Archive

Archive for the ‘The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel’ Category

Trinity 12, 2017. The Glory of the Ministry of the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

September 3, 2017 Leave a comment

holy-apostles-icon12th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 3:4-11

September 3, 2017

“The Glory of the New Testament Ministry”

Jesus

 

In the vestry behind me there is a desk with a glass cover.  When I began here there was a cartoon cut out of a magazine or a newspaper between the glass and the desktop.  In the cartoon an old bald preacher is staring out from the pulpit over the rims of his spectacles.  In the pews there is a skeleton in crumpled dress clothes, with cobwebs growing on it.  And in the caption on the bottom the preacher was saying something like: “Did I preach too long?”

 

One might think that killing your hearers with your preaching is something a preacher would want to avoid.  But according to the Epistle, a preacher who leaves skeletons in the pews has done the work of God.  That is the proper work of preaching the Law of God, what Paul refers to as the letter: The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).  A preacher who stares out of the pulpit over his spectacles and sees skeletons, or at least dead people, could say to himself, “I have done God’s work.”  But if he wants to be a minister of the New Testament, he would also have to say to himself, “I have not preached long enough yet.”  Because though it is the work of God to work death through the preaching of the Law, the work of God in the ministry of the New Testament is to give the Holy Spirit who gives life to the dead.

 

This week a preacher made the news.  This preacher is probably the most popular, the most famous preacher in the United States.  His church used to be a sports arena.  It seats 16,800.  Every Sunday he fills this cavernous building.  Untold thousands more watch his sermons on television.  And judging from the sermons he has on the internet, he seems to preach just around 27 minutes each Sunday.  I noted this with interest.  You may be surprised to learn that every once in a very great while someone voices to me the complaint that my sermons are too long.

 

You don’t look surprised!  Well, because of this occasional criticism I am very conscious of how long I am preaching, at least until about 7 minutes in.  Then, when I become conscious of the time again, I usually think, “Well, I can’t leave off here, otherwise the dead will not be raised.”  And then, when I do quit, I always make a note of the time I stopped.  And for a long time now, it is almost always 25 to 28 minutes.

 

So that’s my response to those very rare complaints I get about the length of my sermons.  Joel Osteen fills a stadium every week preaching 27 minutes, so it can’t be the length of the sermons alone that’s the problem.

 

But Mr. Osteen took flak in the media this week because, they say, he did not fill his former stadium up this week with those who had been driven from their homes by the terrible floods in Texas.  I don’t know what to say about that.  I didn’t have time to read carefully to find out what his explanation was for why the church wasn’t opened and look into whether his explanation made sense.

 

What I do know and can say confidently is this: if the people of Houston understood what Joel Osteen was doing to his hearers in his 27 minutes in the pulpit each week, they would thank God anytime they heard that he kept the church’s doors shut, and pray that he would do it more often.  Or do it once more and never open them again.

 

Mr. Osteen’s ministry is certainly not a ministry of the New Testament, because he seldom, if ever, has anything to say about Christ crucified for sinners.  Nor is it a ministry of the Old Testament, because though he does preach God’s commandments, at least sometimes, his message can be summarized like this: If you trust God, if you obey God, God will bless you and give you prosperity in this world.  That is a complete falsification of God’s Law.  God didn’t give His Law as a guide to earning His blessing, certainly not in this world.  His Law, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, has this purpose—to kill and to condemn.  Paul refers to it as the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation.

 

In this world, Joel Osteen has as much glory as a preacher could ever hope for.  He has made millions and millions in selling books.  Thousands upon thousands listen to his preaching.  He lives in a multi-million dollar mansion.

 

But he has no glory from God.  In his ministry he does not minister in God’s name.  God’s power does not attend his preaching and teaching, no matter how many people listen to him—except perhaps insofar as he speaks the words of Scripture that he contradicts.

 

On the other hand, the genuine preaching of the Law does come with God’s glory.  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments with His finger, his face shone so that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory (2 Cor. 3:7).  Looking at Moses’ face was like looking into the sun.  You couldn’t stare directly at it, not for very long.  God was showing that the Law Moses brought down came from Him.

 

That may be perplexing to us when we consider that Paul says that the ministry of the Law, the correct preaching and teaching of God’s Law, brings death.  It kills.  Moses didn’t come up with this.  God did.  God gave him a law and told him and those who came after to preach it, knowing that when it was preached it would kill those who hear it.  That was what He wanted.

 

The Law brings death because it awakens and uncovers sin.  Paul writes in the 7th chapter of Romans: Apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died (Rom. 7:8-9)  People are born in sin and are totally corrupted by it, but they do not know it until they hear the commandments of God proclaimed.  Then we begin to realize that we are not basically good, like Osteen and others imply when they say that all we need to do is know what God wants from us and then try our best and He will bless us.  The Law reveals that God is angry not only with our conscious rebellion against His commandments, but with the natural impurity of our hearts.  The world sees us not murdering people and approves.  God sees the anger, the desire for revenge, the grudges that linger in our hearts even when we try to make them go away, and judges us murderers.  Joel Osteen says that God is pleased when we put our faith in Him as best we can, but God says You shall have no other gods before Me…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me (Ex. 20: 4-5).  You shall not worship anything else as God by fearing or loving or trusting them more than Me, God says—by bowing down to them, by offering them sacrifices, or by simply clinging them in Your heart more than Me, for I am jealous.  I do not tolerate any trust in anything in heaven and earth above Me—not your money, your parents, your senses, your mind.  To trust anything else more than Me, ever, is idolatry.  Partial worship of Me does not earn my blessing but My wrath.

 

When we hear the Law explained this way, it doesn’t make us better.  It makes us worse.  It stirs up sin in us.  We find that we immediately begin to rebel against God.  “Why does He threaten us with hell when He knows we can’t keep these commandments?”  We desire the very things He forbids.  This is why the Law of God is the ministry of death.  It reveals the sin that lives in us.  It stirs it up.  And the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

 

Yet God’s glory comes with this preaching that stirs up sin and puts us to death.  That is because He preaches the Law whenever it is preached and taught rightly.  He kills us.

 

But Paul says that he has another ministry, the ministry of the New Testament that God made with human beings through His Son.  He calls this ministry the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It’s called that because this ministry gives the Holy Spirit, who is, as we confess in the Creed “The Lord and giver of life.”  The Creed is right to call Him that.  He was hovering over the waters of creation when God’s Word came and brought light out of darkness, dry land out of the waters, living creatures out of the dust of the ground, and made man in the image of God.  And in the Baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Him visibly to show that He was offering Himself as a sacrifice to God for our sins not by human wisdom but by the wisdom and in the power of God.  Then when Jesus had offered Himself for our sins and was buried, the Holy Spirit gave life to Him, quickened Him, so that He arose, descended victoriously into hell, and emerged from the tomb to proclaim victory over death for us.

 

When Jesus is preached to those who have been killed by the Law, He comes and gives life to the dead.  He rebirths us.  He raises us from the dead with Jesus.  He makes us a new creation, not subject to death.  He makes us innocent before God, applying Jesus’ innocence to us and purifying us from sin with the blood that He shed to atone for it.  And then we have God’s favor and blessing, because we are regarded as having fulfilled God’s Law.

 

 

This is why Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  Through their ministry—their preaching His word and deeds, their baptizing according to His command, their celebration of the supper of His body and blood, their absolution—the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, would come and give life to those who heard with faith.  Just as the Law of God stirs up sin and reveals it, so that we are convinced that we are God’s enemies, under His judgment, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the Gospel comforts the heart stirred up by the Law, and reveals our righteousness and life.  Our life is not from us and our works.  It is in Jesus, who cancelled our sins and our death in His death, who delivered us from them and made us free by suffering death on the cross for them and rising again to life, leaving them buried.

 

And the Holy Spirit raises up a new man in us in the image of Jesus.  He makes us a new creation that is innocent and without sin, that is not condemned by the Law because it gladly wills, thinks, and does what God commands.  We still have the old man fighting against the Law of God, but Christians also are a new man.  We rejoice in God, love and trust Him.  We are open to God’s Word, able to hear it, rejoicing to hear it instead of hiding from it as Adam did after his sin, as the deaf man Jesus healed must have rejoiced when his ears were open and he heard, for the first time, the voices of God’s creation that were created to sing His praise.  The Holy Spirit creates new life in us, restores God’s image to us, so that we begin to crucify our old nature, and in the joy of His gift of salvation we begin to gladly and spontaneously live according to His commandments, in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward our neighbor.

 

Paul uses another set of terms for the ministry of the Old Testament and the ministry of the new.  He calls the first the ministry of condemnation, the second the ministry of righteousness.  They both have God’s glory; both come from God.  When they are carried out God is doing His work.

 

The ministry of the Law not only kills by stirring up sin.  It condemns.  It damns.  When you come to church and hear the Law of God preached rightly, you hear His sentence of condemnation to death and hell.  If you hear that from a preacher, you are not hearing the devil but God.  The devil’s trick is to only preach condemnation—to remind you of the Law’s condemnation, but to keep you from hearing about God’s righteousness given to sinners.  But a person must be condemned before he is justified.  Without the preaching of condemnation of sinners, fallen human beings believe that they are already righteous, or that it is within their grasp.  But in the ministry of the Law, the ministry of condemnation, God declares His verdict on you.  Your slackness in prayer makes you a blasphemer; your laxness in hearing and learning His Word makes you a Sabbath-breaker, a despiser of His Word; your lust makes you an adulterer, your hard work for your own wealth or honor instead of His makes you a thief, your failure to defend your neighbor and your gossip makes you a false witness.  Your sentence is His displeasure in this life, to be followed by death and hell, and there is no appeal, no way to change or reduce your sentence.

 

But Paul boasts of his ministry, the ministry of the New Testament, which He calls the ministry of righteousness.  The ministry of condemnation came with glory, he says, but the ministry of righteousness will have much more.  It is a glory that will overflow and that will endure forever.

 

When Paul or faithful ministers who follow him preach Christ crucified for you, they administer the righteousness of God to you.  All who believe it, with nothing but condemnation in themselves, are justified before God.  He counts them righteous.  The perfect satisfaction for our sins is given in the Gospel.  Our sentence of condemnation, which Jesus paid, is fulfilled.  The Law has no further say over us because we who believe the Gospel have fulfilled it through faith in Jesus, given to us by the Spirit in the Gospel.  We are not condemned, but declared righteous. This is what is given to you by God through the ministers He sends when they baptize you, when they give you the bread and wine with Jesus’ Word.  Through them God buries you with Jesus and raises you to live before Him forever with no condemnation.  Through them God gives you His Son’s body to eat and His blood to drink; He gives you a part in Jesus’ death that wipes out the sins of the world.  Through them God absolves you; He declares you free from guilt and condemnation, saying, “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

This is the glory of the ministry of the New Testament.  The glory of false preachers is that they can pack a house.  They may have many followers.  They may look and be regarded as successful by the world.

But the glory of the ministry of the New Testament is that God works through their ministry.  He puts sinners to death and condemns them through the Law.  But through the Gospel He makes those skeletons in the pews live.  He gives them His life-giving Spirit and the righteousness that stands before Him.

 

Paul boasted about having this ministry.  So should we.  It may not have the glory of the world, but it has the glory of God.  And not only the ministry has it—but all who receive this ministry  have it now and forever.  That is, all who, condemned and frightened by God’s Law, believe and find comfort in the free forgiveness of sins that God announces for Jesus’ sake in the Gospel.  You who believe, even in great weakness, longing for assurance, participate in the glory of the eternal God, who has worked death and resurrection in You through His Word and Sacrament.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Advertisements

The Effect of Preaching God’s Law

What is the effect of the preaching of the Law? It is threefold. In the first place, the Law tells us what to do, but does not enable us to comply with its commands; it rather causes us to become more unwilling to keep the Law. True, some treat the Law as if it were rule in arithmetic. However, let the Law once force its way into a person’s heart, and that heart will strain with all its force against God. The person will become furious at God for asking such impossible things of him. Yea, he will curse God in his heart. He would slay God if he could. He would thrust God from His throne if that were possible. The effect of preaching the Law, then, is to increase the lust for sinning.

In the second place, the Law uncovers to man his sins, but offers him no help to get out of them and thus hurls man into despair.

In the third place, the Law does indeed produce contrition. It conjures up the terrors of hell, of death, of the wrath of God. But it has not a drop of comfort to offer the sinner. If no additional teaching, besides the Law, is applied to man, he must despair, die, and perish in his sins. Ever since the Fall the Law can produce no other effects in man. Let us ponder this well.

C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 13-14.

Before You Leave Seminary

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

walther pointing to bibleThis is a passage to read, read, and read again.  I am grateful for the education I got at seminary.  But some of the pastoral wisdom Walther displays here would have been very helpful.  And the assertions he makes about hermeneutics at the end…some of my professors would have argued with them.  But I think Walther is right.  Ambiguity and failure to distinguish law and gospel clearly is responsible for so many failures in caring for souls.

 

Twentieth Evening Lecture

(February 27, 1885.)

 

My Friends:–

            When a place has been assigned to a Lutheran candidate of theology where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran minister, that place ought to be to him the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth…  Do not the blessed angels descend from heaven with great joy whenever the Father in heaven sends them to minister to those who are to be heirs of salvation?  Why, then, should we poor sinners be unwilling to hurry after them with great joy to any place where we can lead other men, our fellow-sinners, to salvation?  

            However, though great be the joy of a young, newly called pastor on entering his parish, there should be in him an equally great earnestness and determination to do all he can to save every soul entrusted to him.  Frequently it may seem to him that the majority, if not all members, of his congregation are still blind, dead, unconverted people.  That observation must not make him morose or discourage him, but rather fill him with an ardent desire to rouse them out of spiritual death through the divine means of grace and make them living Christians.  Spite of the devil he should take up his work in the power of faith.  If he observes that some members of his new charge are even living in manifest shame and vice, he must not despair, but bear in mind that he has a powerful Word by which he can make an effort to liberate these slaves of sin.  If he observes that his congregation is on a low level as regards the knowledge of salvation, that his people are still sadly ignorant of what the Gospel really is, he must cheerfully resolve to take up the task of instructing the poor, ignorant people with patience and zeal, until they will see the light.  Or he may notice that there are people in his congregation who are sincere, but disposed by their Pietistic schooling to be legalistic, who, therefore, regard some things as sinful that are not sinful.  In that case he must resolve to forego exercising his Christian liberty lest he offend souls that regard as sin something that he feels free to do.  On the other hand, he may discover in his congregation members of an Antinomian tendency, who are inclined to go too far in the exercise of their Christian liberty, because they are not accustomed to have the Law preached to them in its severity.  In such a case he must not decide forthwith to oppose them with all his force and preach nothing but the sternest Law to them for a whole year.  No, he must go after them gently and gradually make them see the stern demands of the Law.  For the Apostle Paul says concerning himself: “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”  1 Cor. 9, 22.  This statement he wants every servant of Christ to take to heart.  Its import is that a minister must not be satisfied merely with proclaiming the truth; he must proclaim the truth so as to meet the needs of his people.  He may have to defer saying many things until his people have gained confidence in him and his teaching and he knows that he may frankly tell them anything without fear of repelling them.  Briefly, he must resolve to turn his congregation from a dreary desert into a flourishing garden of God.

…Blessed is the minister who starts his official work on the very first day with the determination to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do in order that not a soul in his congregation shall be lost by his fault.  Such a one resolves that by the grace of God he will do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to put down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say, as Christ said to His Father: Here I am and those that Thou gavest me, and none of them is lost.  Even the blood of those who shall stand on the left side of the judgment-seat, he resolves, shall not be on his hands.

            But now the question arises: What is the matter of chief concern to a minister who wants to attain this glorious object?  He must approach the Lord with heartfelt prayer and earnest entreaties in behalf of his congregation and, when preaching the Word of God with great zeal publicly and privately, jointly or severally, rightly divide the Word of Truth.  For that is what Paul demands 2 Tim. 2, 15, saying: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

            During your present year at the Seminary this very thing, you know, is the subject of our study—the proper division of the Word of God, of Law and the Gospel.  These two are the cardinal doctrines of all the Holy Scriptures, which are made up of these two.  Any passage of Scripture, yea, any historical fact recorded in Scripture can be classified as belonging either to the Law or to the Gospel.  No one should be permitted to graduate from a school of theology who is unable to determine whether a given passage of Scripture is Law or Gospel, or whether in any compound clause of Scripture the protasis is Law and the apodosis Gospel, or vice versa.  It is your duty to become perfectly clear on this subject.

 

C.F.W Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 207-210.

Kebab, Compassion, and Christian Liberty

15 BOUTS CHRIST IN THE HOUSE OF SIMONhttp://cphpost.dk/local/two-men-assaulted-selling-pork-kebab-shops

For freedom Christ has made us free; therefore stand firm, and do not again submit to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

 These two theses seem to contradict each other…Both are Paul’s own statements, who says in 1 Cor. 9, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all,” and in Rom. 13, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved.  So Christ, although he was Lord of all, was “born of woman, born under the law”, and therefore was at the same time a free man and a servant, “in the form of God” and “of a servant.” [Philippians 2:6-7] 

Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian”

If you don’t believe in your values enough to say “no” when other people try to insist that you give them up, you will lose them.  The only question should be whether your values are right.

It’s one thing to be sensitive and hospitable to Muslims who live as foreigners in your country.  But when they reject the law of your country and begin to implement their god’s laws in defiance of you, to continue to show kindness is to give in to them, and to allow yourself to be enslaved by them.

The same thing is true for Christians.  We should love and pray for the enemies of the church and also unbelievers, and make whatever concessions we can out of love for them.  We should bear with weaker Christians in the Church out of compassion for them.

But when enemies of the church, unbelievers, or people in the church who seem to be weak say that we can’t preach or practice some part of the word of God because it is offensive and unloving, we can’t submit to them.  To do that is to say that the Word of God can only speak as long as it does not violate human rules.

It’s a good thing, I think, that the Europeans wanted to welcome people from other countries and respect their traditions.  But it’s not a good thing to confuse the lawful use of authority with oppression.  It was a bad thing that the company sold meat labeled “Halal” even though it had traces of pork in it.  But in Denmark people are not summarily beaten or executed for eating pork or for selling it or for lying about selling it.

In the Church we have a similar problem.  In our society there are few things that will get people all riled up like it will rile observant Muslims if you mislead them to eat pork.  But among the few things that are likely to cause that kind of upset is to be “hateful,” which has become a very broad kind of crime.  It’s considered hateful, for the most part, to tell someone that they do or have done something that was not just “a bad choice” but actually evil–sin.

In the Church it is not hateful to tell someone they sinned.  We are commanded to do that, but to do it in love for the other person.  So if we let it stand that a person in the church is doing wrong when they rebuke another person we end up allowing it to happen that God’s Word is not allowed to be heard in the Church.  At least in some areas.

So as Christians we must be ready to sacrifice our own comfort for the sake of weaker Christians, the enemies of the Church, and the world outside.  We have to give up legitimate things that cause unnecessary offense, and we should spare ourselves no trouble to do so out of love.

We spare ourselves no trouble, but we also cannot permit the Word of God to be bound or limited, even if people accuse us of being proud, arrogant, loveless, etc.  That is because it is not our Word.  It is God’s.  To take anything away from it is to agree that it is not God’s Word; and to allow it to be silenced at all in the Church is to allow it to be taken away from us.

Since the Word of God is the only power on earth by which God gives us salvation and protects His Church, we can’t allow it to be silenced in any part or forced to follow the rules of human propriety or “political correctness”.  If we do that we trade in the righteousness of God, which God counts as ours through faith in the message of the cross, for the righteousness of the godless world, which consists in telling everybody that as long as it works for them, that’s good, no matter what they feel like doing.

 

 

Eating Garbage…and the Holy Ghost’s Tail-Feathers

April 20, 2013 9 comments

garbage eatersSwallowing the Holy Ghost, Feathers and All…or, “How I Almost Became a Garbage-Eater” (part 1)

For freedom Christ has made you free.  Therefore, stand firm and do not again become subject to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this. For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul.  Luther, The Sermon on the Mount.  Luther’s Works: American Edition, vol. 21, pp. 252-253.

When I left home, I was 17.  I moved as far as I could away from the Chicago suburbs.  Then I came back and went to the University of Illinois for a year.  Halfway through the second semester I decided that the reason I was so miserable was because I lived in Champaign, Illinois.*

*for further information on this you can begin your research here:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uVDoYdYS8w

So after no small amount of mental and emotional anguish for both me and my family, I dropped out of U of I and ended up back in Seattle.

Strangely enough, I did not end up happier in Seattle.  In fact I was more depressed and miserable.  I would get into why, but that would take a long time.  The point of this story is not to tell you about how bad I used to be (or still am) but about the way the devil can destroy a person who has become convicted of sin.  That is, if the gospel is not preached to the convicted person immediately.

The Lutheran Confessions talk about this.  But it takes experience to understand what the Confessions are talking about.  And even if you’ve experienced it, it takes the Holy Spirit to give wisdom to you so that you don’t hammer and crush people who are already convicted of their sins.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (On Justification, parts 36f.):

Lastly, it was very foolish for the adversaries to write that men who are under eternal wrath merit the remission of sins by an act of love, which springs from their mind since it is impossible to love God, unless the remission of sins be apprehended first by faith. For the heart, truly feeling that God is angry, cannot love God, unless He be shown to have been reconciled. As long as He terrifies us, and seems to cast us into eternal death, human nature is not able to take courage, so as to love 37] a wrathful, judging, and punishing God [poor, weak nature must lose heart and courage, and must tremble before such great wrath, which so fearfully terrifies and punishes, and can never feel a spark of love before God Himself comforts].

 

English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the...

English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the Missouri Synod. There are four known photos of him in existence. This one was not previously on Wikimedia Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C.F.W. Walther, the “founding father” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, quotes Luther to this effect in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:

 

“The doctrine of the Law, then, was given for this purpose, that a person be given a sweat-bath of anguish and sorrow under the teaching of the Law. Otherwise men become sated and surfeited and lose all relish of the Gospel. If you meet with such people, pass them by; we are not preaching to them. This preaching is for the thirsty; to them the message is brought: ‘Let them come to Me; I will give them to drink and refresh them.’ ”

 

“The Law cannot restore the soul, for it is a word that makes demands upon us and commands us to love God with our whole heart, etc., and our neighbor as ourselves. The Law condemns every person who fails to do this and pronounces this sentence upon him: Cursed is every one that doeth not all that is written in the book of the Law. Now, it is certain that no man on earth is doing this. Therefore, in due time the Law approaches the sinner, filling his soul with sadness and fear. If no respite is provided from its smiting, it continues its onslaught forcing the sinner into despair and eternal damnation. Therefore St. Paul says: By the law is only the knowledge of sin. Again: ‘The Law worketh nothing but wrath.’ The Gospel, however, is a blessed word; it makes no demands upon us, but only proclaims good tidings to us, namely, that God has given His only Son for us poor sinners to be our Shepherd, to seek us famished and scattered sheep, to give His life for our redemption from sin, everlasting death, and the power of the devil.”

 

After almost becoming a garbage-eater and swallowing the Holy Ghost, feathers and all, together with food out of a dumpster, I read Walther’s book, and that was what made sense of things for me and brought me back to the Lutheran Church.  You can imagine my surprise and dismay upon going to seminary and hearing Walther ridiculed on a regular basis.  But that’s another story.

No one is able to learn theology without experience, i.e. suffering.  So it’s no surprise if aspiring theologians at seminary, having not been through enough of a sweat-bath yet, do not appreciate the importance of the distinction between law and gospel.  That’s why I’ve managed to portray Jesus as a terror to already repentant sinners—even after having experienced the misery of seeing Christ as a “new Moses.”

Anyway, back to the garbage eaters.

Suffice it to say that during this period I was far from God and entangled in a lot of delusions and lies.  And I was suffering.  Towards the end of this I started to think that I was going to lose my mind permanently.

Somewhere in this time period—it would have been in the spring—March, April, early May, 1998, I was walking down Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  This is where I was attending Seattle Central Community College.  I went there for a year so that I could get residency in Washington state and begin the following year at the University of Washington without having to pay out of state tuition.

That’s when I ran into this really nice guy who had a long beard and a bicycle.  He started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Now I was not particularly interested in talking about God or Jesus, and I let him know.

In fact, I was pretty annoyed that everywhere I went, it seemed like people always started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Or they would act like I was a Christian.  I remember I was in some class where we had to write a paper describing some painting of our choice in the Seattle Art Museum.  For some reason, I decided to do mine on a painting of the flagellation of Christ.  I was talking about it with some girl from the class, and she said something like, “You’re kind of obsessed with Jesus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I mean, that’s just you.”

That really bugged me.

I didn’t want to talk about Jesus or God because, very simply, Jesus got in the way of me doing and being what I wanted.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if Jesus had been just one god among many, or offered one more cool form of spirituality as an option among the many that were on sale in Seattle.

Seattle was not an atheist, secularist place.  Hippies and dreadlocked rastafarians were everywhere.  They were all “spiritual.”  Neo-paganism and Wicca and shamanism were everywhere.  Hare Krishnas were regularly on the sidewalk handing out literature.  Scientologists stood and offered to give free personality tests.  (I took one.  They said I was too screwed up to be a scientologist.)  Buddhist temples were not hard to find in Seattle (although the real Buddhists didn’t advertise as much.)

Then you had nearly every church on every corner with a rainbow flag out in front and a sign that said “Open and Affirming,” letting you know that the Christian churches by and large were just presenting themselves as one more option in the religious smorgasbord.  They were cool with alternative sexualities and didn’t want to be associated with the patriarchal, exclusivist Christianity of the past.

Even Muslims had their niche.  At the one place I went to get gyros all the time, they always had signs up decrying the abuse of the Palestinian people by the Israelis and advertising invitation to Islam classes.  And even though Islam really is exclusive, it too was acceptable in Seattle, because it had the cache of being foreign.  Or not being Christian.

But Jesus was not acceptable in Seattle, unless He was an icon or an image associated with another time and place.

If He was proclaimed as He is, someone who speaks to us today and makes claims upon us, He was laughed at at best.  If you gave away that you actually believed in Him, you became a strange creature.  Lots of people would hate you.  Others would look at you with pity or disdain or strange fascination.  This was in about 1997, 1998.  At least among the people with whom I hung out.

But Seattle’s issues with Jesus were one thing.  The issue was—I was hostile to Him.  I wanted to be left alone.  Jesus made claims on me.  That was the real issue.  I knew Jesus would not permit me to act as if He was one God among many.  He could not be a deep religious thinker whom I, as an intellectual and a poet, chose to follow as someone whose teaching suited my taste.

It wasn’t just moral restrictions that were the issue. Primarily it was that Jesus claimed exclusive access to God.  Salvation came only through Him.  And that meant it wasn’t that I just wouldn’t be able to do this or do that if I was a Christian.  If I was a Christian, everything would belong to Jesus.  I would depend on Him completely and belong to Him; I couldn’t pretend like I didn’t believe in Him when He would have been an embarassment.  If people hated Him, I would have to be hated.  And that was most of the people I hung around with.

If people I didn’t like were Christians, I would have to love them and be associated with them.  (And there were hardly any Christians I liked.)

It wasn’t any one particular thing that I didn’t want to give up.  It was that I would have to give up everything; whatever Jesus wanted me to keep I would keep, whatever He wanted me to lose I would lose.

I didn’t want this and couldn’t tolerate it, and yet it still bothered my conscience somewhere that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

So, as I was saying, this hippie-looking guy with a long beard and a bike, wearing what appeared to be an apron, was talking to me about Jesus.  Somehow I gathered that he had left all of his possessions behind with a group of other people in order to follow Christ.

Now this, I thought, was cool and worthy of respect.  At least if the guy was going to be a Christian, he wasn’t going to be a bourgeois, fat, materialistic, Republican “Christian.”

I told him something to the effect of, “Well, when I was a kid I was raised to believe in Jesus.  But I don’t want to follow Christ. “  Maybe I said something like, “Maybe one day I’ll want to.”  And then the man, who, I emphasize at this time seemed extremely genial and kind, said something like, “Well, there’s a lot of heartache found in pursuing the world.”

That stuck with me.  I was living that.  Consciously, it seemed like nothing was more unlikely than that I would ever be a Christian.  .

Fast forward to the summer.

During the summer quarter I started taking classes at the University of Washington.  During this same period I had undergone a radical change in direction that might be described as a “conversion experience.”  [Not that a “conversion experience” is necessarily the same as actual conversion to Christ.]  What this amounted to for me was that I quickly and drastically changed direction.  I started reading the bible and praying zealously.  I quit hanging around with my old friends, started going to church, and trying to engage with what I was studying and writing as a Christian.

It was a period of high anxiety.  I was by no means stable and I had doubts about how this was going to turn out.

Key to all of this was the conviction that the reason I had been so depressed, so close to nervous collapse, and had such difficulty functioning, because I had been running my own life instead of doing God’s will.

How did I come to that conclusion?  Because I was desperate.

I figured that the reason Christianity had not “worked” before was because I had not been fully committed.  Now I tried on a daily basis to have a will completely committed and surrendered to Christ.

I still remembered—and believed—the doctrine I was taught as a kid—at least that part that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from works.

However, I reasoned that if I had wandered from Christ so far as to deny Him, that proved that the faith in Him that I thought I had as a child was not saving faith at all.  Works don’t save, but they prove that faith is living.  I also remembered and believed that from my childhood religious training.

Because I had experienced and lived the outright hostility toward Christians that was common among people I hung around, I thought about martyrdom.  I wondered whether I would be able to be faithful to Christ even if I faced death for it.  My constant question to myself was, “Am I ready to forsake everything for Christ?”  If I could answer “yes,” to the question, then I could be assured that I had true faith in Christ.  If there was hesitation, then it was to be feared that my faith was not real, saving faith.

Right around this time I was walking through Red Square on the UW campus.  It was a bright sunny day.  Suddenly I looked and saw the same bearded guy who had talked to me a few months earlier.  Surely that was providential!  I went over to him and said, “Hey, do you remember me?  I became a Christian since we talked last.”

Then he stared at me and said with a completely different demeanor than he seemed to have had the first time we met:  “Have you gotten involved with the worldly church?”

Just as Luther describes in the quote up at the top—those words cut me “like a razor.”  I felt cold fear, like he had just uncovered the truth about me.

More later…

The Lord’s Salvation is Outside Us. Christmas 1 sermon.

December 30, 2012 5 comments

simeonFirst Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:22-40

December 30, 2012

“The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us”

 

Jesu juva.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

On Christmas Eve the epistle reading from Titus said that “the grace of God” trains us to renounce “ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness, and to purify for Himself a people… who are zealous for good works.”  (Titus 2:11-14)

 

The proper fruit of receiving God’s grace and salvation is a godly life.  Jesus died for us not so that we could sin without worrying about it, but so that we would be a people who are zealous to do good.

 

It is a great error that is causing incredible destruction in the Church to think that Jesus’ death for our sins means we now no longer should insist on any rules or standards in our homes, in society, and in the Church.  It is true that religious people who are good about following the rules can easily become judgmental and self-righteous, like the Pharisees.  But that does not mean that the rules should be gotten rid of. 

 

You should go to Divine Service and hear God’s Word every Sunday and at other times when it is offered where your calling does not prevent you—that should be expected, while at the same time we do not look down on our brothers who falter in this area, but instead seek their blessing.  You should learn your catechism by heart. You should have regular prayer and meditation on God’s Word in your homes while not despising and alienating brothers who have not yet learned to do this. It isn’t wrong for the church to set standards like this.  In fact it is loving.

 

The church is not sinning when it requires you to behave with reverence in church.  It wasn’t a sin a few decades ago when Missouri Synod churches expected people who wanted communion to announce and be examined by the pastor beforehand.  This was not legalism.  It was discipline.  Our fathers in the faith knew well that outward discipline did not save people.  But they also knew well how easily order in the home, state, and church could be destroyed by people claiming the freedom of the Gospel as their license to ignore good works and live in sin.

 

The gospel reading shows us today how the godly people who were waiting for the Messiah lived.  They kept the requirements of the law, like Mary and Joseph, even though the baby in their arms was the Lord of the law who fulfilled the law and who would make the law’s requirements for purification after childbirth unnecessary.  They continued in their lowly callings in Nazareth as carpenter, husband, wife, and mother, even though they were told by the prophets in Jerusalem that their child was the glory of Israel—that is, the Lord God in the flesh.  Simeon spent his life watching and praying for the Lord to send His salvation.  Anna lived as a widow for over 80 years and spent her life in the temple, constantly praying and fasting.  Why did they go to all this trouble?  Not because they were trying to save themselves, but because it was God’s will that they walk in His commandments.  And because they believed God’s grace would come and that God therefore forgave all their sins, they gladly sought to live in the righteousness that He had given them in His Word.

 

This needs to be said because we live in a time where many people think the grace of God is license to sin and live an undisciplined life.  How wicked our old Adam is, that he would try to use the grace of God as license and freedom to sin! 

 

But at the same time we have another temptation.  When we recognize our sin and ungodliness we begin to say to ourselves, “I’ll just try harder.”  Or we see our continual failures in leading a godly life and we begin to despair and think that we are not saved or perhaps were never saved.

 

You should indeed repent of your sins and seek to do them no more.  Wherever you neglect prayer, you should repent and seek to do so no longer.  If you have been negligent in hearing and learning His word, you should turn away from your sin.

 

But fear of God’s wrath and the desire to turn away from sin and live a new life will not save us, nor will it in the long run enable us to change sinful habits—to become diligent and blameless in our callings, to pray and learn God’s Word.  Only faith in the Savior does that.  And that is not something human beings can do.

 

For this reason Simeon’s song is full of comfort for us who have tried to amend our sinful lives but remain sinners.  The Nunc Dimittis, which we sing after communion each week, proclaims

 

            The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us.

 

  1. 1.        Jesus is God in the flesh—the glory of Israel, the light for revelation to the Gentiles—and He alone is the Lord’s salvation.

The glory of Israel—the promised one—and the glory in the cloud and fire

 

A light for revelation—again, Simeon is saying that this baby is God.

 

Simeon is ready to die because he has seen the Lord’s salvation.  He has God’s Word.  This child is the Lord God in the flesh.

  1. 2.       The Lord’s salvation is an accomplished fact given in this little child.

 

He speaks of salvation as something done.

 

He undertakes a great exchange,

Puts on our human frame

And in return gives us His realm

His glory and His name.

 

My flesh is not completely renewed in me.  But in Him it is perfectly renewed.

In Him it is finished.

  1. 3.       Therefore devout Christians pray and watch and look only for Him, and thus participate in His kingdom and do good works.

 

“This is the work of God—that you believe in the one He has sent.”  (John 6)

 

“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will make known to them His covenant.”  (Psalm 25?  91?)

 

Why did Simeon pray and watch for God’s kingdom to come, if God had promised it?

 

When He gives us salvation, God invites us to participate in His kingdom and act as His friends—to pray for Him to fulfill His promise and do His work.

 

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and spoke about his exodus  at the transfiguration.

 

We don’t know all that God has planned, so we can’t see in the things that He brings about in our lives how he means to do us good or accomplish His purposes. 

 

We do know that this child will be a sign that is spoken against, and that a sword will pierce the souls of those who love Him.  He is spoken against because we say to trust Him alone and not our works.

 

When this happens, we pray, knowing His ultimate purposes even if we don’t know what is happening in our lives, what his purpose is there.  Cf.  mary and Joseph, who didn’t really understand how this was all going to work out.  There was no coronation ceremony; they went back to Nazareth.

 

Like Simeon, He takes us into His counsel.  Like Moses, sometimes he gives us a glimpse of the promised land.  Like Anna, He uses us to bear witness and encourage and to bring blessing. 

Like Simeon, we take up the Lord’s salvation physically.  He comes to us in His body and blood, according to His Word. 

And then even if we do not see how all the Lord’s plans work together for good for those who love God, we see His salvation–the glory of Israel in our human flesh–our righteousness and holiness, given into death for our sins, given to us Christians to eat and drink under the bread and wine.

Amen.

Not Very Good At Being Christians

August 6, 2012 12 comments

HT:http://whatwouldjackdo.net/2012/08/chick-fil-a-christians-demonstrating-that-theyre-not-very-good-at-being-christians.html

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No. But I am the commander of the armies of the Lord.” Joshua 5:13-14

Ouch.  This picture stings. 

It’s easy to start thinking of all kinds of probably valid rebuttals.  People always think Christians should just feed the hungry and be nice and not stir up trouble.  Especially people who aren’t Christians think that.  And a lot of Christians think it too.  They forget some of Jesus’ other words, like, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  (Matt. 10:34)  Whenever conflict arises because of theology or for the sake of the confession of the Gospel, there are lots of Christians who think you shouldn’t get into fights if you are a Christian.  Such Christians become a great source of pain for their brothers who stand up and bear the hatred of the world.  Then the world accuses them, and meanwhile brothers in the church also say, “You’re not really confessing Jesus.  You’re just being a jerk.”

I’m assuming Jack is not a Christian.  I haven’t read the rest of the blog.  But Jesus didn’t say, specifically, that Christians should serve at soup kitchens or homeless shelters.  He did say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And, “If someone takes your cloak, offer your tunic also,” and, “give to the one who asks of you, and the one who would borrow from you do not turn away.”

But then again, it was Judas who was annoyed when a lady poured expensive perfume on Jesus; he said, “Why wasn’t that sold and given to the poor?”  And Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.

But here’s the thing, even though you could argue with this meme and get annoyed with it, it really should provoke our repentance.

The folks who went to Chik-fil-a and stood in long lines—isn’t it fair to assume that most of them were Christians?  And isn’t it fair to assume that most of them are probably committed and  conservative Christians, or more committed than many?  It takes some commitment to stand up and be counted in the culture war, not to mention spending an hour in a line in order to protest something.

What made all these committed Christians come out?  A business owner says that he opposes homosexual marriage and that he considers his company a Christian company.  Then he is boycotted and picketed by homosexual activists. 

In order to show the world how many conservative Christians there are who agree with the owner of Chik-fil-a, we have this massive turnout of people to spend their dollars in the store.  “We’re not going to be intimidated.  We’re going to let business owners who are vocal about their Christianity and their opposition to gay marriage know that they can continue to be so and they will still continue to be able to run a profitable business.”  That seems to be the message, or at least some of the message.

I have no problem with the owner of Chik-fil-a saying what he said.  Christians should vocally oppose homosexual marriage.  I’ve done the same, and every time I do something painful happens.  I keep doing it not to bash homosexuals but so there are still some voices telling kids, “No, not everyone agrees that homosexual marriage is right, and they aren’t all stupid, or Nazis.”  So that Christians will not be intimidated into denying the truth or believing lies.  So that there will still be space in public discussion for those who dissent from what is being rammed down our throats by the media.

I think Christians must do this.  But the problem is that if all we do is oppose moral drift in our society, that isn’t Christianity yet. 

Christians aren’t supposed to be known simply for rigor.  The light that is supposed to shine in us is not simply defining the moral law or preaching the law’s condemnation, or voting to uphold the moral law.  The light of Christ is not “family values,” even though it’s vitally important for our country and our churches to see “family values” come back, because our country and our churches are falling apart due to the decline of the family.

But Jesus didn’t come to preach the law of God.  He did preach it, but that’s not why He came.  Family values refers to the law of God concerning marriage and sexuality. 

What Jesus came to preach is the Gospel.  The good news.  What is the good news?  That because “there is no one righteous, no, not even one” (Rom. 3), God has provided a righteousness accomplished by Him on behalf of the unrighteous.  God assumed our human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, assumed responsibility for the sin of Adam and all his children, and received the wrath of God against sin in our place on the cross.  Therefore everyone who believes that Jesus paid for sins with His suffering and death is counted righteous; God counts this faith that He receives us for Jesus’ sake as righteousness.

This good news means that all who believe in Christ are no longer condemned, even though sin still lives in them.  And if they are not condemned, they can live in this world without fearing their enemies—they can even love those enemies—because their enemies cannot harm them.  If you hate my guts because I’m a Christian, all you can do is cause me pain temporarily.  But Jesus will be with me and will enable me to bear it and to rejoice in it, because just as He was in this world, so am I.  And then, when I die, I really have lost nothing but gained everything, because Jesus rose from the dead after bearing my sin; and if He has borne my sin and it has died, then God no longer counts my sin against me and will raise me too.

Christians fight, but they fight a different kind of battle with different enemies.  The world fights with those who oppose their interests.  Homosexual activists fight those who oppose their agenda.  Lobbyists fight for their interests in congress. 

Christians’ enemies are God’s enemies—namely, the devil and demons.  But human adversaries?  God will ultimately decide who is to be cast away forever.  We may note when someone is not a Christian, but they don’t become our enemies even though they may hate us and Christ.  Jesus judged no one, but entrusted Himself into His Father’s hands.  He took no vengeance on earth, but only did good to His enemies.

Christians should be known for the gospel.  And even if the world doesn’t understand the gospel (which is likely), or if they slander us, Christians should have lives that reflect this love of God toward His enemies, which caused Him to humble Himself and die on their behalf, even while they fought Him, dishonored Him, or denied Him. 

Thank God that He did that toward His enemies?  Because in the flesh I am His enemy.  And my flesh has dishonored and hated Christ all my life.  I would not believe in Him now unless He was willing to endure abuse from His enemies.

In the verse I quoted way up at the top of this post, Joshua goes over and says, “Are you for us or our adversaries?”  And the guy with the sword says (by the way, that guy is the Son of God before the incarnation, I’m pretty sure)—“No.”  No, the Lord when He was about to go in with Joshua and slaughter the idolaters in Canaan and put the Israelites in that land—He was not fighting on the side of the Canaanites or the Israelites.  He was doing what He was doing for His own Name.

God is on the side of Christians when Christians are on His side.  God is on the side of repentant sinners.  God is for me in Christ, but that doesn’t mean God is on my side in the culture wars. 

He wishes to save sinners, whether the sinners are clinging to very ugly sins, or whether they are repentant and have the Holy Spirit beginning to destroy the old man within them.  Either way, we do not fulfill the law of God.  So Jesus seeks both.

He seeks to bring the unbelievers to repentance and faith in Him, so that they begin to keep His law.

He seeks to bring the true Christians again and again to faith in Him, so that they grow in holiness.

Our critic is right.  How much we lack in holiness, that you can find conservative, consciously committed Christians waiting in long lines to do what—stand with a man who confessed that homosexual marriage is wrong.

Good!  But even the pagans know that.  Muslims know it.  Hindus know it.  People who worship their ancestors also know it.

Where Christians should be conspicuous is in their pity toward the wretched, helpless, damned.  And toward their enemies.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  Do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  Do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  [St. Matthew 5:43-48]

Yes, if only we were as eager to pray for our enemies and to bear the suffering of the poor or endure the pain of trying to help a person caught in sin get free from it as we are to buy fast food in the name of Jesus, or condemn homosexual marriage in the name of Jesus!

Don’t misunderstand; it is necessary to say it clearly.  But at the same time the mercy of Christ that extends to us in the black hole, the depths of hell in which we were born in Adam, ought to move us to show the same compassion to those who are no different than we are by nature. 

If I hurt sound critical of anyone who was at Chik-fil-a, I promise you, all these things are preached to myself too. 

You are doing right to uphold the Law of God which worketh death.  It is necessary.  But when I hear it from someone who I cannot believe has struggled with sin and hopelessness in the way that I have, I am crushed into despair.  That’s what the Pharisees did to the sinners. 

I’ve been a Pharisee.  So was St. Paul.  St. Paul found—and so–that when we put all we have into serving God and are zealous and rigorous in the name of God–it’s then that we commit the greatest sins.  Unless the Spirit converts us, we can only do evil.  And even after we are converted, even when it is the Spirit who does the works in us, even then our works could not stand before God apart from His gracious covering of the sin in them.

That is how helpless we are in the flesh to please God.  And the worst is that after a person believes in Christ, our flesh and the devil often trick us into doing worse than we ever did apart from Christ–because now, so easily, the evil in our flesh is cloaked by the name of Christ.

let the recognition of every such attempt in the flesh which we have committed pierce our hearts, so that we are constantly driven to the pure mercy of God to us in Christ, for there is truly nothing good in us.  May Christians in this country carry weight in our society not so much for their capacity to buy things, but for their wealth of compassion, grace, and love for their enemies. 

 

http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=7563

%d bloggers like this: