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Refined by God’s Fire and Flood as the Empire Strikes Back

Through Fire and Water Praise Comes Forth – John The Baptist Artworks

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“….he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them…” – Luke 3:17b-18

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Earlier in chapter 3 of Luke, before our text for today, we read the following about John the Baptist:

“…He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[
a]

This really is a most colorful scene. Can you imagine it?

Crowds of people, including a good number of religious leaders, are taking a day-trip into the wilderness to hear John preach… and many of these – for him to help them reform and renovate their lives – will be baptized by him…

Let’s pick things up:

“What should we do then?” the crowd asks [John]…

And John then seems to give out simple suggestions, suggestions which feature acts of generosity: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

And to the tax collectors who were coming out to be baptized, he gets specific: “Don’t collect any more than you are required to…” To the soldiers who come he doesn’t tell them to become pacifists, but does say “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

So what did John the Baptist say to these men and women before they asked what they should do in the first place?  How was John interacting with all those folks who took valuable time out of their day to come into the desert to hear him?

Oh, he was just saying things like this, and evidently not just to the religious leaders!:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire….

“I baptize you with[b] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire…”

Modern dispensers of good advice might suggest that this is no way for John to effectively build a following or fan-base, but that, of course, wasn’t his goal… He was preparing the way for the Messiah, God’s goal for all men…

We read, after all, right here in chapter 3, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” and so that kind of settles things, doesn’t it?

John’s word, John’s work, is prophetic.

One pastor whose sermons I regularly read put this exceptionally well, echoing the 16th century Reformer Martin Luther:

“…the proper office of John the Baptist is the same as the function of God’s Law. It is to humble the entire world. It is to level and beat down the track and pathway. The intent and purpose of John the Baptist and the Law are to crush every single roadblock, to destroy every obstruction – to proclaim that everyone is a lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable person. John the Baptist, as well as God’s holy Law, are to proclaim that there is “no life, work, or rank however holy, beautiful, and good it may appear [which] is [not] damnable unless Christ our God” makes it good…” (Matt Richards) 

So John the Baptist means to do just this, making all acknowledge their error, and turning them from their lives of sin and evil to embrace all that the Lord has to offer…

Pardon! (forgiveness!) And the power of His Spirit! A whole new heart, a whole new way of life in Him!

A new way of being created by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God!

This involves, of course, perpetually leaving the old behind. Not living in the old way… John’s audience understood that quite well, and hence their inquiries…

How much do we understand this?

That faith in Christ lives in repentance?!

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Let’s look at something that John the Baptist said closely again. He said this:

He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire…”

And right after this, he goes on to say the following: “And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them…

Here is a good question: what is the good news, otherwise known as the Gospel, specifically?

So it seems like here the Gospel is being inexplicably connected not only with God’s forgiveness and mercy – which we are used to – but also to a word that judges as well…

Perhaps looking more closely at the book of Luke specifically might help us here….

Again, “Gospel” in Greek is connected with verbs like εὐαγγελίζω, which literally means to bring or announce good news….

We might perhaps think right away about what the angel of the Lord told the shepherds on that first Christmas!:

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Good news that will cause great joy for all the people, and not just the Jews either![ii]

So, what exactly was so good about this news, more specifically?

Well, no doubt this great deliverance – described also by John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah as “a hornof salvation for us in the house of his servant David” – entailed what men like Martin Luther was to emphasize in the 16h century Reformation of the church (when it desperately needed to be emphasized): the forgiveness of sins. For as Zechariah also said, God’s people were to be given “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God…”

Amen!

Just like the angels also announced to the shepherds, right?: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV)

And not only was God sending His Messiah to bring forgiveness, joy, and peace to mankind, rescuing us from “the hand of our enemies,” that is particularly sin, death, and the devil.

Zechariah also speaks about how God will “guide our feet into the path of peace” and enable us to “serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

“Serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days!”[iii]

You see, the Lord has come to His people in holiness and righteousness. That they too might be holy and righteous as well![iv] So bring on this holiness and righteousness – which yes, we know is going to cause conflict as well![v]

Thy Kingdom come!

This is precisely why, in Luke 1, when the Angel Gabriel speaks to Zechariah about his coming son, John the Baptist, he shares the following which he calls “good news” or “Gospel” (1:19) as well:

“And [your Son John the Baptist] will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

This too, this “holiness and righteousness” that keeps coming, is “good news”[vi]

Do you see how this is good news?

Because the holiness of God, the fire of God, is not meant to judge you and leave you as damnable chaff – even as this will certainly be the end result for many…

Rather, the holiness of God, the fire of God, is meant to convert and refine… to turn us to holiness and righteousness…[vii]

To do this to you in the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire in Christ![viii]

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So in one sense, we can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about serving in holiness and righteousness before him all our days, turning the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous…

This kind of good news is for all of us! And not just the low, but the high as well!

In our text for today for instance, we see how John the Baptist is being persecuted for confronting someone, someone with power and authority, about the evils and injustices he had done

And all of this reminds me of something that I heard earlier this week – from a man who was talking about all the conversations about power and authority happening today. He said:  

“Power and authority have been all the talk in the news media and in academic circles as of late.

Doubtless, you have heard about being “woke”, about becoming aware of systemic social injustices and inequalities, about that which is called critical theory, and along with it, identity politics. About coming to a realization of the apparent unjust political structures of the world which must be, so it is thought, identified and then compensated for in some way.

Cultural Marxism, also a buzzword for the day. Again, a theory, a set of ideas, about who really has power, who really has authority in society.

We’re going to find out…”

Does this have anything to with what John the Baptist is doing here? If not, how is it different?

First, a similarity. As is often the case with today’s “social justice warriors” John also is not looking to bring Herod to a point of “intellectual submission” through reasoned argumentation and the like. John is no doubt certain that he is right in his moral evaluation, but he doesn’t think Herod needs or even deserves any explanation or argumentation for why this is the case. Herod should just know better!

So how is this different? In a couple major ways.

First, note that even as God is certainly concerned about the abuse and oppression of the poor and the weak, the one sin of a political ruler that we hear about here on the part of Herod is his divorce of his own wife and re-marriage of his half-brother’s wife who was also his niece, Herodias. That is the action Herod had taken that had indeed greatly disturbed and even repulsed much of Judea – and not because of breathless news coverage by the way! – and that John confronted (Josephus, per Lenski, p. 207)…

Second, John is not engaging in these actions in order to undermine Herod’s power and make him weak so that he can eventually be replaced or so that he will submit to John’s political program.[ix] He is doing it because he is holding Herod, like everyone else, to God’s standard, His unchanging and consistent standard! He does this so that Herod can fulfill his vocation – as a provincial ruler – in accordance with God’s will. In other words, John is not trying to usurp authority for himself or others…

Finally, I’d add that we don’t really know the context of how this confrontation happened. Did John mention this in an off-hand fashion publicly? Did he preach a message with Herod and his adultery somehow at the heart of it? Did he simply confront him privately, again, and again?[x] We actually don’t know. The point however, is that John, according to his conscience, believed he had to confront Herod with the truth[xi]… with God’s law… and he did what he had to do…. 

Evidently no concerns or worries about properly dividing or separating church and state here…

No concerns about striving for worldly influence and power on John’s part either…

And, again, no concerns about using reasoned arguments to drive others into “intellectual submission” – or perhaps, as we are seeing more and more these days, using any kind of rhetorical flourishes that work, even if they are ultimately hypocritical, en route to gaining another’s emotional submission!

No. None of that kind of stuff. God’s law is simply for all… high and low.

It is about John fulfilling his prophetic mission, and, in fact, as the commentator Victor Prange puts it: “[John the Baptist’s] imprisonment for speaking the [Word of God – which is not well received by the sinful world –] is an ominous introduction to the ministry of Jesus, and foreshadows the cross on which he will die…”[xii]

Baptized saints, do you understand that with the coming of Christmas, the world’s powers and authorities were, to say the least, encroached upon – and most all of them, it seems, are not going to take this lying down…

This is why Herod commissioned the killing of all the infants of Bethlehem… trying to kill the Top Power and Authority while still in his cradle….

All of this, really, still points to our challenge today….

Nothing has changed:

God’s people look to serve in holiness and righteousness before him all our days, and turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous…

And going along with this, we recognize that even as the world’s powers and authorities will rage against the holiness and righteousness God brings, power and authority are nevertheless very good gifts from God…

…even if those among men and women often abuse it, which means, at one level, that they simply do not uphold the law, the will, of God.

This sermon is beginning to sound a little political, isn’t it?  Or at least that this Gospel that we are hearing about in the book of Luke might have some political implications?  

Indeed! Fathers and mothers – the most basic level of human government – should wisely govern with the Word of God!

And beyond, building from this core:

Teachers should wisely govern with the Word of God…

Employers should wisely govern with the Word of God…

Political rulers and officials should wisely govern with the Word of God.

Interestingly, the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings – and certainly no contemporary “social justice warrior”! – might listen to this and respond a bit negatively…

I heard this past week that he once said:

“My political opinions lean more and more to anarchy. The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity….”

I get this. I mean, I have six boys and so I am one of those people who might find myself quite readily telling you what you should do…

..and I know how even those who really love me respond…

I’ve got to watch myself.

At the same time, I also, somehow, need to find a way to do what God calls me to do in my various vocations or roles…

We are all to speak the Word of God to one another in every aspect of our daily lives…[xiii] including in the life we “do together” when it comes to the political, that is, power and authority arrangements…

All must repent.

In America even? Even our rulers? Yes.

This is hard. This is personal. This is challenging…[xiv]

The hard choices we have before us have to do with knowing when it is our place and role to speak… and to bring a hard word into this or that situation.

Lord have mercy on us! How then should we live?

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Our society is in shambles.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Broken families.

Confusion among the young about love, and with it gender, sex, and marriage.

Social justice warring, fueled by cultural Marxism or critical theory… identity politics.

Even national borders being seen as evil things! With loving one’s nation even considered bad! As our ruling elites drone on about being “citizens of the world”…

Do these kinds of things arise, do these kinds of things happen, precisely because of a lack of courage on the part of the church when it comes to confronting the world with God’s law?

Is that why things decay?

Is that why things come to pass as they do?

I believe so.

Herod knew what he was doing was wrong. Even today, when the sinful world does wrong, it does not do wrong unknowingly. It suppresses the truth to various degrees, and at some level knows that what it does is wrong.

And for the church specifically – not loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind – do we lack the virtue to know in our bones that:

…we must pass His Word on, vigorously teaching it to the young…

…that we need to share both His hard and good words with one another…

…that we are the salt and light so that the things that we love and the things that God has given us can be preserved, maintained…

…and not only this but also that some of them might be prepared for their final transformation and refinement?[xv]

Indeed. Our lack of virtue is why things come to pass as they do… At least in part.

I also know that we are all sinners, that people, particularly politicians, might use religion for their own purposes and not God’s, and that there is an element in all of us, in some of us more than others, where we would like to not be God’s leaf on the river, so to speakbeing taken where he would take us[xvi] – but where we would be those strive to control, control, control of the situations around us regardless of the costs!

…so that we can shape them to our own whims and what we would like….

Not necessarily in line with what God would like….

Nevertheless, again, control, like power and authority, is not an evil thing.

Good governance, in fact, will maintain control of one’s household for good.

O Lord!

O Lord have mercy!

We know the end must come eventually because of man’s sin and evil, but how fast and hard and painfully does it really need to come upon your people?!

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Again, what is going on here in our Gospel text for today?

What does burning up chaff with unquenchable fire have to do with good news?

I hope by this point you have a good idea about the answer.

Again, the holiness of God, the fire of God, comes first and foremost not to damn but to convert and refine… And only Jesus, ultimately, will be the perfect Creator of individual and corporate righteousness, only Jesus will be the perfect Justice-Maker… 

To do this to us in the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire!

What is going on here overall is this:

The God of the Bible is good, good to all, first those He has made His own, and beyond as well.[xvii]

This is the God who is invested in us…[xviii]

It is like the great medieval hymn “Oh love how deep, how broad, how high….”  by Thomas a Kempis:

3 For us baptized, for us he bore
his holy fast and hungered sore;
for us temptation sharp he knew,
for us the tempter overthrew.

4 For us he prayed, for us he taught;
for us his daily works he wrought,
by words and signs and actions thus
still seeking not himself but us.

5 For us, by wicked men betrayed,
for us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
he bore the shameful cross and death;
for us he gave his dying breath.

6 For us he rose from death again,
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent his Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All of this, for us. All of us – near and far, high and low. Because He loves us. Because He fully identifies with us, fallen man who needs to be re-created in Him…

Our final answer, really, is to be found at the end of our Gospel and Epistle today.

The real meaning of baptism – not just the baptism that John came preaching, but the baptism that incorporates the completed work of Jesus Christ on earth… is the key…

When we as evil men and women are confronted by God… we are submerged by the flood and die, buried with water….

And then, in resurrection, in rising from the water, a whole new way of life comes forward!

A whole new way of being!

Because of everything that He has done for us.

In our Gospel, we read:

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

These words are for us who identify with Jesus Christ.

Those of us who long to be free from the sin that continues to cling to us.

Those who are not ashamed to be those who cling to Him…

Who look to Him, sometimes even feeling great, great desperation… perhaps crying out: “I am yours Lord… save me, save us…”

These words are for all those who want to be with Him, not just to be seen but to be a part of all the goodness that He both is and offers… to become more and more a part of that goodness He spreads and would spread…

The words are for all of those who want to be found in Him, to say not so much I was baptized, but I am baptized, I am among those who have been baptized into Jesus’ death…

To us, our Lord indeed says not only to Jesus, but to us:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased….”

Amen

Image: https://jtbarts.com/gallery/through-fire-and-water-praise-comes-forth-isaiah-43-1-2-3/

Notes:


[i] Excised (was going to be first part of the sermon):

Baptized saints, with the coming of Christmas, the world’s powers and authorities were, to say the least, encroached upon – and most all of them, it seems, are not going to take this lying down…

Not long ago I heard someone talk quite powerfully about what happened in the city of Bethlehem when the baby Jesus, the long promised-Messiah of the Jews – the King of the Jews – was born… 

One of the world’s rulers – the one who was currently known as the King of the Jews! – realized his “riches, [his] position[], [his] place[] within society, or, in other words, [his] power and authority…” was under threat.

And so what did he do? He hatched and dispatched a plan to kill the threat.

To kill a baby. The baby Jesus. In his efforts, he killed many babies…

This man went on to say more, speaking very eloquently… demonstrating for all to see just how wrong the powers and authorities of our world can go

He said this:

“…History is replete with man’s quest for power, for authority, for control. Holy Scripture itself hints at the machinations of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires with their assassinations and their overthrows. And what is the history of Israel itself but one king after another assuming power, assuming authority, and then wielding it as he chooses? A vision of the prophet Daniel explaining the dream of Nebuchadnezzar was one of power and authority. As it looked forward to the rise and fall of Alexander the Great… then the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire too eventually fell just like Alexander the Great did… And then various kingdoms in Europe and the Far East.

Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Quest after quest after quest after quest for what?

Power. Authority. It seems like almost every major nation in Europe for example, has had its turn on that pile. If you know your history: Italy, Spain, France, England, Germany… all taking turns, all wielding power and authority over the rest. In the 4,000 years of Chinese history there have been no less than 83 dynasties with five hundred and fifty-nine emperors. 559. Ghengis Kahn could also be mentioned here. The rise of Japan and so on and so forth. Power. Authority. That is what man wants, and as history shows, man is willing to do what it takes to get it and keep it and almost always it involves blood, it involves death, it involves destruction….”

These are some hard truths. They show just how wrong, just how evil, the rulers and authorities of this world can be… And yet, we might recall Jesus’ exhortation to His own disciples not to be this way, to be in the world but not of it…:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them call themselves benefactors. But you shall not be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves….” (Luke 22:25-26)

So far Jesus and His crew. Back to the world and its “best”.

Looking more closely at the actions of the powerful in the world, we see it is not just murder and mayhem that these men get involved in.

There is much more: greed leading to all kinds of clever thievery, pride leading to all kinds of blindness, and lust leading to all kinds of sexual sin.

And that last one, in particular, is at the heart of our text today, and we’ll get back to it in a moment.

First of all, however, let’s look a little bit more at what happens right before our Gospel text for today….

[ii] In Luke 4, while Jesus is riding a wave of popularity as he preaches in Jewish synagogues, He hits a bit of a roadblock in his hometown when he reads the following from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

…after reading this, Jesus then rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, sits down, and insists as all the eyes in the synagogue are fastened on him “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

…and things go downhill from there, as the hometown crowd eventually is upset enough to try to throw Him off a cliff for insinuating that God’s mercy – God’s “good news” that is – certainly extended not just to the Jews but to all those who were far off and saw their need for Him!

Where is the judgment for the Gentiles we want?!

Scandalous stuff this Jesus guy is teaching!

[iii] And this, of course, is meant to go hand-in-hand with the kind of hope that John the Baptist is bringing, as well as Mary’s jarring words to her cousin Elizabeth (we call this the Magnificat) about God bringing down rules from their thrones and sending the rich away empty while the hungry are filled with good things… 

Angel to Mary about Jesus: “[Y]ou will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end…”

[iv] And this “holiness and righteousness” being lived out, being enacted throughout history, is precisely why when the old man Simeon sees Jesus in the Temple, when his parents bring him there to be circumcised, he essentially says, “Lord my eyes have now seen your salvation, and I can die in peace now…”

[v] Simeon basically tells Mary that the baby in her arms is going to bring a sword even to her own heart as he divides Israel… the thoughts of many hearts being revealed!…. there is no fear here, but peace and joy.

[vi] And Lutherans – even though we again have a reputation for focusing on the forgiveness and mercy of God – have never denied that this is the case. In the 1580 Book of Concord, which all Confessional Lutheran pastors subscribe to, we read:

“…sometimes [the term Gospel] is employed so that there is understood by it the entire doctrine of Christ, our Lord, which He proclaimed in His ministry upon earth, and commanded to be proclaimed in the New Testament, and hence comprised in it the explanation of the Law and the proclamation of the favor and grace of God… And in this sense… the description of the word Gospel… is correct, when it is said that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and the remission of sins. For John, Christ, and the apostles began their preaching with repentance and explained and urged not only the gracious promise of the forgiveness of sins, but also the Law of God.Unedited quote:

“…sometimes [the term Gospel] is employed so that there is understood by it the entire doctrine of Christ, our Lord, which He proclaimed in His ministry upon earth, and commanded to be proclaimed in the New Testament, and hence comprised in it the explanation of the Law and the proclamation of the favor and grace of God, His heavenly Father, as it is written, Mark 1:1: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And shortly afterwards the chief heads are stated: Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Thus, when Christ after His resurrection commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel in all the world, Mark 16:15, He compressed the sum of this doctrine into a few words, when He said, Luke 24:46,47: Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. So Paul, too, calls his entire doctrine the Gospel, Acts 20:21; but he embraces the sum of this doctrine under the two heads: Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

5 And in this sense the generalis definitio, that is, the description of the word Gospel, when employed in a wide sense and without the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel is correct, when it is said that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and the remission of sins. For John, Christ, and the apostles began their preaching with repentance and explained and urged not only the gracious promise of the forgiveness of sins, but also the Law of God.”

[vii] See, e.g., Is. 4:4, Ezek. 36:24-27, Is. 30:27. Chad Bird, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3118202221788823&aggr_v_ids%5B0%5D=3118202221788823&notif_id=1641304979735383&notif_t=watch_follower_video&ref=notif

[viii] God’s final chaff-revealing-punishment falls outside of Christ, as He takes that hit… those inside the Son of God, however, are not damned but refined…

[ix] When it comes to Marxism and neo-Marxism, they aim at the heart of authority, the natural law, the will of God (and here, it starts with the first government, the family) because, I think, the world simply hates the law of God and being told there is, in fact, a boss of sorts, especially one who might not fully endorse their own ideas of when and how it is appropriate to challenge governing authorities… (just thinking that we call the last evil person at the level of a video game a “boss”….)

[x] See Mark 6:18 (and Matthew 14:4): “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”

[xi] We don’t even need to talk about being right about politics or morality per se. Just the desire to be right about anything is at issue in every age and especially ours today. This desire, while it may indeed be ugly as sin infects, is nevertheless not a bad thing, correct?

Paul, after all, does talk about exposing deeds of darkness and Jesus does also say that every lie will be revealed. Again, everything in this life that is hidden will be brought to light.

How does that figure into our calculus about how we daily interact with others? We are right to insist that Jesus talked about making disciples, not “changing the culture”. Still, He did speak of making, that is teaching or indoctrinating disciples, and of *all nations* at that! (Is that important too?)

And just intellectually speaking, how would we ever know if what some see as a desire for “intellectual submission” – which they associate with violence when “rational argumentation” is involved (Edward Said?) — is in fact really *more* a strong desire to know truth and live by it and hold others accountable to it, more or less artfully, as the cases might be?

[xii] Of John the Baptist, one Roman Catholic writer points out:

“St. John the Baptist…. stands as somewhat of an oddity among Christian martyrs in that he preceded Christ in death. He also didn’t die as a direct result of his faith in Christ, nor was he asked to deny Christ. Yet he is reckoned as a Christian martyr by the Church. Why should this be?

St. John the Baptist died not because he refused to deny Christ but because he refused to deny the truth, and ultimately this boils down to the same thing. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Anyone who proclaims truth proclaims Christ. Anyone who denies the truth denies Christ.”

[xiii] Jesus’ words in Luke 8:17-19 are profound in their implications for life and governance: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”

[xiv] This is deeply uncomfortable isn’t it? This makes us think about things like Jesus telling us the parable about building the tower or deciding to fight in a war… because that is exactly what this should make us think about. Not necessarily that we will need to physically fight but that political fighting – done either with contempt or civility present – is a necessary part of life even as power and authority are not the only thing that life is about, as if they were to overshadow the truth of God’s law, the standards that He has for all persons!

[xv] I’ve wrestled with these questions about preserving certain things, particularly things like nations, and I must ask rhetorically ask the question, it seems, again and again: “Is it simply wrong for a dominant culture—even a culture that many find highly attractive on a number of levels—to attempt to maintain and sustain itself through time? Can this necessarily be the case?” (see page 251 in this published paper: https://www.lsfm.global/uploads/files/LMM%2011-19__Rinne.pdf)

Does Jesus necessarily think that this is the case? That trying to keep your culture, your nation, your heritage, is always wrong?

“Rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall” indeed, but are the nations worth trying to preserve in any sense? And have some, in fact, not been better overall than others – even as all nations must ultimately confess their sins and bow before God, confessing His Christ? Is such speech simply always proud and sinful and to be avoided?

[xvi] From Dr. Douglass Frank.

[xvii] Not in some kind of abstract way. In very concrete ways, in various concrete ways that have been displayed throughout history…

And He is interested and invested in not only His own beloved people Israel – but He also, being the strongest and the best of them all – can afford to be interested and invested in all persons in the world!

Even as in our text from Isaiah today, He makes clear His preferences, insisting for example that Israel’s enemies will be sold as a ransom for their sakes (see Is. 43:4).  

But this should assure us even more that He is good!

For He loves those He makes His own most strongly!

And He urges us to do the same… (Gal. 6:10, I Tim. 5:8) while also caring so very deeply about all persons in the world!

[xviii] Excised: “I take it you, like me, want to be invested in Him to, so listen carefully to this. When John the Baptist quotes Isaiah saying:

The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[
a]

Know that, first, this is talking about Jesus’ work. It is all about His coming and His mission – His perfect life and salvation, lived for us.”

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Child-like Faith vs Childish Unbelief

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“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

–Luke 7:23

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In our reading today, we hear Jesus say

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Why, specifically, was John so great?

And what does it mean that “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”?

We’ll get to that second question in a minute, but first, the key point:

John was great because he was the one who prepared and cleared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the absolute fulfillment of God’s plan.

You will of course recall John’s perhaps most well-known statement, which I know I mention often: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

And in the book of Revelation, chapter 13, we hear about the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.

“Slain from the foundation of the world.” As one commentator puts it:

“Think about this: before the universe was created, before time existed, before man was created, God knew that we (in Adam) would sin. He knew we would rebel against our Creator. And in the wisdom and love of God, in eternity, He predetermined a plan so that we could receive a free gift of salvation. In eternity, God planned for the Son of God to step into history to provide the ultimate sacrifice—the sinless Son of God would suffer sin’s penalty of death, be raised from the dead, thus providing a way of salvation. Hebrews 10:10 declares: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[i]

And so, as the Apostle Paul will remind us in his own writings…in the process of describing his own call:

“That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (I Tim. 4:10)

And what is this great salvation that the Bible speaks of ultimately about? Not earthly foes. Not political enemies – even if this figures into the big picture as well. Rather this deliverance is ultimately from the curse of sin, from death, and from the demonic, the devil.

And this great salvation, this great deliverance, was foretold many times in the Scripture, including Malachai 3:1 which says:

“’I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?”

Who can stand? That should ring in our ears a bit!

The prophet is saying: “Who can survive the fearsome judgment of God when a sinful people, a sinful world, meets its Maker in the Holy God of Israel?”

The answer takes us back to John and His message: “The one who stands with the with the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

So as the book of Malachai prophesies and John fulfills, God’s messenger prepares the way for the Master to come to the Temple, the symbol of God’s people, and cleanse it of all its unholiness… to bring God’s judgement and mercy to the people Israel (Wright, 88)…

And it is revealed to us in the New Testament, sometimes subtly but surely, that the messenger is the forerunner of God Himself, who really will stand in His Temple in human flesh.

Who will replace His Temple with His human flesh![ii]

John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the One who the New Testament, echoing some Psalms, repeatedly calls “the coming One” (see Ps. 40:7 [and its use in Heb. 10:5-9] and Ps. 118:26)….

He was to announce to everyone in this Coming One, in this Messiah, God’s grace (Luke 3:3-6) and God’s judgment (Luke 3:9)… with an emphasis on God’s compassion and grace, as emphasized in the prophet Isaiah (see, e.g. Isaiah 35:5,6; Isa. 61:1).

The 5th century church father Cyril of Alexandria talked about Jesus’ own confidence-giving words to John the Baptist and put things this way:

“’For you have heard indeed’ he says, ‘that [the dead are raised] by the all-powerful word, and by the touch of the hand: you have seen also, while you yourselves stood by, that those things that were spoken of old time by the holy prophets are accomplished: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the dumb hear, and the dead arise, and the poor are preached unto. All these things the blessed prophets had before announced, as about in due time to be wrought by My hands. If then I bring to pass those things that were prophesied long before, and you yourselves are spectators of them, return and tell those things which you have seen with your own eyes accomplished by My might and ability, and which at various times the blessed prophets foretold….” (ACCS, and here: https://www.tertullian.org/fathers/cyril_on_luke_03_sermons_26_38.htm)

Again, all of this also reveals the greatness of John, who was the end of the age of preparation as the age of fulfillment dawned! (France, 130)

For, as Jesus would go later go on to put it in Luke (Luke 10), after John the Baptist’s death:

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 2For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

As so William Barclay sums up all of this nicely, also helping us also see why “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than [John the Baptist]:

“John marked a dividing line in history. Since John’s proclamation had been made, Jesus had come; eternity had invaded time; heaven had invaded earth; God had arrived in Jesus; life could never be the same again. We date all time as before Christ and after Christ—B.C. and A.D. Jesus is the dividing line. Therefore, all who come after him and who receive him are of necessity granted a greater blessing than all who went before. The entry of Jesus into the world divided all time into two; and it divided all life in two. If any man be in Christ he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).” (90)

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Really, truly, such mysteries are too great for us.

We, in fact, are not worthy…

But in the world, as we know, people have many thoughts that occur to them…

True, one indeed is what is going to happen to them when they die, and how they should live in light of this. This can be a good start.

Another, however, is one’s success, influence, and satisfaction in this world. Particularly related to one’s standing in the eyes of one’s fellow men and women.

One’s status.

And as is often the case, the importance of this question takes center stage and the former question – about that messy death and dying stuff – is suppressed and not dealt with very seriously. By the young, of course, but also by those who have many years under their belt.

And why not, right? After all, if one is considered to be good and successful by one’s fellow men and women, God’s approval certainly cannot be far behind as well, right?

This certainly seems to be the way the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders described in today’s Gospel text, looked at things. And it seems by their own assessment they had things going on pretty good in their world, as best they could tell… before these insubordinate John and Jesus guys came and started to mess things up!

This is exactly what Jesus is helping us to see here in our text today by the words he speaks….

By the questions he asks about swaying reeds and fine clothing he wants to get the religious leaders asking themselves questions about the meaning of John and their reaction to him.

John, after all, is certainly the opposite of a swaying reed (unlike the people’s leaders!)!

And he certainly is the opposite of one living in the lap of luxury, or one who could secure those gifts!

No… clearly the man was a prophet and more than prophet Jesus says – and he was preparing the way for the Coming One, the Chosen One, the One who was to Come!

The Messiah, Jesus.

As R.C.H. Lenski interprets it – and I agree with him – Jesus in our text today means to stir up the callous people who seem affected by nothing….

Jesus goes on after this too. He also, through the use of a short illustration, reveals how these seemingly sophisticated men are behaving.

They are in fact acting like children who would play in the market, getting one another to imitate the actions from weddings or funerals, for instance, but who would get upset when they would not get their way.

 “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

In other words, the kids would get upset when everyone would not join their game; conform to their wishes…

This is just what, in a sense, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were doing with John the Baptist and Jesus, pouting like little children when they would not conform to their own expectations about what they should be like and do.

And when people do not do what you want them to do, if you are a child, you may childishly make obscene accusations and call them names. Jesus again:

“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

Again, remarkably, this is certainly what Jesus is saying the leaders of this generation, the “official” people, the “cultivated” people – and perhaps a great many other people with them — had done…

It is like the opposite of the Goldilocks principle: “Not too hot, not too cold… but just right…”

You see, it can never be “just right,” simply because of who John and Jesus are….[iii]

So these men – unless they turn – will never be satisfied…

You men won’t sing and dance to our tune? Submit to our whims and fancies?

Well then John – you must have a demon!

And Jesus, with the company you keep you must be glutton and drunkard!

To say the least, John and Jesus had really, really annoyed them…

As my children would say: “You are such a disappointment!”

In truth though, we know the abuse that John the Baptist and Jesus were to receive would be far worse….

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But how wrong all of this was!

For as Jesus says “Wisdom is justified from all her children”….

As one commentator puts it, this is similar to our statement “time will tell” (Prange, 84)

More specifically, the eyes of faith could see that even as John the Baptist and Jesus Christ had very different “lifestyles,” so to speak, their actions were actually in accordance with one another, going hand-in-hand or being of “one cloth”…

And both were in line with the will of God, which is always good, and which will result in the ultimate good.

This is something the “cultivated” and “respectable” people Jesus is describing could not see or accept…

Let’s dig into this a bit more here…. Our text for today essentially says, in sum, that the Pharisees and teachers of the law nullify, make ineffective, the purposes of God as regards themselves:

“All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John…”(7:29-30)

Another translation would be that these men rejected God’s counsel for them… In any case, this is why Jesus is here making the case that “this generation” are basically corrupt children trapped in their childish ways…

And note also that in the book of Luke, Jesus also describes them elsewhere as “evil” (11:29), unrepentant (11:32), “unbelieving and perverted” (9:41), and responsible for the blood of the prophets (11:50).  (Just, 318)[iv]

Ouch.

No one should want to identify with this group.

No one should want to identify with their deepest concerns.

No one should want to identify with their controlling “narratives”.

It is easy enough for each one of us, on our own, to be tempted to downplay or even despise the Word of God – even without all of their added temptations of status to deal with!

To say the least though, we still today are tempted to try to direct God’s prophets, and even God Himself…

And it’s easier when His authoritative voice comes to us rather veiled: that is humbly and simply not only as a helpless baby, but in a from like ink and letters on a physical page as well!

And, as we’ve often noted, things can go rather south rather quickly.

Again, the fourth century church father Cyril of Alexandria is very helpful here, as he puts the matter in a simple and blunt way:

“The prophet[ Isaiah’s] words will apply to us, ‘Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil. Who call bitter sweet and sweet bitter. Who put light for darkness, and darkness for light.’ This was the character of the Israelites and especially of those who were their chiefs, the scribes, namely, and Pharisees. Christ said of them, ‘To what shall I liken the men of this generation?’” (ACCS, 123)

Yes, sadly, the same things happen today, perhaps with much enhancement…

But always, at bottom, the cause is this: Many, many of high standing in the world especially, reject God’s purposes for them… they do not want to “justify God” and His righteousness, but rather their own…

Just like for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, it was clear that John’s baptism is not something they thought they needed…

Let’s quickly look at the alternative.

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God’s purpose for the Pharisees and the scribes, as it is for all mankind, was for them was to receive John, his message, and his work en route to receiving Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

In contrast we see that all the people of Israel other than the religious leaders — even the tax collectors! – ran to John the Baptist to be baptized to them, “justifying God” or “acknowledged that God’s way was right” as Jesus says here….

As the Fort Wayne seminary professor Arthur Just puts it:

“[‘acknowledged that God’s way was right’ or ‘justified God’ means that the people “received] [God’s] plan… of salvation as it is manifested in the baptism of John, a baptism of repentance. Thus their submission to John’s baptism of repentance to the forgiveness of their sins 93:3) is their confession that God is just or righteous and that that God justifies the sinner by grace alone” (317)[v]

Interestingly, R.T. France says, regarding the “they justified God”, that in both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ ministries “the social and religious outsiders” responded to them while the religious authorities refused… “Both are part of a ‘subversive’ movement outside the channels of official Judaism, and it is there that God’s purpose is being fulfilled.” (130-131).

But it, really, is not subversive, and certainly not revolutionary in any true sense.

Rather, John and Jesus are certainly showing forth what God’s plan always originally entailed and what sinful man — even sinful man in positions of influence within the church — has always been rejecting, in part – that is, in weak faith – or, in whole – that is, apart from faith…

But in our text for today, Jesus holds up the common people as the models of the spiritually poor… the receptive beggars who heard and received God’s message in faith…[vi]

This is to be a sign for us, for all of us!

Most all of the Jews of Jesus’ day – post Babylonian exile – were determined to be very religious in their practices… (they didn’t want to be judged again!) And yet, right from the beginning of the Gospels, we see that only some of the Jews are recognizing Jesus as the Messiah right from the very start!

There is Mary the Mother of God, of course.

And John the Baptist’s mother and father, Elizabeth and Zechariah. The wise men and the shepherds…

And faithful Simeon and Anna at the temple when Jesus’ parents bring Him there to be circumcised.

And then, when Jesus grows older, men like Nathaniel and other of the disciples immediately recognize something special in Jesus’ teachings and actions, and, informed by the Holy Scriptures in faith, excitedly ask “Could this be the Messiah?”

His Sheep hear His voice.

He wants us to hear – and hear so more and more – as well!

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That said, particularly as a citizen of the United States, many of us of course see that politics has taken center stage like never before, and many of us are struggling with all kinds of issues that our nation faces.

And here, it is so easy to get caught up not only in the very practical concerns we each have, but the concerns and popular narratives that those in the elite heights of our culture promote…

So many of these issues and the questions they raise are not unimportant – and these matters too greatly affect us and have implications for us! — and yet, sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in these things that we downplay, ignore, or even begin to doubt the one thing that really matters most…

It appears even John the Baptist had a similar struggle.

After all, what was going on with John the Baptist when this Scripture reading takes place? Well, John had been locked up way back in Luke 3:20, in the fortress Machaerus, “located on a solitary peak on the east side of the Dead Sea” whose ruins I hear you can still see today (Prange, 81).[vii]

Perhaps John is wondering where the judgment he has promised was going to come… “Where was the work of judgement [Jesus promised (see Luke 3:9, 3:17)], his swinging of the winnowing shovel, the cutting of the ax?… How was this [lack of judgment] to be explained [?]” (Lenski, 404)

Maybe John was expecting, like many, that with the Messiah the wrath of God would be on the march…. That Jesus’ armies of this or that sort would take out the sinful Romans in a timely fashion…

In any case, for whatever reason, John seems to have had some real doubts about the story he’d been telling[viii], and he is perhaps even calling into question Jesus’ deeds here…. (on the other hand, John has certainly not given up faith in Christ and he indicates that he is still willing to submit to Christ…)

How does Jesus respond?

Well, the Epistle reading for today, written when Paul himself was in prison, talks about how we should always rejoice and let our gentleness, or depending on the translation “reasonableness,” be known to all… with this is included the idea of “thoughtfulness, patience, and consideration.”

How or why can we do this? Helpfully, the passage immediately goes on to say: 

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…”

This is the comfort God always desires to give us, with the intent that we too, would bring comfort to others (see II Cor. 1)

When people are not sure who or what to believe… not sure about what life is all about, we can tell them about God’s creation, the fall, and Gods’ love for the fallen world shown in His Son…

When people know they have sinned against us and God, we can forgive them in the Name of Christ.

When our fellow believers doubt the Divine Drama, the Good News, the Story of Ultimate Hope that Jesus Christ brings, we can remind them that God is near them and does not abandon them, even now…

We can give them hope just like Jesus Christ gave John hope by essentially saying

“In Me the blind see, the lame walk! The dead are raised! The poor have the good news preached to them! I am indeed the One; Do not look for another!”

As R.C.H. Lenski puts it, do not let the absence of “certain works blind [you] to the glorious presence of the works that are now in full progress…”

Be satisfied with these and “trust that in due time the others will follow just as these are now being done…” [!] (Lenski 407)…

Behold! See how gentle Jesus is not just to John, not just to us, but even to those who would crucify Him!

And may they, like us, know the Lord Jesus, for blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Him!

And may they, like us now, hear both strong and gentle words like this:

““The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing…”

Amen


[i] https://answersingenesis.org/ministry-news/creation-museum/slain-from-the-foundation-of-the-world/

[ii] Also Exodus 23:20 is being referred to when Jesus says “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way before you…”

Garland says that Caird says there are two Messianic traditions from Scripture that are being incorporated here… “one which said that Elijah would appear as a herald of the day of the Lord, and one which said that God would raise up a prophet, a second Moses (Deut 18:15 – 19…). John has inherited both the mantle of Moses and Elijah.” We note that typically and traditionally, this prophecy has been understood as describing not John the Baptist, but Jesus Himself.

Garland continues: “Note how Moses and Elijah appear together as forerunners of Jesus in the transfiguration (9:30).” (314)

[iii] Are the Pharisees and teachers of the law just super inconsistent and hypocritical? Well, as with so many things, it most likely has to do with the question of “who,” not “what”. One commentator probably nails it when he says: “These people find John too unsociable with the right people and Jesus too sociable with the wrong people” (Findlay, in Garland, 317)

[iv] Conniving too. Earlier they on it seems they try to pit Jesus vs. John in Luke 5:33: “They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.””

[v] What it means that they “justified God” here is that they judged rightly about God’s work in John and the message that He brought. Just as God pronounces us right, just, and justified because of the blood of Jesus Christ which covers our sins, the people here also pronounce God as right, just, and justified because of His right work in the world…

[vi] Just: the word laos, “people,” often denotes the faithful remnant of Israel (see 1:68, 77; 18:43) (317)

[vii] Barclay: John, the child of “wide open spaces,” is undoubtedly discouraged, being put in a single prison cell…

[viii] “John’s question is the mildest example of man’s attempt to impose his will on God.” (Fraanzman, CSSC, on Matt. 11:1-15). Some say John does not doubt but maybe his disciples do and so he does this for their sakes. If John sent them for their sake Jesus is playing along… (“Having gone report to John…”). Lenski condemns this as being unworthy of both John and Jesus. (406).

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

A Note of Grave Concern from Minnesota

Sent to all Republican Attorney Generals. It is now or never.

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Dear Attorney General,

Is Donald Trump the only person who is actually willing to lead this country?

Many people do not like Donald Trump for a variety of reasons. I can understand why. He often exaggerates and seems full of outrageous braggadocio.

And yet, when he is right he is right. The man understands that the truth about reality is politically important, and even facing the possibility of corrupt elections in 2024, I think it is still possible that he will win because many people in America know that they need a fighter. This is what Donald Trump said last night:  

“The Fake News Media cannot stand the fact that so many people in our Country know the truth, that the 2020 Election was rigged and stolen, yet almost every article written contains the words the “Big Lie” or “unsubstantiated facts,” etc., always trying to demean the real results. I am willing to challenge the heads of the various papers or even far left politicians, who have perpetuated the Real Big Lie, which is voter irregularities and fraud on a massive and determinative scale. This includes members of the highly partisan Unselect Committee of Democrats who refuse to delve into what caused the January 6th protest—it was the Fake Election results! While I am willing to do it, they will never agree because they cannot argue that facts in states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, and others such as New Mexico, where the Democrat Secretary of State changed the voting laws without legislative approval just prior to the Election, making it virtually impossible for the Republican presidential candidate to win. If anyone would like a public debate on the facts, not the fiction, please let me know. It will be a ratings bonanza for television!”

Trump, of course, is correct. Obviously, he has had a vested interest in following the development of these issues on the ground. I note that the recent court complaint, supported by men like Mike Lindell, Douglass Frank, and the former Navy Seal now lawyer Kurt Olsen, is stunning because of the powerful case it makes by gathering information from mostly “mainstream” media and government sources. This is information that has made it into the public realm, even though it has not, being suppressed, gained wide coverage.

Most of the information that is present in the complaint and its exhibits was covered also by Mollie Hemingway, who I highly respect for her integrity. Of her own book, Rigged, she has said the following: “it’s a meticulously detailed and researched book that certainly can be argued with but cannot be dismissed as unsubstantiated or not noteworthy…”

This, again, is exactly right.

I understand that a lot of intelligent people and others who “matter”, possibly some who are in your circles of influence, do not feel the same way. I get that you might think that supporting this case would make things very difficult for you.

That might be true, even as I doubt it, thinking that real courage can have a massive impact and that you would be more likely be seen as a hero (by many Americans initially and by most Americans in the long run).

Why? Because the fact of the matter is that many of us in this country are fully convinced that we are being gaslit and we believe that it is only people like you who, by doing your duty for your country, can help get us on a good path again. We cannot allow this kind of fraud – clearly seen in view of the blatant disregard of the law, the falsely certified results, and the spoilation of evidence that we have already seen – to continue.

For the sake of the continued existence of the United States of America, this lawsuit needs to go forward, and be taken and finally vindicated – at least in some fashion – by our Supreme Court.

We all wait for you to be the first to jump in the pool.

Our Country cannot move forward with legitimate elections without first fixing the fraud in the November 2020 election.

Our state interests, and our legal votes, must be protected.  You can do that. Please bring this case to the Supreme Court to save our State and our Country:

By the way, in case it is of interest to you, I am someone who is involved in the realm of academia, in university-level higher education, and I have even written a paper in the library world about the importance of the matter of truth for librarians and beyond: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/RSR-06-2016-0039/full/html?skipTracking=true

I am highly confident in making this request of you this morning that this will not result in “social suicide” for you, but is a noble and right cause that will result in your being blessed, vindicated, and remembered.

Thank you,

Nathan Rinne

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Learning to Love Paul Like He Loves You

“May [Christ] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones…”

– I Thessalonians 3:13…

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In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we can see that he not only enjoys spending time with these folks and loves them but also that he is impressed with them…

In particular, this church located the large capital city of Thessalonica in Macedonia – which he helped to found right at the beginning of his Apostolic ministry – had faced intense suffering and persecution but also held strong to the Christian faith….  

Paul writes about them, for example, in the first chapter:

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia…”

First and foremost, we can see that Paul takes a certain pride in the Thessalonians, like a father might of his children…

Second, we can see here that Paul is indirectly giving voice to something that all of us know is true, and that is that in life… there are certain people who show good character, as we say, and hence are good examples.

They are the kinds of people that we want our children and grandchildren to be….

And the kinds of people also that we want our children and grandchildren to be around!

And, in fact, this concern for good character – for morality – is something that we can find the world over…

People from all over the world, no matter where they live, no matter when the live, have always been concerned about such things. It is not only because people want their children to be socially successful in the world, to be respectable.

That, of course, is no small part of things. What they ultimately want, however, is for their children to be good people.

I mean, to an extent. People want their children to be good… but not “too good” either…

On the one hand, this “not being too good” might have to do with wanting your children to have actual wise character, and not just a legalistic predilection for “following rules”.

On the other hand, this often will have to do with, again, the issue of respectability. Not everyone would necessarily be proud to have a family member whose truly ethical behavior makes them stick out… and just happens to make others around them feel uncomfortable…

For example, in Thessalonica, moral values regarding sexual issues were not of the highest caliber, to be sure. In this Greek harbor town, “the idea of sexual purity was [a] complete novelty…” and a certain level of craftiness would have been regarded as normal and prudent…

Paul also deals with this issue in this letter, reminding the Thessalonians that they are not pagans and that the Lord desires they avoid sexual immorality…[i]

Sometimes – most of the time really – people grow up in environments, in cultures, where what is considered normal and acceptable actually involves suppressing the truth about the real consequences for our actions a great deal, and hence a kind of ignorance of what is good persists as people form powerful false beliefs.

And so here Paul, even as he praises the Thessalonians here for being good examples, is working in this letter to also help them make some adjustments…

And when he does that, he uses family metaphors all over…

This is where, I believe, things get very interesting….

+++

Let me read a few longer excerpts from this letter. In chapter 2 of the letter, Paul says the following:

“…we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead,we[, myself, Timothy, and Silvanus,] were like young children[a] among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out…

Near the end of chapter 2, Paul goes on to say this:

17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy….”

Now, maybe when you hear Paul say these kinds of things, you don’t find anything unusual. And, if that is the case, I think that would be a very good thing!

At the same time, I think there are some who, at best, might have a lot of questions about what Paul is saying, and others, at worst, who might see some major problems with his words, saying “How can this possibly be relevant for today?”

+++

Let me explain a bit…

I am under the impression that if the Apostle Paul hired a modern-day consulting firm, they would urge him to adjust his messaging a bit…

Please note, that in the next several minutes, I am intentionally imitating my imagined consultant who seeks to make the Apostle Paul more palatable for today…:

[Begin Consultant]

The first problem here is that with these family metaphors, Paul is not considering the currents of the contemporary world. He is out of touch and out of step.

After all, Paul brings up sexual morality in this letter, as we have already mentioned, which implies that he is concerned with more or less traditional morality.

Paul thinks marriage, for example, should be one man and one woman for life!

So, this creates a wide array of other problems… Paul is thinking about what some have called the traditional family. He is not being sensitive that today, because of the freedom of choice we all have, there are a multiplicity of valid family forms…

People don’t need to be married to have families! And in bringing up children and mothers and fathers, Paul is not acknowledging that someone might have two dads, or two moms, for instance. And what about those who have a mom who decides to become a dad or a dad who decides to become a mom? And what about moms who decide that having three dads, for instance, might be necessary to help make ends meet?

And doesn’t Paul think about all the single mothers and fathers who are doing the best they can? When Paul builds on the ideas of the work mothers and fathers do in order to talk about his own efforts, he is giving every impression that the work of both mothers and fathers is somehow uniquely valuable…. And its not, of course. None of us are replaceable, as we say today… and Paul should recognize that in speaking like this, some who do not have a mother or a father, for instance, are not going to be able to identify with what he is saying.

And they will feel alienated… So, some adjustments are in order…the child and brother and sister language stay – as long as we acknowledge brothers can become sisters and vice-versa – but the other stuff needs to go.

There are more problems too… In chapter 4, Paul says this….:

“…brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus….”

Well, this just kind of builds on what we just said, doesn’t it? It means that “being good” means operating in certain grooves that God means for us to inhabit. We are getting the impression here that we like a train which is built for certain tracks, and that that is the way it is with us…

That we can’t actually be good unless we are taking seriously something we call “the good”! This is a bit medieval. Again, starts with a prior understanding of what the natural family is and why it exists… This is why Paul can say, for example…

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children…”

This stuff needs to go! Here, by the way, we not only see that Paul persists with the problematic father-language…. But he is also taking about how “holy, righteous and blameless” he and his colleagues were. This brings us to the second issue…

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When Paul talks about being “holy, righteous and blameless” he also piles on later on, as you heard in your reading for today, where he says…

“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you…”

This is too much. Here, I should add that it is clearly not only the world who is unimpressed with his Christian view of the world that praises things like traditional sexual morality, the natural family, and hard work, but that many in Christian circles are also unimpressed with his condescending attitude….

One commentator puts it that Pauls’ desire is to “correct, restore, and equip them in respect to faith… they had room for additional growth, and Paul felt his presence could foster it…” (Robert L. Thomas, Expositors’s Bible Commentary).

Well, that is one way of putting it… but another is to say that Paul seems to be implying that he is, in some sense at least, holier than the Thessalonians! Somehow better than them; superior to them! Thinking that he is going to be a father to them, perhaps suggesting some patriarchal authority…  

Toxic masculinity!

So here is our second issue really… Why does Paul have to act so self-righteously? He’s one to talk like this![ii] Why does he have to treat the Thessalonians like they are immature children who need his wisdom and guidance? Doesn’t he realize how bad this looks?

And really, Paul should see that even from a practical standpoint, it might make sense to tone things down a bit, by which he might distinguish himself with some of the politically radical persons today who give off an aura of self-righteousness…. That turns people off and a backlash should be expected. Paul could likely gain followers and acceptance from the wide swath of more moderate folks out there….

That brings us to the last part…. The third thing we need to point out is that men tend to not be as emotional as women. They should be more emotionally deep of course, as they shed their toxic masculinity. But in the meantime, as we slowly approach that future goal, it might also make more sense for Paul to lay off his expressions of great love for the Thessalonians…

After all, the 4th century church father John Chrysostom noticed that “Paul’s payers [here] demonstrate a fervent soul unable to restrain his love… Do you see the unrestrained madness of love shown by these words?”

Yes John Chrysostom, that is right — and this kind of thing really won’t do for now… Comparing yourself to a nursing mother is bad enough. You are going to make a lot of men feel uneasy and uncomfortable… 

Yeah, no man should be calling other people their hope, joy, and crown…  Seems too extreme. You should not make yourself sound so needy…. This could make you seem like a high-maintenance person…

[End Consultant]

+++

OK, enough making light of things here – though I hope you get my point…  

In view of all of the above, let’s seriously reflect as Christians on all of these things…   

The fact is, we need to recognize that it is indeed true that many in the Western world at least do see the Apostle Paul in particular, and the Bible in general, as being out-of-step with the contemporary world. Right now, in Finland, a pastor is looking at possibly two years in prison for talking about what the Bible says about homosexual acts. Elsewhere, in America, University Presses are normalizing pedophilia…

They say that a fish doesn’t recognize the water in which it swims….

We need to recognize the water in which we swim, and the problems which it creates for us according to the Bible.

We need to know who we are at the core of our being, and to focus on the external things that will nurture that inner life and truly bless us and others, and not those things that will bring curses…

And we also need to recognize that there is nothing unhealthy about the fervent desire that the Apostle Paul has for the congregation of Thessalonica.

God does indeed mean for us to be emotionally deep and profoundly aware of who we are and who the others are around us – He means for us to know one another ever more deeply, being more invested in each other… and we do that in part by knowing who we are in Him…

And finally, when it comes to the matter of spurring people on to lives of holiness that are pleasing to God, there is nothing wrong with what Paul implies about himself or the congregation…

Consider, for example, what he says in Galatians 6 where we actually read the words:

“…If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load….

We probably all know people who are self-righteous jerks. Maybe you even felt that way when I was being the consultant… : ) And, yes, listening to Paul, we might have been prompted to think of the country song that says “O Lord, its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way…”

…but we also know that there is really something to what he is doing….

Character matters deeply, after all…

We do want friends who will treat us well, who will be good people. We don’t just marry anyone, but we should look for a person who is of good character. We know that God means for all of us to indeed “get better,” that is, to go from immaturity to maturity, to completion, which is just another word for perfection…

Yes, again, we are all sinners. Indeed!

None of us “deserves” God’s grace and mercy. Indeed!

But these things are true as well!

So Paul really does think he can say this, and set himself up as a “standard of love to be emulated”. Why? Again, not necessarily because of any self-righteous pride but because of his own very real imitation of Jesus (see 1:6) who is the ultimate standard (John 13:34; 15:12).

That is why he says earlier: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord…” He indeed wants the Thessalonians to continue on with this…

Just like a good father and mother desire the best for their children, for them to eat healthy food and to participate in good activities, so God, through the words of His Apostle Paul, desires the best for us… has high expectations for us!

+++

Finally, how does all of this fit in with the text that I have chosen for today?:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones…” – I Thessalonians 3:13…

This doesn’t mean that we are saved by our good character and actions.

That is not true, even if bad character and bad actions will certainly set us up for faith-destroying and doubt-inducing circumstances!

No, again, it simply means that God desires you to be ever more fully the man or woman who He has called you to be, particularly in these last days when you can be a good example to those around you…

Yes, you are not in heaven yet, in Paradise, yet, and you have an Old Adam that clings to you, and that will attempt to drag you down this or that dark path…not only in deeds, but words and thoughts…[iii]

Nevertheless, cling to your Good Shepherd and the forgiveness and strength He gives you daily…

Identify with Him always and His work!

…because the person who has learned how to die with Jesus Christ is the person who has also learned how to live!

I hope this kind of talk encourages you.

I hope that each and every one of you, having even only a spark of faith within – given to you by God when you hear about His great love for you in Jesus Christ – can identify with what I am saying…

If you are not sure, know that even now you can be sure though His blood, and be ready to “lift up your head” when He comes!

Even as that fearful Last Day we heard about in our Gospel lessons comes fast and furious, you can know right now that you have real peace with God, that Jesus Christ is for you and not against you!

You can know that when He comes back with His heavenly armies – even today – He would not count you as an enemy or a traitor, but a friend and ally.

As one pastor put it, encouraging his own congregation:

“…what the world cannot see is that even though we are all muddling through this life with our tilted halos, scrappy faith, and scuffed-up Bibles, Jesus nonetheless pronounces us blessed – yes, blessed! We are blessed because He opens our hands to receive continually; blessed: because we are continually given the gift of sorrow for our sins; blessed: because we are given a hunger for the Lord and His gifts. Yes, we are blessed because just like those Saints who have passed away and are with Jesus, we too are clothed in the same righteousness of Jesus….”

As we heard, the prophet Jeremiah says…:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[a] will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior….’

This is the prophecy of the coming Messiah, the Jesus Christ, the heartbeat of the message of Advent, which we begin today!

This is our Lord Jesus Christ.

The ever-just One.

The ever-powerful One.

The ever-merciful One.

The ever-empowering One….

And so let us all pray, along with the Psalmist:

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good…

Amen


[i] Chapter 4:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister…”

[ii] And the old Adam in us rebels vs. the person of the Apostle Paul.

Better: the old Adam in us strengthened by particularly American cultural characteristics rebels….

“Paul – you jerk – I’m not so bad!

My faith isn’t any weaker than the next guy! We are all sinners Paul – your love isn’t so hot either!

(and I saw what you wrote about women earlier!)

I suppose you think that you are progressing in holiness and leaving the rest of us behind!

I suppose you think you superior because you have the gift of celibacy!

I suppose you think you are just better than us…

I’ve heard about you rigorous types! I wonder what secret sins, struggles, you are hiding?…

Has this ever happened to you?

Do you find yourself thinking – or even saying such thoughts?

If so, don’t feed the beast…

[iii] The fact of the matter is that no true Christian would talk like our imagined consultant this morning… 

Oh, they might to be sure – for a short while or so…

But then they catch themselves, as the Holy Spirit stirs up within them and reminds them who they really are in Jesus Christ:

Those who are God’s children, all dearly loved by their father in all their uniqueness and glorious particularities!

This is one of the reasons that Paul is so clearly emotionally moved here…

The Thessalonians are those who rejoice in the victories of others, who find great comfort in Christian fellowship, and who desire, even long for, both correction and guidance…

As those who are new creatures in Christ, we have new impulses, spiritual impulses… and one of those impulses is to take on the old Adam in us and tell him to take a hike. Go for a walk, etc…

Go away old Adam! Get behind me Satan!

Don’t you know that the Apostle Paul gave us a model of how to understand what is happening to us? What is going on inside of us? How even as the old Adam remains and our sinful impulses are not fully eliminated until the grave that we have newness of life in Jesus Christ?

He saves us from this body of death!

Don’t you know that God not only declares me to be righteous – perfect in His sight! – because of His own beloved Son but that He also continues to forgive and strengthen me, so that I have the desire and power to live a holy life in His presence?

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

How to Handle Garments Stained by Corrupted Flesh

…show mercy with fear—hating even the garment stained by corrupted flesh.” – Jude 23b (ESV)[i]

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God’s baptized saints: On this last Sunday of the church year, right before Advent, it is fitting we speak of the Last Day…

As we heard the prophet of Isaiah say:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment
    and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
    my righteousness will never fail.

And in our Gospel reading we just heard:

“Be on guard! Be alert!… What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

The message is this: The day is fast approaching when Our Lord will come again to deliver His people in the ultimate way!

Be ready!

Rise, my soul, to watch and pray,
From thy sleep awaken;
Be not by the evil day
Unawares o’ertaken.
For the Foe,
Well we know,
Oft his harvest reapeth
While the Christian sleepeth.

Know He desires good things for you when He separates the sheep from the goats… The clean from the unclean! The sparkling from the stained!

Why do I put it like that? Well, I’ll get to explaining that in a moment but it is going to take a another moment to provide the necessary background to my explanation.

In the process of preparing for this sermon, studying this passage from the end of the book of Jude – which, very confusingly for us, mentions stained clothing or garments from corrupted or unclean flesh —  I came across passages in the Old Testament book of Leviticus about how to handle defiling molds in clothing or leather articles (in chapter 13[ii]) and passages talking about how bodily discharges or emissions (things like seminal discharge, menstrual flow or hemorrhage, or human excrement) – as well as contagious diseases! – should be dealt with as well…

In short, because of the literal stains of uncleanliness, this defilement or corruption caused by things like mold, bodily discharges, and leprosy that contaminated clothing needed to be isolated… quarantined…. For it was unclean….

Keep that stuff far from us! 

And not only this, but this quarantining often involved the people too… The one from who the uncleanliness came, and even others affected by it as well!

Now this might sound a bit familiar to us today but have we really begun to understand the full extent of what was happening here?

Well, in part – even as there were undoubtedly practical considerations with some of these matters – all of this ultimately has to do with the supreme importance of the symbolism of the Old Testament, the “shadows” as the Apostle Paul called them in the book of Colossians, which really pointed to, indicated, the Reality behind such shadows…

+++

Take the daily sacrifices offered in the Old Testament, for example. These were at times offered on behalf of all, and finally should not be seen as something having to do with God’s Law – even if we sometimes call them a part of God’s “ceremonial laws” – but to the Promises of Salvation through the Coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

You know, as John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”. 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!”

This sacrifice, involving lambs, was performed daily at the temple in Jerusalem! Every morning and evening. This lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people (see Exodus 29:38-42, for example)…

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”…

+++

I hope that is some helpful background to what now seems to us like a very foreign and confusing topic…

And let us wrestle with this just a bit more, go on a bit more[!]… to help us get at the multi-layered meaning that we can see here when we look at the Scriptures as a whole….

With Christ’s coming in the New Testament, God rescinds some of these ceremonial practices – things like the sacrifices, circumcision, special holy days and laws of cleanliness and purification – that he Himself had instituted in order to set His people apart from the other nations…[iii]

Now in the times of the Old Testament, the Gentiles… or heathen… or “non-Jews” were certainly invited to find hope in Israel’s God (think of the books of Ruth and Jonah, for example!), and yet these ceremonies also tended to divide the Jews from everyone else…

In fact, many have noted that it was these ceremonial practices themselves that appear to have enabled Israel to resist a loss of identity – and therefore the Messiah really could come from a clearly identifiable people even if one not rich in earthly power – the Jews.

So, by bringing all of these ceremonies to fulfillment in Himself, these were the “dividing wall” Christ came to abolish…

Nevertheless, God is of course still interested in matters of identity – that is why we are now no longer circumcised, but instead baptized into His family!

And of course in preserving a faithful people for Himself He now brings the Jew and the Gentile, the formerly “clean” and the “unclean”, together in Himself!

That said – and this is where we may begin to feel a bit rankled – even as He has done and is doing this, He also continues to talk about those who do not believe, those who do not receive Him, as being “unclean”.

And, in some sense, He continues to advocate separation! As Paul says II Corinthians 6, echoing the Old Testament again:  

“Therefore come out from among them

and be separate, says the Lord.

Touch no unclean thing,

and I will receive you.”

And:

“I will be a Father to you,

and you will be My sons and daughters,

says the Lord Almighty.”

Now, with this background, I think we are finally ready to jump into our passage from Jude again!

+++

The passage from II Cor. 6 as well as our chosen text this morning from the book of Jude gives Christians guidance on how to interact with those among them who are turning away from the faith, who are growing distant from the congregation… veering towards “goat-status” or uncleanness…

Interestingly, if we look at our context today, our world today, we increasingly see these formations of separate groups… the phenomenon of people “coming apart”, as one sociologist put it…

Whether it has to with party politics, or generational differences, different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, diverging views within political parties, concerns about carrying things like the coronavirus, or simply “living in different worlds,” as we say today, the separations and polarizations grow deeper and more profound.[iv]

Interestingly, I don’t detect this so much on the part of Christians… Even if Christians are exhorted by the Apostle Paul to “come out from among them and be separate” in 2 Corinthians 6 (which we just heard), devout Christians hardly ever seem to be the ones who desire to withdraw… at least to the point of cutting of ties… There is a real hesitation here…

If someone is homeschooling for example, taking their kids out of the public schools… it is often because they feel that it is something they need to do so that Christian faith is preserved… even as they hope to continue to engage in the wider society…

With our current world, one might wonder how much more a society can take… as we continue to lose our center, our moorings, as things “come apart” more and more and love and trust fracture into a million pieces…

2 Timothy 3:5 says:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”

Paul then adds: “Avoid such people….”

The 4th century Christian monk St. Anthony, renowned for his wisdom, talked about the full-blown hostility that the disintegrating world would eventually produce:

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.”

Now, if you are like me, you don’t desire for this to happen! For us to become ever more separated from our non-Christian friends and neighbors, such that they no longer even feel any closeness to us!

Nevertheless, we need perspective. When I was fifteen years old, I attended a “youth gathering” of young men and women of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Denver, Colorado. I remember singing with some 18,000 other youth (and it was powerful enough for me that part of me wants to sing this!):

“Lord, teach us how to proclaim

all your goodness, your love and your name!

Lord, teach us how to forgive, and in love, teach us Lord, how to live.

Raising our voices in song, help us tell all the world we belong.”[v]

But do we really belong?

How great a worry for us should this be as we seek to “love not the world”… to be in it but not of it?

And here is something else to think about. In mild-mannered Lutheran seminary professor Dr. John Stephenson’s recent essay: “A Quickening of the Apocalyptic Pulse?” he states:

“As I sense that the dramatic developments of the past two years constitute a dramatic intensification of the signs of the Lord’s coming, I would ask whether it is fanciful to suppose that electronically-monitored vaccine passports are at the least a dress rehearsal for the worldwide imposition of of the mark of the Beast that has puzzled interpreters ever since the writing of Revelation 13:16ff. While some detect a marked rise of the mercury in the eschatological thermometer, much of visible Christendom appears sunk in apathy, with leading churchmen preferring to encourage ‘“climate” hysteria and other suchlike chic concerns.”[vi]

Whether or not you agree with Stephenson… whether or not you think the twigs are tender… the leaves are out and summer near…[vii]

…you must know this: If you do not know the Bible you will be in a heap of trouble…

Folks, I am not saying that we should all become Amish…

but there are undoubtedly at least a few things we could learn from them

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Again, if you do not know the Bible you will be in a heap of trouble.

This is especially true today – as in the Christian church we have many false teachers just like there were in the days of Jude… those who are powerfully attached to their sin do not fear him (Jude 12).

Going back to what we just heard from the Apostle Paul as well, do we need to be concerned about those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…” today?

Perhaps one is a popular mainstream media personality who has recently written a new book to help guide Christians and others in our fracturing world…

I took some time to listen to this person, who we’ll call Kristen. Kristen, like all of us, is loathe to see the continual disintegration of our world, the incessant “coming apart”

For example, she reports:  

“It would be hard to overstate just how much some Americans have come to despise each other, at least in the abstract. In a January 2019 paper, ‘Lethal Mass Partisanship,’ researchers asked Republicans and Democrats if they believed that members of the opposing party were ‘just worse for politics’ or ‘downright evil.’ More than 40 percent in each party chose ‘downright evil.’ Twenty percent of Democrats and more than 15 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement ‘We’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.’”

Ouch. And I’d add that even if people don’t have such hate in their hearts, a constant stream of fear – along with the felt need to avoid most all risks – is nevertheless influencing many people’s actions today.

For example, I heard the other day about how in one survey of 2,000 vaccinated Americans, 60% of them said that their unvaccinated relatives will not be welcome to join them for Christmas this year! I won’t get started here, but feel free to ask me what I think about that…

In any case, Kristen thinks that she has come up with an answer for some of our harshest divides.

Her answer – which came to her just a couple of years ago – was that she was guilty of an over-reliance on black-and-white thinking, or “binary thinking,” or “dualistic thinking”, and that she had to overcome this. She had to just stop seeing people in black and white terms, as good or evil….

In one sense, of course, this is right: when the great Russian author and political prisoner Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that “[t]he line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts…” he was imperfectly giving voice to something Christians, in their hearts, are deeply aware of.

Even the Christian, who is a new creature in Christ, still contends with his fallen human nature, with original sin… with the “old Adam” that loves evil and remains in part until death…

At the same time, what Kristen does is simply create a new kind of dualism. Redefining the meaning of the biblical term grace, she says “If there is one practical idea that encapsulates grace, it’s the belief that people are doing the best they can with what they have.”

Is that what grace is?

This not only makes grace contingent on what one does, but into something that we, not God, defines…[viii]

Kristen is wrong on several counts here. First of all, if the third chapter of the book of Romans tells us anything, it is that people do not strive to love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind….

Nor do they even tend to wrestle with the fact that this is the primary think they should be doing….

Writing of societies that were purportedly Christian G. K. Chesterton quipped, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried…”

If Kristen really believes that grace means “people are doing the best they can with what they have,” what will she and those she identifies with do when the going gets really tough and she no longer feels she can say this about someone?

Don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing to believe that our views of good and evil should be intelligent and even nuanced to some degree – even if ultimately, it is only those covered with Christ’s robe of righteousness that God will call “good”.

In like fashion, it is not a bad thing to believe, as one said, “that everyone is fighting a hard battle” and to let such a though spur one on to compassion…

At the same time, we dare not forget that the love of God is otherworldly.

It is, again, “love to the [absolutely] loveless shown, that they might lovely be…”

Jesus came not for the healthy – that is, those who are doing their best – He came for the sick…. For the loveless sinners.[ix]

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Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?

Can you give a reason for the hope that is within you?

My dear Christians – you better believe this is important!

Be exhorted by Luther:

“Truly, you cannot read Scripture too much; and what you read, you cannot understand too well; and what you understand, you cannot teach too well; and what you can teach, you cannot live too well.”

First, here, God calls out to you: “Come out and be separate!” Be with me. Spend time with me…

I know we ultimately want to be appreciated by the people around us. We do not want to be ashamed… Socially shamed.

But, above all, we should be more concerned about bringing shame upon our God, and dishonoring Him…

Because He – in spite of the fact that even we who believe just do not understand Him very well! – is the Source of all the love, light, and life that we have ever known and delighted in….[x]

“Help us tell all the world we belong?”

Jesus says:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place…”

Let’s look take a closer look at this passage from Jude:

“… show mercy with fear—hating even the clothing, or garment, stained by corrupted flesh.”

Here both garment and flesh are figurative in this context, evoking memories of the symbolic actions, items, and realities of Old and New Testaments we have already discussed….

Martin Franzmann also points out that even today though there is relevance: “[t]he garment spotted by the flesh is a strong expression to indicate that even the slightest contact [with these], even an apparently external contact, is to be avoided.”

We need to be honest. Many in the world look at Christianity and find this to be the case with it. Christianity is “stained” itself, or as they say today “toxic”…[xi]

They hate that the Scriptures say:

 “….Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
    holiness adorns your house
    for endless days…”

Yes, the message of the cross certainly confuses and offends the world! At the same time, with its persistent insistence on things natural law, orders of creation, hierarchy, and natural marriage and family. Christianity today is seen as the modern equivalent of “unclean”!

And yet, it is in fact the Christian faith that ultimately helps us escape the toxic… unclean world!

That, in fact, is what Jude is talking about here: deliverance from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Deliverance from these things in fact and deliverance from their influence, power….

As Christians, we should certainly know that all of us are sinners. And at the same time, we need to also remember what Paul wrote to Timothy:

“…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

The external is important… What is happening around us is important. You should not only be concerned about your own fallen flesh, your own sinful nature… but also remember that the Scriptures also teach that bad company corrupts good character….

In other words, while we are all sinners, we can also get caught up in sinful currents more and more, and really go from bad to worse. Men can grow more and more evil – where they, for example, assert that there is no God ; or call evil good and good evil ; or are not even able to detect their sin…

Quite honestly I feel like many of the theologians of the church have evidently become far less concerned – or even aware – of these important truths…

Jude, however, is well aware of this.[xii]

And so he first of all calls out to us in our reading today to “Be merciful to those who doubt” and to “save others by snatching them from the fire”

I am not sure if we can say Jude gives us some sort of definitive taxonomy for dealing with those mired in unbelief (two or three categories!), but I do think that we can see at least three important stages here that we should be aware of…

And these first two groups are composed of members of the church who are filled with doubts or worse. The former are to be gently persuaded while more forceful action might be required for the latter, pulling them back from the rim of the volcano, so to speak, as they “play with fire…”[xiii]

And then he speaks of a third group, saying: “to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

This category of people seems to be more confrontational, antagonistic, and bellicose… These folks seem to be the libertine heretics Jude spoke of in verse 8 of his letter. They “defile flesh” as their influence on the congregation corrupts…

Again, it likely includes the false teachers described earlier in the book. And yet, Jude speaks of quarantine the contaminating deeds of those so polluted while also showing them mercy…[xiv] The Africa Bible Commentary puts it well:

“As we engage in the rescue operation, we must be vigilant not to be corrupted by the flesh. Cases about where sincere counsellors have been carried away by their concern for those they counsel, and have ended up forfeiting their faith and sinking with them. Jude says: Don’t compromise! We should have contact without contamination.”[xv]

Again, Jesus came not for the healthy – that is, those who are doing their best – He came for the sick…. For the sinners.

So remember your rescue operation.

So when it says….

 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]

    and “every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him”;

    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”

So shall it be! Amen.”

We know that some will mourn because of their loss, because the great delusion they were under will be revealed to them…

But our mourning – not only because of our realization of how little we loved Him on earth as could have… but for the loss of all those who turned away from Jesus…

…Will be turned into dancing!

As we experience the new heavens and the new earth! No eye has seen, no ear has heard, what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him!

To say the least, as the baptized[xvi] stand with their King, the negative chaos, death, disorder, deformity, and uncleanness will give way to the positive, God, life, order, normality and cleanness, in the ultimate sense!

Because of the blood of the Lamb of God which definitively deals with all of our uncleanness!

Covering us with the pure and white robes won for us in His death and resurrection!

So brothers and sisters, come out and be separate…

Amen.


[i] November 2021 sermon, last Sunday of the church year: (used Isaiah, Jude, Mark readings)

[ii] The passage is summed up by saying: “These are the regulations concerning defiling molds in woolen or linen clothing, woven or knitted material, or any leather article, for pronouncing them clean or unclean….”

[iii] We need to see that the Apostle Paul makes a distinction between what has been called the “ceremonial law” or “ceremonial practices” (Eph. 2:14-15, Acts 10:9-16, Col. 2:16-17) and what has been called the “moral law” (Rom. 13:8-10, James 2:8, Rom. 2:15, Matt. 5:17-19).

While the whole of the law has been fulfilled on our behalf in Christ (Rom. 10:4) – that it may now be fulfilled in the Christian’s own body (Rom. 8:4) – when Paul talks about the law being abolished, in Ephesians 2:14-15 for example, he is referring to these “shadows” we have been speaking of…

[iv] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2021/11/polarization-within-polarizations/

[v] http://orlc.worthyofpraise.org/songs/brothersnsistersinchrist.htm

[vi] Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently speaking at a “Green Pass” protest in Italy said: “It’s clearly an instrument for controlling the money supply, controlling individual movements, controlling our kind of new digitalized economy, that gives these totalitarian elements the capacity to control every aspect, every feature of our lives, and the green pass is the emblem of that.”

[vii] From our Gospel reading: “28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

[viii] Therefore she writes: “Maya Angelou said, ‘You did . . . what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better[,]’” [and so, Powers goes on to say “]Grace tills the ground so that peace, wholeness, and completeness can take root in our burdened bodies, relationships, and the world.[“]

She writes elsewhere: “True grace is otherworldly. It goes against every instinct we have to seek revenge for wrongs or to shame and humiliate people who have acted immorally or unethically. It is what the theologian Dorothee Sölle, who grew up in Nazi Germany, called “borrow[ing] the eyes of God.” It enables us to see the divinity in every person, no matter what they’ve done, what they believe, or who they voted for. Grace is giving other people space to not be you.”

[ix] So you too can see all as someone God dearly loves – as one who was bought by the blood of Christ…

Using your “Christ glasses,” you too can see them as one loved by God and who God means for them to be… who they can be in Him…

[x] I came across this recently, in a review of Eric Metaxas’ new book:

“Eric Metaxas reminds us that despairing atheists have another option than suicide. That option is only foreclosed to those who have closed their minds and hearts. At a time when so many are succumbing to despair, Metaxas reminds us that hope remains in Jesus:

You get to be a part of giving others genuine hope in the genuine God who is the author of life and hope and goodness and truth and beauty. It is what you were created to do, but perhaps until now you didn’t understand this as you do now. That only means that you can now live as the one who made you made you to live. You can begin now. And this is not merely a poetic or a nice idea; it is true. The God of the universe wants you to spread goodness and truth and beauty wherever you go, to his glory. There are people whose lives you will touch, whether you know it or not. So now you know. Have we missed anything? (p.397)”

[xi] Related: https://religionnews.com/2021/11/16/in-catholic-italy-de-baptism-is-gaining-popularity/

[xii] To be sure, Jude, with his relentless focus on “the ungodly and their works of darkness” (Concordia Self-Study Bible), comes off as a bit of a downer to many modern Christians.

Now, it is true, right at the beginning and also at the end of the book, we hear some very beautiful and encouraging stuff, but other than that, Jude might strike us as an angry scold of sorts, just eager to pile on words of condemnation for awful unbelievers.

The Lutheran Study Bible, however, help us better understand the seriousness of the issue and helps us to see the practicality of the book even for us today…

“Jude warns his fellow Christians that false teachers behave ‘like unreasoning animals’ (v 10). They are instinctively driven to what is wrong and destructive. Jude uses numerous examples from the OT, Jewish literature, and the prophecies of the apostles to illustrate his warning. He admonishes his readers to rescue those entrapped by the ungodly (vv 22-23).” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2187)

Do you see yourself as trying to help the ungodly escape the snares of the devil?

Jude says, you should… And he is right.

So, knowing this firmly, “knowing the One whom we have believed,” (see Barfield, Newbigin, often….) be built up in our most holy faith and consider this excerpt from the writing of our Lord Jesus’ dear brother, Jude….

[xiii] Those described here would be people who have possibly even lost their faith but still continue to identify with it in some way. Perhaps they still attend the congregation externally even as they deny Christ in word and deed…

Curtis Giese: “…this describes a forceful act of rescue… where the person who is being rescued from the fire might be reluctant or even hostile to the rescuers….”

Perhaps we can think of this person as being like Lot, from the story of Sodom where God destroys that city because of their sins (see Jude 7).

The fire from which we are to snatch them is “the fire of God’s judgment that is threatening to destroy them.” (Franzmann)

From a Biblehub.com commentary: “Pulling them out of the fire.—Better, snatching them out of the fire. We have here another reminiscence of Zechariah 3:1-3 : we had one in Jude 1:9. (Comp. Amos 4:11.) The fire of the judgment to come is probably not meant; rather the imminent danger (as of one who is asleep in a burning house) in which the fire of their sins keeps them. This is the second class: those who can still be rescued, but by strong measures….”

Barnes Notes on the Bible, from Biblehub.com: “Pulling them out of the fire – As you would snatch persons out of the fire; or as you would seize on a person that was walking into a volcano. Then, a man would not use the mild and gentle language of persuasion, but by word and gesture show that he was deeply in earnest….”

Clement of Alexandria understood “the fire” here to have to do with sexual passion and indulgence.

On the brink, people who are right on the edge and need to be snatched back before fall into it… (see Matt 18:15-17; Luke 17:3; Gal 6:1,2; 2 Thess 3:15; I Tim 5:20; Titus 3:10; Jas 5:19-20)

[xiv] Barnes Notes on the Bible, Biblehub.com, adds this helpful comment:

“Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh – The allusion here is not quite certain, though the idea which the apostle meant to convey is not difficult to be understood. By “the garment spotted by the flesh” there may be an allusion to a garment worn by one who had had the plague, or some offensive disease which might be communicated to others by touching even the clothing which they had worn. Or there may be an allusion to the ceremonial law of Moses, by which all those who came in contact with dead bodies were regarded as unclean, Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 19:11. Or there may be an allusion to the case mentioned in Leviticus 15:4, Leviticus 15:10, Leviticus 15:17; or perhaps to a case of leprosy. In all such instances, there would be the idea that the thing referred to by which the garment had been spotted was polluting, contagious, or loathsome, and that it was proper not even to touch such a garment, or to come in contact with it in any way.

To something of this kind the apostle compares the sins of the persons here referred to. While the utmost effort was to be made to save them, they were in no way to partake of their sins; their conduct was to be regarded as loathsome and contagious; and those who attempted to save them were to take every precaution to preserve their own purity. There is much wisdom in this counsel. While we endeavor to save the “sinner,” we cannot too deeply loathe his “sins;” and in approaching some classes of sinners there is need of as much care to avoid being defiled by them, as there would be to escape the plague if we had any transaction with one who had it. Not a few have been deeply corrupted in their attempts to reform the polluted. There never could be, for example, too much circumspection and prayer for personal safety from pollution, in attempting to reform licentious and abandoned females. ]”

What else is going on with these clothes? Zechariah 3:1-5 helps:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by….

This above passage gives us hope for their salvation, even if it seems unlikely….

The garment here is called a tunic, that is an undergarment, and so it is the first item to become discolored and filthy from the sinful flesh or nature… It is to be despised… (see Leviticus 13:47-59 and Leviticus 15)

Note also Isaiah 64:5, Amos 4:11-12, Num. 16:1-35; Ps. 106:17-18

[xv] Giese: “Even in the case of severe and contagious defilement, Jude still encourages the beloved to seek to bring such polluting people back to the communion of saints,” yet with extreme caution.

[xvi] Say I am baptized!

Do not forget the “previous cleansing of [your] sins” (2 Pet 1:9) but put off the spotted and soiled garment of your sinful nature and return to your baptism…

Be clothed in Christ and put on the new purified self, created in Christ, l like a new baptismal garment (Giese)

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

My Short Review of Mollie Hemingway’s New Book “Rigged”

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People who follow this blog regularly will be aware that I have written a number of posts about the 2020 elections in the United States of America. Here is a rundown of those posts:

The latest:

Why should this issue matter to Christians? Well, read Luke 12:2 and Isaiah 29:15 and ponder their relation to real justice.

Going along with these posts, I have now written a short book review of Mollie Hemingway’s new book. You can click on the tweet here and read it: https://twitter.com/NathanRinne/status/1456576857176956933

For those of you who’d like to talk more about this, go to my Facebook post here promoting my “tweetstorm” and pitch in: https://www.facebook.com/nathan.rinne.5/posts/1987790458059433

FIN

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

New Master Time: Escaping Satan’s Squid Game

Is Satan playing the game of life for every soul?*

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“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

— John 8:34b, 35

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The question that Jesus confronts us here is really whose slave will you be?

Or better: Who will be your Master?

When I read this passage, the word “slave” really sticks out to me.

I think about the weight and significance of that word.

Maybe you do too.

What do you know about slavery?

Perhaps over the years you have learned a good deal about the topic as it existed on our own shores here in America…

Maybe you learned a bit about this topic in school, or you saw the movie Roots many years ago… or the movie 12 Years a Slave more recently, and perhaps these acclaimed films made an impression on you.

And I recall watching the 1997 movie Amistad years ago when I was teaching over in Slovakia. I remember being horrified at one point in the film where “with food running low on the ship, the weaker captives are chained together and thrown over the side to drown so that more food will be left for the rest…”[i]

Shocked as I was then at the scene, at this point in my life I would hardly be surprised if it really was based on true events…

And even though it was not like the American form of slavery which was race-based, slavery in ancient Rome, for example, was nevertheless brutal in its own way, enslaving conquered peoples and the poor and the weak with little if any discrimination.  

And did you know it is estimated that up to ⅓ of the Roman population may have been slaves, with many slaves, in fact, being owned by other slaves?

But things get crazier still. In the ancient world cruelty was everywhere. Large-scale massacres or genocides, for example, were not really a moral issue, at least in the sense that any conqueror felt he should defend his behavior rather than celebrate it!

It is not surprise then that harsh forms of slavery were literally everywhere also.

Even in “civilized” Rome the father of the “pater-familias”, exercising his patria postestas, could ultimately control whether his own wife or children died

…and so you can be sure the same held true for his slaves…[ii]

Now… maybe you wonder about all the times the Bible talks about slavery…

Why did the Apostle Paul, and evidently God himself, permit it?

Have you seen how Paul writes his letters, addressing both masters and slaves? And urging the former to treat his slaves well, and for the latter to submit?

Many professing Christians have vigorously defended slavery without any real sensitivity to nuance over the years – and not just European men, by the way[iii]not seeing it as that significant, for example, that the Apostle Paul really does seem to want Philemon to free his slave Onesimus.

They also seem to have not thought it was that important that the early Christians were well-known for buying slaves and freeing them.

So, what should we say if someone asks us the following?:

“Why does Scripture… repeatedly command slaves to obey their masters if… slavery is morally impermissible?”

I’d say this: “Perhaps because Scripture advocates radical but not [politically] revolutionary activities?”

And then I’d say this:

We are taught by Jesus to do unto others what we would want them to do us. We are told by Paul to not make ourselves slaves to men, and even to gain our freedom if we can (see I Cor. 7:21,23). Would you at least agree that most everyone today values political freedom such that they would not want to be slaves of men, and if they were, they’d rather be bought and then freed?”

I think about all of those things and more when I think of the word slavery…

Also, especially, I think about how God certainly never saw slavery as something desirable for his own people Israel, saying in Leviticus 25: 39-42:

“‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves” (see also Exodus 21:2).

This, we are told by the Bible historian William Barclay, became “a fundamental article of [the Jew’s] creed of life.”

The Jews knew that they might end up being slaves in their bodies for a short time – but they would not be in their spirits, and would keep fighting against those who would keep them down!

The Jewish historian Josephus, living in Jesus’ time, supports this analysis, and often wrote of his countrymen and their numerous insurrections and rebellions.

He said, for instance: “They have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and they say that God is to be their only ruler and Lord” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18: I.6, in Barclay, Daily Study Bible, John, v. 2, 26).

So the Jews in our Gospel text today might well be asserting that they, fundamentally, have not lost their identity!

They have not become one with the pagans around them; without their God and without hope!

They are the seed of Abraham!

For, as Barclay puts it, “even to suggest to a Jew that he might be regarded as a slave was a deadly insult.” (Barclay, 27)

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And today we, like the Jews of Jesus’ day, recoil at being made a slave.

Unreasonable!

It doesn’t matter to us that the reality of slavery has been with us since the earliest of days! That there are few exceptions to this rule throughout human history…

Being in such a state is not to be countenanced! Never.

I’ll tell you about another kind of slavery though that we are not nearly as concerned about….

I am a relatively frequent email correspondent with an American man who, after being a blue-collar worker for many years, achieved his goal of becoming an accomplished academic librarian, and he recently retired after serving as the director of an academic library in Rome.

We were talking about money and economics a bit recently, and he said something I’ll never forget…

Before I tell you what he told me however, listen to what a man named Dale Martin writes in his book “Slavery as Salvation The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity”

“[I] wonder if any slave who was advancing in ancient society would seriously have entertained [the question as to whether a slave was ‘really’ a person or was a piece of property] since access to wealth and power was the name of the game in antiquity, and legal self-sale could quickly bring both to a slave in the form of a huge cash payment (read ‘working capital’) and access to the kind of managerial duties that the new owner would require of such slaves in his household. It was always possible that, if affairs went well, self-sold slaves could buy themselves back from slavery before too long.”]

Maybe when we hear about slaves in Rome being considered non-persons – and the abject lack of rights that came along with this designation – we have a really hard time understanding that in some cases, selling one’s self as a slave to a wealthy and decent master was also a means of social mobility: again, a way to come into cash, wealth, and power, which again, we are told was “the “name of the game in antiquity”…

Now, the promised quote from my friend in modern Rome:

“For the last few weeks a part from an online interview that took place not long after 9/11 has been in my thoughts. I haven’t been able to find it but it was an interview with one of those high-powered stock traders. He worked, I think, in Chicago, or maybe he was in New York City but he was not close to the Twin Towers. He said that he, and the other traders he worked with, watched the Twin Towers go down on TV (or out the window, I cannot remember) and he asked: “What do you think went through my head at that moment?” And he answered, “I was thinking: How is this going to affect the markets? What will be the best ways to take advantage of all of this?” He discovered that all of the other traders were thinking exactly the same thing at the time of that terrible destruction and death.

He was appalled at his own behavior, and said that it was a kind of sickness that had taken over the entire financial sector.”

So do you want to talk about slavery?

Well, what kind of slavery is this? That people’s desires could become so warped, so twisted, horrifies not only Christians, I am sure, but even many an unbeliever the world over.

Things were similar in Luther’s day. The concern for worldly wealth was driving large parts of the Church’s leadership. You probably remember that there was an indulgence preacher – Johann Tetzel – who had come near Luther’s town saying things like “When the coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs.”

Here is a good summary of why that is happening:

“The occasion for [Tetzel’s] preaching of indulgences near Wittenberg was Pope Leo X’s commissioning of their sale for Albrecht of Mainz. Albrecht was already bishop of the diocese of Magdeburg, but sought a second see in Mainz. In order to pay the fines levied for his pluralism (occupation of a second bishopric), Albrecht obtained a sizeable loan from the Fugger bankers in Augsburg. Leo X authorized the sale of indulgences to repay the loan to the Fuggers and help subsidize the rebuilding of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. The pope published a 1515 bull commissioning the sale and Tetzel—prior in Leipzig since 1509—was conscripted to preach it…”[iv]

Two of the reasons that people say they avoid church these days is that the church is full of hypocrites and is always asking for money…

In Luther’s commentary on John chapter 8, our text for today, we also see similar concerns.

Luther says that when the Jews feel insulted by Jesus here and say “We are not slaves; we are free, for we are Abraham’s seed….” they were essentially saying “….Abraham’s seed has the promise of God to be the head, yes, not the tail but the head (Deut. 28:13), which is to soar above the world and not cower on the ground…” (397, LW 23)

In other words, the Jews, he says, were abusing and misusing God’s promises, making them all about temporal things. They were not concerned about having eternal life with God: how to have their sins forgiven, and how to be free from them.

Rather, it was all about the identity they had apart from Jesus’ interference! They were who they were by birth and what they did, and God would bless them with the high status they deserved….

Luther goes on to compare them to the pope and his bishops of his day who, “whenever they do something good… are motivated by a selfish ambition for honor, money, and goods… Their one concern is honor and wealth…might, and pleasures…” (402)

In other words, Luther was saying that in Jesus’ day as in his people were using Christianity to be successful in the world, gaining worldly treasures.

And yet, if the Christian faith is not focused on delivering these things but rather deliverance from sin, death, and the devil – and it is – will those who believe that it is about worldly success and pleasures want to hold on to it – particularly when suffering and/or persecution comes at them fast and furiously?

Or will the Christian faith be left behind, where not even any of the desirable “external trappings” of the church are wanted, but other external things become all we care about?

While all of life’s riches and pleasures are not necessarily sinful in themselves, we nevertheless sinfully misuse them and can be led even deeper into sin, complacency, and a fatal lack of poverty of spirit….

And for this, judgement comes…

Looking at Revelation 18:13, a few chapters after learning about how by gaining the “Mark of the Beast” men and women will be able to buy and sell… to participate in the economic activity of the world… the Apostle John combines our dual issues of slavery and wealth here, saying the following about the “one great hour” where all Babylon’s riches will “come to nothing”:

“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over [fallen Babylon] because no one buys their cargoes anymore— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves….”

Or, as the King James Version puts it more accurately to the Greek: “…and slaves, and souls of men….”

In the worst conditions, this meant being “sold at auction as human livestock for domestic service, prostitution, and gladiatorial amusements…” (Orthodox Study Bible, 624).

Talk about illicit economic activity you don’t want to support…. Did you know that often the same kind of thing happens today as well?

In poor countries, many parents are desperate enough to sell their children, and these children often end up in brothels, serving as prostitutes or sex slaves…

Perhaps closer to home, many of our smart phones we use and the chocolate we eat, for example, are produced in no small part through the use of slave labor.

As my friend from Rome put it “If people claim to be against slavery, why do they focus on what happened a couple of hundred years ago and not what is happening right under their noses?”

Even if we don’t really see ourselves as complicit in such a system – not seeing many possible alternatives before us (we all need smart phones don’t we?) – can we at least admit it would be good thing if there was a better way?

One wonders: just like the women who sees her baby via the ultrasound and begins to think she should keep it, might we, upon seeing and knowing one of these workers, think twice about our own more distant involvement with them?

+++

In any case, we have spoken here about two pictures… two kinds of slavery.

One is the common picture of slavery: the one which has often been imposed on others throughout world history but sometimes has also been entered into “voluntarily”… yet also out of a sense of economic necessity… like in the contemporary Netflix special Squid Game

The other is this new picture we have now introduced, where men and women enslaved to their own passions for money, wealth, status… their own personal comfort and even luxury, are willing to make Mammon their God and to make men and women their slaves, formally or informally, in the process….

Maybe even to create even new “black” and “white” categories, “in” and “out” groups, in order to aid them in their goals….

The world will treat you like a mere number, dispose of you, or at the very least make it clear to you where you stand vis a vis their social circles…

Perhaps in the coming world of social credit systems and passport systems, as you arrive at this or that destination, for example, Big Data will let you know that “Your recent Amazon purchases, Facebook score, church attendance, and location history make you 23.5% welcome here…” and you won’t make the cut-off. 

You will be left behind to fend for yourself…

Perhaps your family, if you are blessed, and a few friends, if you are blessed, will fight for you.

Even many clear-eyed unbelievers – at least those who perhaps know world history better than your average bear and doggedly don’t forget it even if surrounded by pressure to do so – can see this…

Everything we have talked about so far tells us a lot about human nature and how fallen we are….

The real slavery, however is far worse than even this….The thing is, we have just touched the surface: there is an even worse kind of slavery that Jesus is getting at here…

Covetousness.

You might wonder about this – how does “coveting,” that is, the desire to take what does not belong to you – rate when compared with things like murder, adultery, stealing, and slandering, for example?

Why is it in the 10 commandments?

In fact, based on the way that the Lutherans and Roman Catholics number the 10 “words” that appear unnumbered in Exodus 20, there are not just one but two commandments against coveting: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house,” that is, his property, and “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass (that is, your neighbor’s relationships, with other people and animals!), nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.” 

What is really interesting about coveting is that it has to do with the second half of the 10 commandments, the second table of the commandments that deal with how we are to treat our neighbor. And yet, the other commandments here are external actions. How does coveting really hurt my neighbor? What is the harm?

Well, here we remember what Jesus says about murder and adultery. Even hating your neighbor, or even lusting for one who is not your wife, is a violation of God’s law. The heart matters as well. Not just external actions but what is stirring inside internally as well…

And this does make some sense even to non-Christians, right — even if Jesus might seem like He is being overly harsh… After all, certainly, before I steal my neighbor’s property I have coveted it… before I commit adultery I have coveted the woman who is not my wife…. 

But the rubber really hits the road when we hear what the Apostle Paul has to say about the matter in Col. 3:5: “Covetousness is idolatry….”

What this means is that the last commandments of the 10 commandments and the first ones as well both have to do with idolatry, one from the aspect of our relationship with God — the first commandment — and one from the aspect of our relationship with our neighbor — the last two commandments.

In other words, the 10 commandments come full circle! There is quite the symmetry here! It is like the 10 commandments — which yes, largely deal with external actions — are bookended by the ones that deal with the internal realities…

But how is coveting idolatry? The Christian commentator Gene Veith, whose own pastor taught him about this topic in a sermon, says

“To sinfully desire what your neighbor has is to be discontented with what God has given you. It is thus a failure to ‘fear, love and trust in God above all things,’ in the words of the Catechism, which is also what it means to violate the first commandment! Both have to do with the lack of faith.”

In other words, coveting is simply unbelief.

This diagnoses the sinful condition of man like nothing else!

If we simply kept the first commandment and had no other gods but the God of the Bible, everything else would take care of itself. As Luther’s Large Catechism puts it: “where the heart is rightly disposed towards God, and this first commandment is observed, all the others follow….”[v]

And yet, this is the condition of sin… sinful man cannot keep these commandments…

Mankind is truly in bondage here, and we cannot free ourselves.

Here, our own strength, our own powers, our own choices, our own decision, our own reason…. are of no avail!

+++

As Romans 3 puts it: the law condemns each and every man and woman on earth, and shuts us all up before God.

Be silent before the only One who is Good!

So, what are all people, what are all those who were born of a woman, born into sin… the whole world over… to do?

As Paul puts it, speaking even for Christians who will always continue to struggle… who will save us from this body of death?!

Who will protect us from one another and even our own selves?

Who will save us not only from corrupt economic and political powers who trade in our souls, but from the Deeper and more profound enemy of the devil – who is the Prince of this World – and  our own sin, and the “fruit” of death that it brings?

This is why we are Lutherans this Reformation Day, because we ask this question the Apostle Paul asked, even as every one claiming the name Christian should ask this question, and recite his answer:

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death…

Through Christ’s death on the cross and glorious resurrection God forgives us both our external and internal sins.

We are therefore no longer slaves to our passions, but His children who inherit His Spirit…

….and therefore in our renewed minds we gladly see the wisdom of, and uphold, His law — even being willing to say we are slaves to it! — as He gives us the pardon and power that we need!

“[A] slave has no permanent place in the family,” and I think that we can all get a sense of just how true this is…

“…but a son belongs to it forever….”

The Lifelong Loyalty and Hope that we are all looking for, the freedom from all earthly slavery, can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ!

We often forget this, don’t we?

“Father forgive [us], for we know not what [we] do…”

I’ll leave the final word today with Luther, from a sermon he gave on this same text:

“The Jews want to do the same thing [as the Pope and his bishops are doing] here. They say [to Christ]: “You carpenter’s apprentice, You beggar, You poor simpleton! You want to make us free? You claim that your words eclipse all our good works and our laws, making them to no effect. Therefore kill Him, kill Him! Burn Him, and crucify Him!” So it goes.

[It is a sublime sermon that we are saved only by faith in Christ]. The Holy Spirit presents and submits it to the children and to the simple-minded. Old fools like me learn this with great difficulty. Little children learn it best. Others learn this wisdom too well, assuming that when they have heard it once, they know it all. I, however, feel that I cannot understand it. St. Paul has the same complaint, saying that he would like to believe and accept this as the Word of God, but that in his flesh there is someone who wars against it and will not accept it (Rom. 7:18-19). Therefore, the central fact of this freedom [we have in Christ] must be proclaimed daily. Then the other freedom will surely follow. But if you want to begin with, and treat of, physical freedom, you will become so muddled and confused that you will lose both freedoms. You must bear this in mind. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Both hell and death are his masters. He cannot escape them. How, then, can I become free? Men answer: “[I do good works!] I will erect a chapel, endow an eternal Mass, go on pilgrimages, fast, become a monk, etc.” But Christ says: “…No, let Him who is called the Son of God deliver you from sin; then you will be free. If you give yourself to Him and let Him set you free, all is well. Otherwise everything will be vain and futile, no matter what else you do.” 

Amen


* The question asked in this video, which contains some rather compelling content: https://twitter.com/Saved_To_Serve/status/1452330888935706625

[i] https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/amistad-1997

[ii] Historically what human nature and history teaches us about social hierarchies and oppression is not encouraging or pretty…: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsmWI1TnfDA

The thing that stands out to me the most in that video is the lack of respect for the offspring of slaves in the ancient world (around 6 minutes and up), as the children of slave women took on the legal status of their mothers (see here too; and more excruciatingly painful detail can also be found in this old book: https://archive.org/details/dayinoldromepict00davi/page/n11/mode/2up)

The Christian theologian and historian John G. Nordling fills us in a bit on what things were like in the Ancient Rome in the days of Jesus and His Apostles. His 2004 commentary on Philemon in the Concordia Commentary series is also very shocking in this regard. In it, he writes about what we can really know about slavery in the Greco-Roman world, and it is not pretty (that 10 minute video shows just a bit of this). You can tell he did a lot of research on his topic (see 39-139 in the commentary). You can also listen to his 2009 Issues ETC interview where it is clear both he and Wilken get a bit uncomfortable talking about the topic (note that at the end, he almost seems like he might nevertheless wholly endorse the northern abolitionists and all their efforts, which I found very interesting given the information covered in the commentary).

Nordling See, esp. 52-56, 67 (fn 152)

Some clips:

Page 52:

“…none of the slaves [of the ancient world]… had any ‘personhood’ whatsoever…

However, we may wonder whether the subordinates were ever much bothered by such modern scruples. We would be quite mistaken, for example, if we were to think that Roman fathers routinely put their children to death just because they had the power to do so!”

It is true that for some at least, slavery was a means of “upward mobility” (in various ways) in the ancient world. Bradly, author of Slavery and Society in Rome even states that “no occupation in Roman society was closed to slaves,” except something like military service (quoted in Nordling, 130). Nevertheless, legally these were non-persons. On page 63 of Nordling’s commentary we read:

 “…Gal 2:26. Already at this point in his argument, Paul anticipated Gal 4:1-7, wherein he would elaborate on how a son in Greco-Roman society under patria potestas was as much a [legal] ‘non-person’ in the sight of the law as were slaves and other disenfranchised members of the household.”

“Those subject to [patria potestas, ‘the father’s authority’] could have no property of their own, and their lives were almost wholly controlled by their pater-familias” (Crook, Law and Life of Rome, 107, quoted in Nordling, 63, fn 135.

Yes, we know that slavery in Rome was not race-based (at least explicitly so…) and that again, it also seems to have had – at least for some – real opportunities for upward mobility and even freedom for those who sold themselves into slavery.

Still it is difficult for many of us to fathom a world like this, where one human being can in fact essentially be the absolute property of another. Not only this, but if the master gave one of his slaves a wife, then their children, also, became the master’s property.

[iii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-53444752

[iv] https://reformation500.csl.edu/bio/johannes-tetzel/

[v] Content for this part of the sermon largely lifted from this excellent blog post by Gene Veith: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2020/08/the-problem-with-coveting/

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Mammon vs. Earth as it is in Heaven

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“[You will] receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:30

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Just like the story about the rich young ruler, which occurs right before this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus challenges us greatly here.

First and foremost, let us recognize this:

Even as God knew the rich young ruler loved his riches more than God – and reveals this to us for our sakes[i] — those who are rich can indeed enter the Kingdom of God.

With our Lord Jesus Christ, the camel can pass through the eye of the needle.

Flesh and blood – and worldly wealth – cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but the Holy Spirit can give birth to the truly spiritual… that which will live and reign forever.

For what is impossible with man, is possible with God.

In fact, it is by the amazing grace of God that not only are the rich saved but any of us!

And also, it is by the grace of God than any man possesses any wealth whatsoever!

For example, it is ultimately by the grace of God, the unearned goodness of God, that a man is able to, as the author of Proverbs says, be the kind of good person that leaves an inheritance not only for his children, but his children’s children, while we hear that the “sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous…” (Proverbs 13:22).

And, to emphasize this, we also saw in the Ecclesiastes reading this morning that Solomon likewise laments over the “grievous evil”[!] of children not inheriting their parent’s wealth…[ii]

So, the rich can enter heaven… And property, wealth for one and one’s children’s children…

…is good!

With some of that potential confusion out of the way, what else to say?

Well there is indeed more to say, for nothing on earth is more precarious to us than earthly riches!

You might recall the story in Luke chapter 12, where a man in the crowd says to Jesus:

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

But Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed Me judge or executor between you?”

And He said to [the crowd],

“Watch out! Guard yourselves against every form of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

+++

But what does Jesus know?

He hadn’t directly experienced the 20th century “science” of economics after all… [sarcastically]

And the Jews of Jesus’ day also might have been inclined to question this teacher…

After all, they believed that wealth and riches also were a clear sign of blessing from God and favor with Him.  

The focus for them, however, was not really on the grace of God, on how God pours out His gifts among all men in this or that quantity… and how He gives to us the blessings that we have apart from any merit or goodness or power on our part…

Instead, for the Jews, these things showed not only God’s acknowledgement of their eternal salvation, but His acknowledgement of one’s relatively higher goodness, status, and importance on earth…

And, truth be told, how wrong is this really? This is, after all, a pretty common view among people the world over! (and do note Deut. 28:1-14; Job 1:10; 42:10; Ps. 128:1-2; Isa. 3:10, Sir. 11:17; Pro. 10:22).

And we notice this. Because, all of us, after all, want to succeed in the world!

Even if there are bad ways to try this, we have already heard that it is a good thing, for example, to be able to leave your children’s children an inheritance…

And here, generally speaking, we all know something: general morality, character, virtue, and worldly wisdom can help a person to succeed in the world…

Those who don’t seek these things at least pretend they do… to at least some people… for a reason…

Again, don’t relatively wise persons know that when it comes to the human animal, it is not just raw power or brains or wiles but character, part of that being legitimate self-concern, which can create success, thriving, flourishing? [iii]

That said… when we think of these things…. how quickly our minds go to something else!

That money, money, money[!] again!

I mean, money – some kind of liquid currency – sure could help this process, right? [iv]

Well, you have probably heard many a story of the anxieties of those who are rich…

About the miseries of those who have wealth….

About the worries and challenges they face…

Ecclesiastes does indeed raise some good points!

It seems that even if there is a man blessed such that he has both much in the world and is also constantly filled with earthly joy, the temptations that mammon causes – and the spiritual implications of this – are indeed dire.

As the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther put it, “when you have money, you will easily despise the god whom you also have…”

Money hides God from a man… (What Luther Says, 975)

So is it wrong to seek knowledge of these things?

To be aware of the way the world uses money, its relative importance in the world, and to use it?

Not at all.

For a good steward will indeed eagerly learn here.

Proverbs 30 sums up things nicely, speaking of a “sweet spot,” so to speak:

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8,9)

+++

Good advice.

The world, however, is loath to embrace this advice… this moderation… (perhaps many of us Americans feel that “moderation is a foolish French thing!”).

And so it rushes headlong into the pursuit of greater wealth and riches!

As one put it “Riches grip the heart like few other things…”[v]

The truth is that more often than not, riches produce a real kind of slavery…

And this is not the way things are meant to be.

What should happen is that all of us should be given to hospitality, to generosity, to eagerness to share the love of God with one and all

After all, isn’t that what the Last Day, at the Last Judgment, is supposed to be all about?

What kind of picture do we see before the Judgement seat of God when Christ returns on earth?

Well, regarding the final judgment, Christians will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes.

That said, prior to the final judgment, Christians of course were to judge as God judges: eager to show mercy to all – showing both pity in the form of physical assistance and the forgiveness of God Himself through Christ…

First to the believer and then to many a blessed unbeliever…[vi]

And then we also see in the final judgment how God recognizes this generosity before the eyes of the whole world as all are judged…

And we see that God’s people, like He Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace….

But like the Proverb about neither having too much nor too little… so that God’s law is broken in neither one way nor the other… this kind of thing often seems far from even us Christians…

…this picture… this image… is not one of the foremost things in our minds….

For our minds are, to a large part, not captive to the Word of God but to great many other things.

And of course money… wealth… is one of those main things….

Even though modern economists will teach that we should not think that there is only so much bounty to go around…

…that we should not think that the pie is limited… that the pie of valuable resources cannot in fact grow…[vii]

…maybe even that it is not so much a lamentable thing that we must teach our children “buyer beware…”

…we nevertheless know that the vivid picture Luther provides us with is one we can all identify with and understand, and in fact condemn….

“For the strongest hog at the trough pushes the others away, as though it wanted to devour everything alone. Just so things go on in the world of today. Everybody goes his way in security and not only gives nothing but takes whatever he can possibly get.” (What Luther Says, 3063)

The third century church father Cyprian put it this way:

“They think that they possess, but they are possessed instead. They are the bond-slaves of their money, not the lords of their money. They are slaves of their profit.” (Dictionary… Early Christian Beliefs…, 543)[viii]

Some of our high-flying elites today even believe that their treasures and riches can fend off death itself!

It was only a few years ago that the artificial intelligence scientist Ray Kurzweil was featured in a Time magazine story whose cover proclaimed his Gospel: “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.”

You see? Man’s wealth, including the psychological capital, the social capital, the cultural capital, and the scientific capital which he can accrue, will conquer death.

Masters of the Universe! 

Why not? After all, when Martin Luther, 500 years ago, wrote that “money is a shameful, odious, impotent god who cannot even help one against an ulcer…” he was clearly wrong, at least in some circumstances, wasn’t he?

Clearly, Dr. Luther did not understand how the modern scientific and technological mindset and the free market could bring such blessings, and even lift all the boats in a rising tide!

Perhaps indeed, in some ways, it can. And hence, it has been easy for us to trust in such things!

And so Solomon’s wise warning in Proverbs – where he also teaches us to ask the Lord to give us only what we need – becomes even more important and relevant for the time in which we live…

+++

Again, riches are a most, most precarious thing…

The popular 20th century Lutheran theologian and Bible commentator R.C.H. Lenski put it this way:

“It is only too true that trust in riches is hard to destroy, hard to change into its opposite, trust in God’s saving grace.”

So again, riches are not salvation or synonymous with the same, but one of the greatest barriers of salvation…

As Jesus put it succinctly,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt 6:24)

With a focus on gaining the material things of life for ourselves, with a fear, love, and trust in things that are not our God…. we think don’t think of eternity and become ineffective vessels for our God.

If we are not growing spiritually, we are diminishing…

There is no neutral ground.

And if we are ourselves not among those who are completely spiritually dead, the old Adam who remains in all Christians nevertheless keeps fighting back, determined to make us spiritually poor under the guise of being “rich”….

If we say a man is rich, should that be put in scare quotes if he is rich with the world’s wealth – or God’s wealth, rich in the things of God?

If we must choose, surely the former! “Rich”, in quotes, when describing the world’s wealth… Mammon.

So fight on beloved brethren!

Guilty though each and every one of us might be of the sin of covetousness and greed, Christ has died for us, Christ forgives us even now through His blood on the cross, and gives us new life, a life that is truly life!

So say again with the Psalmist as we did earlier:

“I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches[!]”

And do not serve your riches, but put your riches and yourselves in service of Christ and the Gospel (Wicke, 145)!

Otherwise, heed the warning from the ancient Christian text, the Shepherd of Hermas:

“Those who are rich in this world cannot be useful to the Lord unless their riches are cut down…” (Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 541)

+++

When it comes to money, brothers and sisters, be flexible and fluid.

Our world today, however, wants to be flexible and fluid in a different way, doesn’t it?

This goes well beyond a colleague at work assuring us they are flexible…  

Now everything in our world screams for us to get Woke!

“Diversity,” in all things but thought it seems, is the name of the game.

And so let all the walls and borders come down!

Let all the distinctions disappear!

In our nation, “E Pluribus Unum,” out of the many one, takes on new meaning as the ocean is embraced.

“We need to be fluid,” we are told!

Embrace fluidity!:

Government and business merging!

Gender fluidity,

sexual fluidity,

national fluidity,

and religious fluidity…

Not to mention the fluidity of this or that definition which we’ll change on you without making sure you are notified…

On the contrary, the Lord wants some honesty here… and stability with all those things!

The Lord wants us to embrace His created order!

In the ancient world, the sea was feared because sailors knew it was chaotic and frightening. There was no stability there… little sense of any permanence. Men and women knew this in their bones. This is why a great Gospel hymn like “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me…” became so popular only around 150 years ago….

So, what in the world is the appeal of this Brave New World?

Well, perhaps something is even more frightening than the sea….

The fear of rejection, perhaps?

And so here, I submit, in spite of the horrifyingly wrong beliefs, we see the desire for acceptance… for salvation… and the passion to earn it.

+++

But this must fail. For all people must flee the temptation that salvation can be earned by us.

There is no fortune… or family for that matter…. that we can leave to earn God’s salvation.

On the contrary, if anyone could ever “earn salvation” that person must be the Lord Jesus Christ!

He is the One who had no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58) and who left His family (3:21, 31-34; Jn. 7:3-5) – including suffering “the ultimate loss of relationship as He was forsaken by His Father while on the cross” for our sin (Mk 15:34)” (Paavola, 187)!

“Flesh gives birth to flesh…” (John 3) flesh inherits flesh…

Only the Truly Spiritual One can bring life (I Cor. 15:45)….

On earth bonds of blood might be strong bonds of belonging, but the bonds of belonging created in Christ’s people will last into eternity…

Nevertheless bonds of blood are important for us all, they are a foundation of sorts….

And this makes sense, for insofar as it concerns us on earth, the Apostle Paul tells us that “[t]he spiritual [does] not [come] first, but the natural [first], and then the spiritual (I Cor. 15:46).

Jesus says one of the benefits or rewards of being a Christian is gaining a new family, a family that is superior to, but not wholly unlike the natural family we have known…

Again, He means for this realization, this connection, to be normal for us, natural for us – that is, to understand that the fellowship of family is our greatest natural need on earth – and also that we understand the things that naturally make this the case:

-the sexual relations meant to occur within marriage,

-the children that are born within…

-the mothers and fathers produced as that happens…

-the identities of male and female recognized in the process…

All these things which are being continually undermined now!

NO!

NO!

People need this family. People need this identity. People need this belonging. People need this specific kind of group. Real Family.

It is has always been this way, but now the lack that many know is glaring, and as the Christian sociologist Mary Eberstadt says, there are “primal screams”…

Screams of pain because of the loss. People need family, are desperate for belonging, and Jesus Christ can give it to them, on earth as in heaven.

With the basic understandings of God’s created order being fought against… taught against… will it be easier or harder for the world to understand the Gospel now?

I am concerned that with the natural not coming first in the minds of many – but a false gnostic spirituality instead that eschews the natural – the latter is the likely answer….

Nevertheless, we can offer and give hope to these hurting men and women through the church, providing the riches that they really need, the gifts of Jesus Christ, both on earth and in Heaven….

As Mark Strauss puts it, giving us some insight into Jesus’ words about the new family we know in Him, “any Christian who has experienced the fellowship and hospitality of fellow believers in some remote corner of the world” can begin to understand what Jesus is saying here about the relatives and blessings we gain in following Him (445).

And so let us pray that the lost souls of today will be among the last who will be first!

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Yes, we should note… Jesus does indeed end by saying:

“The first will be last and the last will be first.”

Remember, Judas wanted His money.

Remember, the Pharisees wanted the praise of men….

Remember, Caiaphas wanted his position…

Remember also the Apostle’s piercing words “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs….”[ix]

Be different brothers and sisters!

And be on guard about trying to earn salvation by your deeds, accomplishments, or material gains – in this life and the next!

And especially do not throw in your lot with the World Spirit with its demonic and chaotic ways, but steward your blessings to go against the flow, and enable the throwing out of the life preservers….

Yes, it is true that Jesus confronted the rich young ruler with the demand to leave everything and give it to the poor to reveal to him that no, he had not kept God’s 10 commandments perfectly…

Yes, it is true that we are not all given that command to give up everything Jesus demanded of this man.

At the same time, in Luke 6, His Sermon on the Plain Jesus does encourage all persons more generally:

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys….”

Again, when it comes to both our wealth and the grace of God, He desires fluidity.

Understand your “liquid assets’ in just this way!

Oh, that our generosity and giving would flow like a river from us!

That we would hold to nothing so tightly, but that all the goodness that we have and have known would flow from us to the resounding benefit of our brothers and sisters, and all people on earth!

This is the way that things were meant to be from the beginning!

Where the voice of our Master – and He alone! – instills in us the confidence to leave everything!

And where the goodness and love of God, freely given to us as He freely gives us all things, was something that we would all know and be sure of….

To be firm in.

Again, that we would… secure in His care… secure in His good order… thankfully and gladly let that love and care flow through us to all those around us….

The surety of God’s love among us begetting the surety of God’s love to ever greater degrees… both in its scope and in the depths to which it is experienced.

Such a love freely gives…

And such a love freely receives from God’s bountiful and continual goodness, a goodness which is always pleased above all to provide for and delight in its own…

And so we see in our text for today that Jesus tells us that we really do gain more than we lose here.

We see that along with the promise of the wonderful blessing of Christian family fellowship in this world and the next, Jesus also, strangely, talks about how by giving up and following Him we will also gain something else in return: persecution.

This seems very hard and even crazy to us, but it does us well to remember here our Lord’s solid promises:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Why might persecutions be a blessing?[x]

Again, the commentator Lenski helps us here: “[P]ersecutions are [in fact] the butter on the bread, for by them we are more strongly assured that we are God’s children than by the other blessings that he sends us.” (448)

A study Bible I looked at also talks about how “paradoxically, fellowship with other believers develops most deeply in persecution…” (NIV Study Bible)

So, there is an intensification of our life in Christ…

More knowledge of our sin.

More knowledge of God’s grace.

More knowledge of His purposes in this world and the blessings to come…

Pray then, that you might be more fully rooted in, found in, at one with, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ….

That His Holy Spirit would so possess us…

…that we would be prepared for these trials and the further refinement that awaits us in them…

And finally, the life to come that has been prepared for us….

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Christ has died!

Christ has risen!

Christ will come again!

So be willing to be poor, humble, simple, despised.

And let God’s Holy Spirit, and not worldly wealth, possess you.

Amen


Images: Mammon and His Slave, a c. 1896 engraving by Sascha Schneider ; https://www.operationwerewolf.com/war-journal/2017/01/03/the-root-of-all-evil/

[i] We remember our Hebrews reading for today: “12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” See also Romans 3:20-21.

[ii] I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:

wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
      or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
    there is nothing left for them to inherit.
   Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
    and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
    that they can carry in their hands. (Ecclesiastes 5:13-15)

[iii] Said to an online friend who finds much to commend in Ayn Rand and says she is often very misunderstood: “I’m saying every relatively wise person knows that when it comes to the human animal it is not just raw power or brains or wiles but character — “the virtue of selfishness”? — which can create success, thriving, flourishing…. “

[iv] [Even though we know character is often key to worldly success] even in fallen man’s most noble moments we are tempted to go to money here… We feel that having a decent amount of money (or some other highly valued and liquid material good like gold or whatever) can certainly serve to enhance, exacerbate, turbo-charge this process…

Frankly, I think this is so pervasive, I’m often not even sure why such thoughts are necessarily bad! (can’t God use our money for good and noble reasons, after all? even as the Apostle Paul speaks of being content with food and covering, don’t we all also need some forms of liquid assets to basically live in the world?)

More thoughts, mostly excised from the final sermon (the bracketed ones…), but which I spent a lot of time on:

Now it is true that no one is debating that general morality, character, virtue, and worldly wisdom can’t help a person to succeed in the world as well… not even most atheists will say that this kind of general morality and worldly wisdom can’t really help a person succeed in the world….[iv]

That said… when we think of success…. how quickly our minds go to something else!

That money, money, money[!] again!

I mean, money – some kind of liquid currency – sure can help, right?

[After all, if you come into money – and you are not like the idiot who wins the lottery and blows his winnings on whatever he feels like – you can also start to produce what we call “wealth” as well!

You can purchase possessions and you can gain other perks and powers (like education, investments, connections, increased social mobility…)….

If you have these things, your status will increase (perhaps particularly with this or that group you are interested in being with…)

And if you have status, you have a sense of where you stand in the pecking order, and the influence that affords you…

And… if you know where you stand in the pecking order and can effectively wield that position for influence…. Then you will have the appreciation and admiration and even attraction of others in your immediate circles… and maybe beyond (and you’ll even catch the eye of that really special someone!)

And… if you have the admiration and attraction of those certain others – who might even become our close partners in our success! – all of life’s common pleasures and comforts sought by men and women of every age, and not just the short term ones but the long-term ones as well….  are within your grasp….

You can retire, disengage from society, and relax!

Or you can choose to further engage society and seek to exercise some control over its direction!

Earthly comfort! Earthly rest! Or, for the more ambitious, some real earthly glory and honor!

Don’t call all of this the vice of covetousness or greed… call it good and right and proper ambition!

What harm is there in all this? Yes, we’ve heard about what people say they regret on their death beds. Certainly we want real love and friendship in our lives too – and not just some earthly “trophies” – but why not also all of this as well?…]

[v] Quote from the [Eastern] Orthodox Study Bible.

[vi] Bracketed excerpts excised from sermon: “[For when comes the separating of the sheep and the goats, we will see Christ and His Church showing mercy to those who have been merciful! In other words, to those who have shown themselves to be His children (after all, sons of God act like sons of God and it is right that they should be found with their father and brother).

This means those who have forgiven much – echoing the forgiveness, or reconciliation of God Himself – will be forgiven.

This means that those who opened up the Kingdom of Heaven to others will have the Kingdom of Heaven opened up to them.

Like Christ, they eagerly gave the promise of paradise to those enemies of God dying to the left of them (and to the right, if they would only have it) who had nothing to give, and could pay nothing back.]

God’s people, like God Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace….”

[vii] Aren’t we now in danger of having a war with China over Taiwan and their valuable microchip industry? Microchips are a resource created and made valuable by man.

[viii] Another man from around that same time talked about the Christians of his day, and put matters in this way:

“But that many of us are called poor, this is not our disgrace, but our glory; for as our mind is relaxed by luxury, so it is strengthened by frugality.  And yet who can be poor if he does not want, if he does not crave for the possessions of others, if he is rich towards God?  He rather is poor, who, although he has much, desires more.” (DECB, 440)

The second century church father Clement of Alexandria said this: “Delicacies spent on pleasures become a dangerous shipwreck to men….”  (Dictionary… Early Christian Beliefs…., 541)

[ix] More context:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs….”

Just a short while later on, Paul commands his young charge Timothy this way:

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life…”

Regarding “[a] firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life…”

This does not mean that Christ is not our sure foundation but that our deeds are. When a perhaps self-congratulatory Peter says “but we have left everything to follow you…” maybe he was a bit confused….

He was not recalling they did not choose Jesus but that He had chosen them, that they might receive the grace of eternal salvation and even Apostleship. It was such grace and the resultant thankfulness that had prompted their willingness to leave their own livelihoods (though we note Peter kept his house! : ) )…

This, I believe is why Jesus does not firmly rebuke Peter here as well. Peter has heard Jesus say that a man cannot give anything in exchange for his own soul (Mark 8:37). Peter and the other disciples have real faith in Jesus, but it is weak….

They are simply being inconsistent and need to continually be taught… by the One who is able to empathize with our weaknesses… [See the end of our Hebrews reading: “14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need….”]

[x] See also I Peter 4:13-14.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Can a non-Christian Flawlessly Exhibit a Highly Developed Understanding of Christian Theology?

No, I am not talking about Jordan Peterson. He’s a piker compared with a former student.

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Yes. This has always been the case.

Proof from a student who says “I am now, as before, not a member of any particular religion, and do not identify informally with any set of religious beliefs either” (shared with the student’s blessing).

More specifically, while this student has always been curious and interested in religion, and had done a good deal of reading on his/her own over the years, he/she did not grow up attending religious services of any kind. To this date the student has never had a personal experience as a member of a congregation (his/her parents grew up going to Lutheran and Catholic churches, but did not continue on as adults).

If you are an unbeliever, please take note of this fantastic example.

Be a more “noble pagan”! Thanks!

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Since the life of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago, the concept of Christianity has developed in many ways. All expressions of Christianity, however, stem from the same source: the words of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. At their roots, Christians share the belief that Jesus, the Son of God, lived on earth, suffered and died for the sins of mankind, and was resurrected and ascended to heaven, therefore saving humans. Looking at the character of God, the character of humanity, the figure of Jesus, the message of the Bible and the basic beliefs of the Church, this paper will summarize the Christianity outlined in the Bible.

            God, in creating the universe, does so through speaking (Genesis 1, NIV), showing omnipotence. After each stage of creation, God sees that what has been made is good, until completing the sixth day of creation, whereupon “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV). This assessment of creation sounds like an understatement, but considering the source, it is approval of the highest order. Looking at a description of God by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:4 clarifies: “He is the rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.” The universe was created perfectly, and though imperfection has subsequently entered into it, this was not part of God’s creation.

            Additional statements about the nature of God, coming directly to Moses from God, are seen in Exodus. On Mount Sinai, God tells Moses: “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;” (Exodus 34: 6-7, NIV).

            In the New Testament, there is more revealed about God’s character. The opening lines of the Gospel of John are: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NIV). Later, in John 1:14, it states “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. These statements hearken back to the opening of Genesis, using the phrase “in the beginning,” as well as establishing the multiple persons of God: the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Word become flesh, or Jesus.

            Some examples from the Epistles provide more information about God. In 1 John 4:7-21, there is discussion of the importance of love in Christianity. In fact, the concept of love and that of God are inseparable: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, NIV). John is clear in the direction and source of this love as well, saying “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). Paul makes a statement about God’s inerrancy in the introduction to his letter to Titus, saying that the promise of salvation and eternal life was given by God, “who does not lie” (Titus 1:2, NIV).

            The story of humanity in the Bible starts within the first chapter, when “God created mankind in his own image,” (Genesis 1:27, NIV) as the final piece of the creative act on the sixth day. As soon as the story of humanity’s creation is detailed, their descent into sin occurs, and in the following books of the Bible, the sinfulness of people is a constant theme, parallel to God’s infinite capacity to forgive.

            As seen in the story of Creation, mankind was initially good, in the way of everything created by God. Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it,” (Genesis 2:15, NIV) with Eve as a suitable helper for him (Genesis 2: 21-23, NIV). Though created good, in eating the fruit from the tree they were commanded to leave untasted, they are corrupted, and through this sin, all of humankind is corrupted by sin. Adam and Eve, through disobedience, suffer the spiritual consequence of separation from God, as well as the material consequences of mortality, pain, and the uncertainty of a life of toil.

            Looking at David’s story shows an example of the extremes of human capacities. David is capable of both tremendous faith as well as tremendous sin. As a young man, in response to a threatening force of Philistines, David puts himself forward as a volunteer, drawing the comparison of his actions as a shepherd protecting his flock (1 Samuel 17: 34-37, NIV). In confronting Goliath, David declares God his resource: “You have come at me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17: 45, NIV). Conversely, David shows great failings, both in his adultery and murder in relation to Bathsheba, and his sin of inaction when apprised of the actions of his son Amnon toward his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 11, 13, NIV). In reckoning with his actions, David shows knowledge of his own sin, “Surely I was sinful at birth,” and the disaster of being separated from God “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore me to the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51, NIV).

            The general direction of humanity’s sinfulness is chaotic, since turning away from God is turning away from leadership. Isaiah remarks on this directionless situation, saying in Isaiah 53: 6 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way”. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the state of humans as well, saying “you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, NIV).

            In Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, a job considered traitorous by the Jewish people under Roman rule (Keener & Walton, 2016, p.1628), to be one of His disciples. This is the cause of speculation among the Pharisees, to which Jesus replies “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13, NIV). These words reflect the status of humanity—all are sinners, and Jesus has come to save them, though not all realize their sinful state.

            The life of Jesus is described in the four Gospel accounts, each distinct from each other, but painting a consistent portrait of Jesus Christ. One of the crucial points about Jesus’ life is His Holy status, as the angel Gabriel describes to Mary “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35, NIV). Another important part of the Gospel telling of Jesus’ life is showing how Jesus fulfills the previous prophecy about the Messiah. This is demonstrated in Herod’s order to kill all infant boys in and around Bethlehem, described in the Gospel of Matthew as fulfilling earlier prophecy by Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17-18, NIV). Another example comes from Isaiah 53:12 (NIV), which predicts the Messiah will be “numbered with the transgressors.”This is reflected in Mark 15:27 (NIV), which describes Jesus crucified between two rebels.

            Central to the story of Christianity is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. These events are described in all of the Gospels, with each account capturing perspectives from different witnesses. The suffering Jesus undergoes seems unendurable, and encompasses betrayal by a loved one (Matthew 26:14-16), unfair treatment by civil authorities and public humiliation (Matthew 27: 11-31), abandonment by His friends (Matthew 26:56), and facing death alone (Matthew 27:50), in addition to the physical torment involved. Miraculously, after being buried and sealed in a tomb, Jesus is resurrected on the third day after His death, and appears to His disciples, demonstrating His reality to them and putting everything succinctly for them: “This is what was written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24: 46-47) instructions for what they, and subsequent Christians should do.

            Speaking about His own purpose, Jesus refers to His place in the world as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Here, Jesus is sharing that His presence has been accounted for already, and necessary for salvation. Discussing His role as Savior for mankind, Jesus describes his presence on Earth, saying “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV). Using bread to describe how He will give life to his followers, Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 4:51, NIV). Hearkening back to Isaiah comparing people to sheep wandering without a shepherd, Jesus shows himself to be the guide for humanity, saying “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46, NIV).

            When the whole Bible is considered, it seems to behave similar to a beam of light passing through a prism. The events and words of the Old Testament point toward Jesus, through which the possibility of God’s salvation expands into the full spectrum. The Bible, as God’s words, is a guide showing Christians how to understand God, their relationship to God, and what salvation means. Jesus speaks to the importance of God’s word to humanity, when confronted by the devil in the wilderness “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NIV). Providing further guidance for how Christians should regard the Bible, Paul likens it to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17, NIV).

            For Christians, the Bible is the foundation for everything. As the words of God, who’s works are perfect and who cannot lie, it is the source that may be relied upon, as opposed to works of human origin, since humans are mired in sin and susceptible to error. As such, the Bible must be the source for information on the nature of faith, forgiveness and salvation, and living as a Christian.

            According to the words put forth in the Bible, belief in God through Jesus is the way to salvation, summarized in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” When His disciples express confusion, Jesus clarifies for them, saying “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7, NIV). While following Jesus is the way to God and salvation, it is not a matter of a person deciding to follow Jesus. In John 6:44, Jesus explains: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” Faith, then, is extended to Christians from God, and not the other way around.

            Similarly, forgiveness is offered on God’s terms to people, though they remain undeserving. As seen in Isaiah 43:25, God’s position is clear: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Again, this point is made by Paul, who writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so the no one can boast” (Ephesians, 2:8-9, NIV). As with faith, the pathway is clear, extended from God on God’s terms.

            Becoming a follower of Christ is a transformative experience for a Christian, as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Such a transformation affects the way in which a Christian should regard and interact with the world, and will inform all their decisions. Writing to the Galatians, Paul asks “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, NIV).

            Though the Bible represents a vast array of stories, individuals and experiences, to Christians it represents a unified account of the words God has chosen to impart to humanity. While it is divided into diverse books, including many styles of literature and methods of narrative, the Bible contains a cohesive message to the Christian reader: the omnipotent and omnipresent nature of God, God’s existence in the Trinity, and the pathway to salvation and eternal life through following Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Be at Peace! Pluck it Out, Cut it Off, and Have Salt!  

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“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” – Mark 9:50

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There are just two ways, the early church said.

One leads to death… the other to life…

One might also say one leads to eternal strife… and the other to eternal peace…

Peace. That brings me to our text for this morning. All our texts that we read today are really interesting, I think, and our text from Mark in particular is jam-packed with challenging and important ideas.

And you may have noticed that the Gospel lesson seems to have two bookends of sorts.

It begins by telling the short account about how the disciples were upset with some who were not in their group – not in their circle! – who were driving out demons in Jesus’ Name.

And interestingly, right before this (we didn’t read it today but last week), the disciples had been schooled by Jesus about how instead of arguing about who was the greatest they should rather strive to be the servant of all, welcoming Jesus and His Father by the act of welcoming, of all things, little children!

And so now… Jesus meets the disciples’ continual acts of jealousy, worldly ambition, one-up-man-ship and strife-creation by stating plainly:

“Do not stop him… For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

In other words, when anyone believes in my Name such that they are proclaiming it and even using it to cast out demons, or even if they just give you water in my Name!…

…I want you to be pleased!

Be at peace about this!

I mentioned that this section has bookends. That is one bookend, the first. We see the other bookend at the very end of today’s text, when Jesus says:

“Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Again, we see that peace – or at least a striving for peace – is on Jesus’ mind.

What He is bringing…

When Jesus Christ comes again, and when He brings us the new heavens and new earth, we who are united with Him – God in human flesh – will have this peace with one another forever and ever, amen…

Until that time though, we know that even as Jesus also said that His coming would necessarily bring a sword, or conflict, He still tells us that when we find another man or woman taken outside of your circles that indicates they believe in Jesus’ Name…

…we should understand this person to be with Jesus and not against Him…

…and that we should strive for peace with one another.

Jesus’ prescription for peace among His brethren is what we find between our two bookends in the rest of our reading from Mark today, and that is what we are going to look at…

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Before jumping into some pretty concrete specifics, however, let’s talk about that salt Jesus brings up.

 What is going on here?

When He talks about being “salted with fire”, what is this all about?

I actually brought up this text several months ago, in a sermon that I called “Two Steps on How to Overcome the World”.

In that message I mentioned how the book of Mark talks about the devil a lot – something we again see in the first part of today’s reading with the disciples trying to stop the unauthorized exorcisms going on – and noted that two of the core elements for the Christian’s fight against the devil’s influence in the world are prayer and saltiness.

I said this about saltiness:

“[In Mark 9] it…ends with these interesting words:

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

What does this mean?

Well, there was a well-known ancient saying in Jesus’ day that said “the world cannot survive without salt” (Tractate Sopherim XV.8).

Salt was used for many purposes in that world, including flavoring, preservation, fertilizer, and cleansing (Strauss 415).

In sum though, Jesus is encouraging his followers to not lose the characteristics that bring preservation, life, and real peace to the world.

How so? From the Word of God that comes from the outside and cleanses and purifies us within.

Sometimes this salt of the word of God will burn like fire, the law burning away the dross of our old Adam, and the Gospel bringing healing to us and those who we touch [as God’s servants]…[i]

This is the key. The salt of God’s word first of all gives us peace with God and then makes us into those who treasure and run after peace with others…”[ii]

…even as Satan would bring the world down to hell all around us!

And interestingly, Jesus talking about the excellent salt making us salty here actually builds on what He says in our Gospel reading a bit earlier.

+++

Speaking about our being salted, the well-known Lutheran commentator R.C.H. Lenski, states:

“What Jesus says about salting and salt [here] is intended to explain what he has just said in warning about entrapping others and being entrapped ourselves (v. 42-48). He now indicates the means by which such calamities are to be prevented. His disciples are to be salted.” (410)

So what is Lenski talking about when he mentions this idea of “entrapment”?

He is speaking about the ways that the devil would catch us in his snares – or that he might use us in our sinning… to catch others in his snares – and haul us away from Christ…

So, we now get into the concrete ways to avoid the devil’s faith-destroying and strife-producing plans…

And what does Jesus say should be done to defeat this?

It is a bit shocking, frankly.

The Gospel text for today, in fact, contains some of the more jarring statements from our Lord Jesus Christ.

“If your hand [or foot] causes you to stumble, cut it off… 

If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with [one hand or foot or] one eye than to have [these things and be thrown into hell…].

How in the world to understand passages like this? Why is he resorting to such violent and arresting language?

First of all, I think a passage like Proverbs 6:16-19 can help us a lot here:

16 There are six things the Lord hates,
    seven that are detestable to him:
17         haughty eyes,
        a lying tongue,
        hands that shed innocent blood,
18         a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19         a false witness who pours out lies
        and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

This passage from Proverbs helps a little doesn’t it?

Jesus does want you to dismember yourself, making it so that you need to depend on others.

Instead, He is using this kind of violent language in a hyperbolic life to make a very serious point…

Russel Crowe’s character in the movie Gladiator was right, when he tells his men who are getting ready to fight: “What we do in life echoes in eternity”.

And Jesus Christ is making clear to us that sin in our life is a matter to be taken with the utmost of seriousness… Drastic measure are in order….

And again, ultimately – even as we must understand that we must take the threat of Hell very seriously – God wants Christians to take these measures because they know peace with God…

And if we know peace with God… and are to continue to know peace with God…. And if we are to know and experience peace with our brothers and sisters

we all must keep listening to these violent words of Jesus, to keep listening to these words, and not turn away but say “Amen!”

+++

And, maybe you noticed, but right before these violent and jarring passages, Jesus uses even more savage language today…

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”

A few things to note here right away…

First of all, in case you are wondering, a millstone looks like a massive stone wheel with a very small hole in the middle and was used with donkeys to grind grain. It is very, very heavy and so, again, we have a very powerful image here of this stone hauling someone to the bottom of the sea in horrible death…..

Second, we see the mention of stumbling again… And this means sinning, a “spiritual downfall” (Strauss)… And we need to see that when Jesus is talking about removing our body parts so we don’t stumble, or sin, He first of all has in mind the sin of causing others to sin by our own actions.

Third, we see that Jesus is concerned that the children not be led into sin. On the one hand this is all of us lowly and needly children of God. On the other hand, I am confident that this has to do with the fact that Jesus admires and loves actual believing children more than we can possibly imagine.

Why? Well, a number of reasons…

First of all, just prior to all of this violent teaching, Jesus had taken a little child into his arms and spoke specifically about the importance of welcoming them…

Second – not only this, but if we also look at the Gospels of Matthew and Luke – which along with Mark are called the “Synoptic Gospels” or the Gospels that “see together,” – we will notice that both of these books not only contain the millstone passage… and that Matthew contains the remarks about removing one’s hand and eye two times – but also that most of these comments are also made immediately after being in the presence of actual children.

The Bible passage from Luke – even though it is the one that does not deal directly with children – can nevertheless also really help us to reflect on the way we treat children specifically…

In Luke 17:2, the millstone passage occurs in a context about being willing to forgive others – up to seventy times seven in fact.

So – as is often the case in the Gospels – the millstone is presented as a dire warning to those who would refuse to forgive their fellow Christians for their sins against them (after first confronting them about them!)

And so: these little ones too – from the youngest age – must be forgiven!

Do not cause them to stumble by treating them harshly for their own little faults you must nevertheless help them see, and by not generously covering over their wrongs with love.

We see this theme of forgiveness, and even an eagerness to forgive (the parable of the lost sheep!) in Matthew chapter 18 as well, where not long before this we also hear about both the millstone and body-part-removing statements.

And immediately before these millstone and body-part-removing statements Jesus calls a little child to stand among his disciples and tells them they must become like little children. And then – if to accentuate a point, immediately after these statements He tells His disciples that they must not “look down” on “these little ones”… for “their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven…”!

One more thing, I think important:

As I mentioned, the passage about removing one’s hand and one’s eye occurs not just once but twice in Matthew.

It also occurs in the context of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, found in chapters 5 of that book where Jesus speaks of adultery and sexual sin.[iii] 

And so, to sum things up, in Matthew and Mark and even Luke we see that children must not be abused in any way[iv], but honored.

Do not take advantage of them and use them for your own ends and purposes, particularly for the most base and deplorable of reasons…

Instead for their sake and the sake of all God’s children, pluck it out, cut it off, and have salt!

+++

Jesus Christ means for each and every one of us in the church to be absolutely determined to guard their hearts, especially with little children.

Children are not innocent of sin of course, but they are innocent of the knowledge of particular kinds of sin, and God would have us help them to, in a very real sense, remain ignorant of evil.

But this does not always happen, and, as the prophet Nathan said to David: “You are the man!”

All of us! Even you older children!

But it is easy for us to see the “real sinners” isn’t it?

We can look at those who are clearly selfish or who seem to have a desire for conflict – or, perhaps worse, those who would use their power to abuse those weaker ones under their care – and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking… “Well thank God that I’m not like that!”

The point however, is that none of us are innocent.

In all of Jesus’ statements about removing body parts, what Jesus is really getting at is that all of us are always in dire need of a heart transplant…

And not just at the beginning of our Christian life, but throughout it!

Do not cause the little ones to sin… Take whatever serious measures are necessary to ensure that you do not cause this!

If your pride causes you to sin gauge it out!

If your very life causes you to sin pluck it out!

For God hates “a heart that devises wicked schemes” and states through the prophet Jeremiah that

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?”

So…if your heart causes you to sin – and it does – cut it out!

What? Why?

Does Jesus wants me dead?

Yes. He wants your old Adam dead.

And through His words here today, He is putting your old Adam to death!

And then, only then, are we the perfect material for God to work with!

So, imitate Jesus as well, and join in the violence, saying “Amen” and going after your old Adam with Him!

For to be where Jesus is is to be without sin!

Bring on the salt and fire!

+++

God’s law and love… God’s law and the love of God… God’s law and God who is love… always go hand in hand and never stop….

So these fiery words are for you.

These salty words are for me.

They are for us…

God says “You too!” You must keep your eyes and hands and feet pure… Sin is a matter to be taken with the utmost of seriousness….

So bring on the salt! Bring on the fire! With Christ being sacrificed for all our sins – with us having been given peace with God — bring on the holy sacrifice for our God! (Rom. 12:1-2)

Make your fight against the sin within you a priority!

Make your fight against this or that actual sin a priority!

Cry out to Him for mercy and help… as it has been said, “Pray to God but row towards shore!”

Perhaps get out of that group, business deal, or personal relationship!

Give some of that stuff you have away! When Jesus comes it’s all going to burn anyways!

Maybe cut back on social media or that screen time…

Install that firewall on your computer!

Actively seek to form positive habits that help you in your fight! How could I be more thoughtful, more careful, in the way I act with family, friends, co-workers?

Form personal rituals, go to certain physical places that help you remember to do certain things if you must!

Plan your schedule in this or that fashion to accentuate certain very beneficial activities over others!

Find people who can encourage you and hold you accountable!

Lord, let me be where you are, so that I might be kept this day without sin![v] 

Bring on the salt and fire![vi]

+++

So maybe you are thinking now…this makes some sense, this makes sense that this would be important for peace among Gods’ children – but don’t we believe that we are justified by grace and not works?

Indeed, some purportedly traditional Lutherans would say that when I say that

“God’s law and love… God’s law and the love of God…. God’s law and God who is love… always go hand in hand and never stop….”

…that I’m wrong.

Now I can point out that the Apostle Paul tells Christians that he wants them to “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God….”

Though they will say:

“These words, like the words about removing body parts are only really meant to break you… to help you see your dead heart. To kill the Old Man.

Once that is done, there’s no real expectation from God that such words will continue to direct and guide us in any way….”

After all…

“We are now completely new creatures in the Gospel!

The old has gone and the new has come!

The law is no more! We only live from the Gospel!”

One popular ELCA Lutheran theologian puts it like this:

“…The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free.” (italics mine, Paulson, Lutheran Theology, p. 7)

This, however, is mistaken notion of what it means to be free!

May this never be!

To say that truly free people…

…don’t have anything to accomplish…

…anywhere to go…

…or won’t ever need to be directed at all in this life (or heaven for that matter)

…is something we have no business asserting![vii]

We are indeed only given new life from the Gospel, but nevertheless, we live from every word that proceeds from the mouth of God… law and gospel.

Bring on the salt and fire!

+++

So, even if we are saved only through the blood of Jesus Christ…

…even if we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, that no one should boast…

This does not mean that God’s law does not have a place in the life of the Christian…

…but that we understand it’s ongoing importance for us….[viii]

Martin Luther, the 16th century church reformer, gives us some very helpful perspective here in his book, “On the Councils and the Church”. Here, Luther says the following about “the seven principle parts of Christians’ sanctification” or “the seven holy possessions of the church”:

By [using, these seven things: the Scriptures, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, Pastors, Prayer and proclamation, and suffering[ix]…] the Holy Spirit effects in us a daily sanctification, and vivification in Christ, [that is setting us apart, renewing us in holiness,] according to the first table of Moses. By [this sanctification] we obey it, albeit never perfectly in Christ. But as we constantly strive to attain the goal, under his redemption or remission of sins, until we too shall one day become perfectly holy and no longer stand in need of forgiveness. Everything is directed toward that goal.”

He goes on a bit later to talk about another sign that helps identify the presence of Christ’s church in the world, love for one’s neighbors, the fulfillment of the second table of the commandments:

“[We see Christ’s church] when we bear no one a grudge, entertain no anger, hatred, envy or vengefulness toward our neighbors, but gladly forgive them, lend to them, help them, and counsel them; when we are not lewd, not drunkards, not proud, arrogant, overbearing, but chaste, self-controlled, sober, friendly, kind, gentle and humble; when we do not steal, rob, are not usurious, greedy, do not overcharge, but are mild, kind, content, charitable; when we are not false, mendacious, perjurers, but truthful, trustworthy, and do whatever else is taught in these commandments – all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place. We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means ‘grow’ and ‘do so more and more’ [II Pet. 3:18]” (LW 41:166)

So pluck it out!

Cut it off!

Love your neighbor, God’s children!

Remove Old Adam’s wicked and prideful heart!

Bring on the salt and fire!

None of this means you are going to go from victory to victory…

Ask my family here. They can tell you of some of my many failures!

You might lose a lot, fighting some sins that you are particularly tempted by a long, long time…

The thing, however is the fight that God’s Spirit leads you in…

Reminding yourself to make “duty a pleasure” and not letting the birds that fly over your head make nests in your hair! (Luther)…

And to really be in the fight, remind yourself that the law of God is fulfilled in love (Rom. 13, Gal. 5) – first in Christ on our behalf, and then in us (Rom. 8:1-4).

+++

Yes, again, all of these violent words this morning are hard, hard words.

Nevertheless, again, we can discern what our Lord meant by speaking them: this is a matter of the utmost seriousness.

On the one hand, yes, they drive us to Christ for forgiveness.

And on the other hand, they also drive us to Him for power as we look to be His holy people in the world…His peacemakers…

So these are words that we must hear and always continue to hear….

Note that this does not mean we live by the law.

Christians do not live by the law, but in it….

To live by the law would be to think that if I do my best to follow God’s commandments He certainly must reward me with eternal life.

The problem with that idea – besides the fact that it is obnoxious to think we creatures can finally demand God be accountable to our judgments (see Job 40:8!) – is that we know from the Scripture that the one who stumbles in one commandment has broken them all.[x]

A Lutheran pastor recently reminded me of this: the Christian faith is about paradoxes… tensions of a sort…

Law and gospel.

Three persons in one God.

Two natures in Christ: 100% God and 100% Man.

Perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

Lord of all and servant of all.

Everything we need we already have.

In reference to the kinds of things that we are talking about this morning, this man said this:

“This is why our concept of tension is so useful. Bread and wine, or body and blood? Yes.

Saint or sinner? Yes.

Called to perfect life or resting in God’s promises of salvation, life, and forgiveness, and the work on the Cross? Yes.”

Don’t give up brothers and sisters…

Remember, this is not about your power… Jesus says to us “I am the living water… and “the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus is the only One who can get us through this… and He has our back….

The Lutheran Study Bible has a great take on these passages this morning… and I think it is a very good thought to leave us all with… :

“…[Jesus uses] such strong and hyperbolic language to emphasize the seriousness of all sin… One need look no further than these words of Jesus to see how much the holy God hates sin. Here, the Law strikes us with all its fury. Who of us can say that our hand or foot or eye has not caused us to sin? We all deserve to be thrown into the hell of fire. Thank God that Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced for our iniquities and that His eyes beheld our sin in order to turn the Father’s face from it. By His wounds and precious death, we enter life.” (1621).

There are just two ways, the early church said.

One leads to death… the other to life…

One might also say one leads to eternal strife…

…and the other to eternal peace.

You – go in peace!

…and live in peace with one another, being the proclaimers and peacemakers God calls you to be.

Amen


[i] As we seek to be Christ’s servants to all and His “living sacrifices” (Romans 12) we should see and heed the meaning of Leviticus 2:13 for us: “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” Numbers 18:19 also speaks about the kind of peace “covenant salt” can bring: “Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.” This content found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRBfKPj2Aog&t=254s  Also: “The good salt which should characterize disciples [in v. 50] consists in… or results in… peaceful relationships. While salt as a metaphor for peacefulness is in itself an unusual use, in the OT salt symbolizes a covenant (Lv. 2:13; Nu. 18:19; 2 Ch. 13:5) while in some rabbinic writings salt stands for wisdom or pleasing speech (cf. Col 4:6), which is a sound basis for good relationships” (France, 385) France also has some very helpful comments on v. 49 on pages 383-384. A short clip: “To be ‘salted with fire’ seems then to evoke the imagery of temple sacrifice, but the victims who are ‘salted’ are now the worshippers themselves. Their dedication to the service of their suffering Messiah is like that of a burnt offering, total and irrevocable…[The modern reader thinks[ fire alone would have made the point. But anyone familiar with sacrificial ritual would not find ‘the imagery of salt’ out of place….” McLaren says: “have salt in yourselves; the doctrine of grace, and word of Christ, prudence in talk and conversation, and holiness of heart and life, so as to behave wisely towards them that are without; and have peace one with another; which the God of peace calls unto, the Gospel of peace requires, and the grace of God teaches. Salt is an emblem of firm union, concord, and agreement: hence the covenant of peace is called a covenant of salt, Numbers 18:19, compared with Numbers 25:12. This exhortation, very appropriately follows upon the making mention of salt in different senses; especially, this exhortation was the more necessary to the disciples at this time, since they had been very lately warmly disputing the point among themselves, who should be greatest in the kingdom of the Messiah; and which had occasioned this discourse of Christ’s.”

[ii] This section constructed with much help from R.C.H. Lenski’s excellent comments.

[iii] Here, in chapter five, not millstones but hell-fire alone is brought up, as Jesus talks about taking such drastic measures right after pointing out that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…”

So, there is a lot going on here to think about…. And quite frankly, given all the things we have heard about over the past 20 years regarding scandals in the Catholic church and Protestant communions as well, it is difficult for me to recall any other passages in the Bible that carry such terrifying weight.

[iv] “Will Deming, noting parallels to Matt 5:27-32 and rabbinic literature, sees sexual euphemisms throughout this section: causing a little child to ‘stumble’ in v. 42 refers to sexual molestation; a hand causing to stumble (v. 43) and a ‘foot’ (a common euphemism for the male sexual organ) that causes stumbling (v. 45) refers to adultery. It is doubtful Mark’s readers would have recognized such subtle euphemisms from rabbinic literature. More often in Scripture the hand stands for ‘the basic corporeal instrument for accomplishing one’s purposes’ (cf. Exod 19:13; Deut 28:12; Eccl 2:11; 9:10; Pss 28:4; 90:17, etc) and ‘the feet are the means of transport to the place where sins are committed’ (cf. Job 31:1-12; 1QS 1:6)” (Strauss, 414).

[v] A: If my goal is to stop sinning I’m doomed, if my goal is to follow Christ however imperfectly I do so I know he has me.

B: I think to strive to do the latter is to strive to do the former as well, isn’t it? (no, it won’t ever happen perfectly here). Anyway, otherwise, I’ve got to stop singing that part in the Te Deum. : )

A: I think we’re striving toward it? But because it’s not something I aim for like, as an object. Also, I don’t see a place where the Te Deum calls for us to be perfect? Because it’s impossible it’s not something I aim for as an object*

B: I get the sentiment. Totally I.D. At same time, if when I think about being without sin I think about being where Jesus is… : )

[vi] Calvin: “[A]s salt and fire possess the same quality of purifying and refining, Christ applied the same term to both.” (Paavola, 174).

[vii] Lutheran theologian Mark Mattes states: “So, if any man claims that preachers/teachers are not to exhort the justified, he is not teaching in accord with Luther, nor obviously with the Holy Scriptures, nor with the wider catholic tradition.”

[viii] Of course we cannot be saved by our good works!

Even so, though we cannot justify ourselves before God by keeping His law…

…even though Jesus Christ is in fact the end of the law for righteousness…

His law is good. So very good…

For God’s law reflects God’s character, and as God asks us to imitate Him, this necessarily means that we are to live not by the law, but that we are to walk in His law….

It is a critical difference, just like it is a big difference to wrongly say good works are necessary for salvation, instead of saying good works are necessary to salvation (Martin Luther’s distinction in the Disputation Concerning Justification).

In other words, to wrongly say that we are justified before God by good works as opposed to for good works.

To live in the law, and not by it, is to recognize that, because of His love, God created all of us in certain ways, to inhabit certain “grooves” so to speak.

Like trains that run on tracks, there are certain paths we are to take that lead to our flourishing and the flourishing of those around us. We serve God by loving our neighbor, and we love our neighbor by following God’s commandments.

We can call this the difference between two kinds of righteousness. One is passive – something that is all about our receiving – and the other is active, which is God’s love working in us for the sake of others.

You can think about this also as a vertical righteousness and a horizontal righteousness…. Both are from God, but we must not confuse the two…

[ix] From Wikipedia:

  1. holy word of God, effective means of grace
  2. holy sacrament of baptism, regeneration
  3. holy sacrament of the altar
  4. office of keys exercised publicly, although not the office of pope. Includes also private confession as a means of grace.
  5. it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices, that is, to administer, bishops, pastors, and preachers.
  6. prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God, the liturgy
  7. holy possession of the sacred cross, suffering and carrying the cross as followers of Christ.

[x] The threats of hell are for those who would either a) disregard God’s commands ; b) misuse them, attempting to obligate God to save them for their “best” efforts. Both views of God’s law are wholly damnable. “[T]he attitude of the heart is simply this….it wants to deal with God…as though God should humble Himself before us and let us actually oblige Him to grant us grace and help and thus become our debtor and servant.” (Martin Luther, What Luther Says, under “Prayer”)

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2021 in Uncategorized