Alternatively, the spiritual man has the mind of Christ, and does not attempt to instruct God, but rather is instructed by Him.

Now, again, Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson this morning – and really in the first 2 chapters of I Corinthians – is not saying that preaching is actually foolish or unreasonable but that it is viewed by the world as foolish and unreasonable…


And let’s be honest.

I know, we know, this is hard.

The world is never going to see real Christians, that is those who keep His word, as anything other than foolish and unreasonable.

For they see the cross as foolish and unreasonable…

Just like they have always seen God’s commanding circumcision in the Old Testament for all his people – even 99 year old Abraham – as foolish and unreasonable.

Just as they see God’s underwhelming – at least to the naked eye – gift of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are foolish and unreasonable.

Just the other day I ended up in a discussion with a wonderful Christian colleague at work about the Lord’s Supper. He essentially said that because I took Jesus’s words “This is my body” and “This is my blood” in a simple and child-like sense – and that I said this was the Biblical teaching and historical teaching of the church – that I was being unnecessarily divisive…

Well, God often strikes us as unnecessarily divisive, doesn’t He?

I mean, should we closely examine again the way that Jesus treats the Canaanite woman?

Should we explore the practice that the Apostle Paul says exists because of the angels?

Should we closely look at and ponder just what the Bible teaches about nations, races, slavery, hierarchy, and men and women – and how what He says should impact our lives today?

Do we, like Paul – though in an opposite sense – want to cry out “May it Never Be!”

Don’t say that!

For in doing that, can one even call one’s self a Christian?


My friends, value every word of God.

Wrestle with them if you must.

Pray over them if you must.

Directly address and complain about them to God if you must…

Confess your ignorance and lack of understanding before Him.

Ask Him for help…

In that spirit let us examine our very striking text for today…

Here, we hear about how both the Jews and the Greeks reject God…

The Jews represent those religiously favored by God.

They still reject Him.

The Greeks represent the intellectual elite of the world – the best of the best.

They still reject God.

…God still rejects them.

How can anyone know the truth about God?

Some will point to having religious experiences, particularly those experiences that deeply impact us in our feelings and emotions…

In America in the 19th century, this came to be the case so much so that religious revivalists actually put together methods for bringing people to certain emotional states so that their wills would then freely choose to embrace God…

In other words, these feelings and emotions could be led, manipulated, to do the right thing.

All for the good, of course!

The problem though is that a life based on feelings and experiences such as these, will often, or at least will finally, make one wonder if one is any real Christian at all…

The experience that you need – which the world will not really consider an experience – is the one of hearing and believing the Word of God.

Trust it.

Trust the law.

The Gospel.

All of it.

God’s Spirit desires this for you now!


The classical world was wiser than us experience-obsessed Americans of the early 21st century…

You see, they realized that the best mankind had to offer would involve not just feelings or experiences, but what one could know: in other words using the intellect, the mind – and not being willing to shun all of the important facts and evidences around them…

This explains the immense popularity of, and respect for, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle – and the Stoics like the Roman statesman Cicero…

These men – like the Pre-Socratric philosophers before them – were not wrong to think that the mind deeply appreciating and noticing and studying a common world was meant to play an important role in nature, or better, the creation (many of these believed some kind of Divine Mind was at bottom of things….)

They were wrong, however, to allow their concerns and insights to be isolated from a consideration of history – particularly from the most important historical circumstances testified to them by men…

…like the creation story in Genesis…

…and the story of the worldwide flood…

…and of Babel…

…and of the Exodus…

…and of the promised Redeemer of the people Israel –

… thereby, in effect making their philosophy, their “science” as they called it, the only thing…

…basically implying that men should give heed to their considered views above all else…

…and indirectly demanding – for that is just what is happening here – that the Creator be taught by them… responding to the vain imaginations of their hearts.

Which, as God’s word could have taught them, were utterly soiled and infected with sin…


On the other hand, man’s abilities to explore and understand the world, to use logic and his reasoning abilities, certainly should play a role in the Christian’s life…

In the 13th century, the great theologian Thomas Aquinas did his part to make a strong case for reason’s use – largely holding up the example of Aristotle – in the Christian’s life.

Maybe nowadays some like C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Francis Schaeffer, and John Warwick Montgomery can help you out here a bit…

For there is certainly value in what these Christians do!

We call them Chrisitian apologists. It is not because they are apologizing about Christianity or being Chrisitians.

It is because they defend the faith not only with Scripture, but with reason, evidences, and careful argumentation…

There is much to be appreciated in, valued in, and encouraged by in their work.

When I was a young man in my late teens, I was experiencing all kinds of doubts about my faith. I wanted Christianity to be true, but heard so many conflicting messages and wondered what was really real…

I believe Christian apologetics played a role in saving my life.

I picked up my first apologetics books, some by a man named Josh McDowell. He penned a good Question and Answer book and a book about Jesus Christ called “More Than a Carpenter” that spoke to me about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and why He was truly God in a fresh way!

Sill, not everyone’s world is rocked like mine was. Not all are persuaded to become Christians…

At the end of a great sermon that the Apostle Paul gave to the propagators of Greek philosophy in Athens he says:

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he 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.”

But then what happened?

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others…”

So some agreed with Luke about these “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1) and what Paul said elsewhere when he claimed being persuaded of Jesus’ resurrection was “true and reasonable” (Acts 26)… (and hence knowing His identity as God’s Son and Messiah is true and reasonable)…

Martin Franzmann however is correct to emphasize that:

“…when Paul speaks of God‘s judgment in the resurrection of Jesus [here in Acts 17] the Greeks are no longer interested.”

Perhaps their philosophy played a role in getting in the way of their hearing and believing?


What does reason mean?

The simplest definition of this is to give reasons to another person for why you believe or do what you do.

But according to Paul, what did it mean for the Greeks and Jews to be reasonable?

For the Greeks it meant putting God on the stand, judging him in their court: basically, at worst, not being willing to hear Him speak outright, or, at best, requiring Him or those who would defend and promote Him to convince them according to their own satisfaction.

Not even the best of the world’s philosophers could have foreseen the cross… and how a forgiveness that gives us the certainty of heaven right now could be ours…

That God wanted us to have this kind of peace with Him whatever our status or circumstances in the world!

For the Jews, it means doing the same – putting God on the stand, judging Him in their court – in a somewhat different way. According to them, in order for them to embrace the words of God’s prophet or even Messiah, the one making the claim would need to perform particular acts that they said that person should do.

In other words, they were so intent on making God dance to their particular tune that they missed all the ways He did in fact fulfill the Old Testament prophecies or predictions through His miracles.

Miracles which often did not impress people, as they lacked a certain “fireworks” quality, but were rather done because they were simple acts of love God showed to “the least of these”…

The poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those seeking to know true righteousness….


God upsets the Greeks and Jews.

God upsets us too.

We are inclined to want to run with the high-rolling rich and the powerful. Or the famous, the popular, the “influencers” as many put it today.

And then God leads a saint to reach out to those in less-than-impressive parts of town, and perhaps lend to some of them without interest…

We tend to respect those who have a special charisma and/or have a kind of magnetic attractiveness, often involving very attractive physical form or beauty….

And then God puts it in a pastor’s heart to go to the nursing home to find out if just one person there wants the Bible read to them.

We tend to defer to the person who can speak well, who speaks with winsomeness, confidence, and seems able to quickly reframe the objections of others or even quickly puts them in their place… 

And God blesses the man or woman who is pulled by those who are simple, who simply receive God’s word with thankfulness, who perhaps the world simply dismisses as mentally retarded, and even tries to search and kill before they see the light of day.

We are deeply concerned about matters of place. Not just in a good sense where we deeply respect our family and home, our homeland, but in a sense in which we find ourselves seeking, or jealous, of the status that others possess in the world.

And Jesus picks up the Little Child and says that if we even want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we must become like one of these…


My friends, the world is not reasonable. Much of what you hear, much of what they claim, much of the activity they are invested in, is B.S.

And even when it’s not, when some seek for genuine signs from God and others seek the best that wisdom has to offer…

…there is much that is left to be desired….

And here, we might think those who de-emphasize both feelings and reason and say the real key is to “just do it”!… are really the ones who are wise.

Just do the right thing!

Just do good.

What would Jesus do? Be like Jesus!

You can find God, come to know God, that way….

I am tempted to say this does not sound so bad. After all, if one really did try to do this, would they not, at the very least, almost certainly find themselves in touch with, among, participating with, Christians?

Christians who could share with them the forgiving Gospel of Jesus Christ that could enlighten and transform and embolden the hearts?

I’d caution against this, to say the least!

Because today so few Christians know the word of God well.

Because consciences in our day and age are malformed.

Because we have all learned to put up with and even get used to so much that is deeply evil.

Because the moral messages that the world now gives are often deeply contrary to the good and truthful guidance that one will often find in the Word of God….

My friends, Paul says:

“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in His presence.

It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

My friends, learn to be content to not matter.

Be content to be nothing.

A nobody.

One that “is not” in the language of the Apostle Paul.

Because when you find yourself thinking that this is, in fact, in some sense you…

…are very close to the Heart of the Matter, to the Kingdom of God, to the Eternally Good and Loving One who Changest Not.

Jesus Christ has been crucified for you.

And hence – with the forgiveness that He offers and delivers to you even at this very moment…

You will truly live, and live forever!


Image credit: Ryan Turnipseed.

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Posted by on January 29, 2023 in Uncategorized


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