Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Doing What God Gives You to Do

Lent Midweek 2
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Acts 3:26

Lent is a time of repentance. The entire Christian life, in fact, is one of repentance. By nature we are turned in on ourselves. Daily we must repent and look outward. Toward the cross.

How do we see this, that we are turned in on ourselves? If we are despondent or going through difficult times, what is our focus? Ourselves. If we are helping others out and we feel good about that, who are we thinking about? Not just them, but also ourselves. If we are talking about the Christian life or the Bible or how we should live, what does the conversation usually revolve around? Us. What we need to do for God, how we are to live, what we must not do.

Not that we can’t ever think about ourselves. The problem usually comes in, however, in that when we are thinking about ourselves, we tend to focus on ourselves.

For the second sermon in a row now from Acts we are met with the unnerving condemnation that we crucify our Lord. Our sins have brought Him to that cross. Yes, we try to please God with our behavior. We make an effort not to do those things God forbids.

Try as we might, our sins are what we continue going back to. In other words, we constantly go back to ourselves, our sinful nature. We turn in on ourselves. But those very sins that nailed Jesus to the cross are the ones He died for on the cross. That’s why in repentance we look to the cross.

We don’t try to do better. We don’t resolve to cut out certain bad things we do out of our life. We don’t try to get our act together, be more positive, stop being negative.

We repent. What does that mean? It means we look to the cross. It means we do with our sins what Christ has done with them. Bury them. Put them away. They don’t exist. He does not count them against us. We shouldn’t either. We shouldn’t turn repentance into something we do. Something we must come up with.

It is wholly a thing that Christ does. What did Peter say? “God, having raised up His servant, sent Him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Why would He die on the cross for your salvation only to turn around and say, “Oh yeah, but you gotta do such and such. And you have to be such and such a way. And you better not slip up.”

Christ died on the cross to do away with our sins. Yes, we continue to sin, but that’s why we daily repent. That’s why every day we look to that cross where He has dealt with our sins. God the Father sent His Son to us to bless us; to turn us away from our wickedness. Repent. Look to that cross where He was sent, where He blesses us, where He turns us away from our wickedness.

You see, we have to keep things straight. We’re prone to thinking we need to do what we think God wants us to do. We ought to be doing what God gives us to do. And there’s a reason that I didn’t say what God wants us to do. We know what He wants us to do, it’s spelled out in the Ten Commandments.

We need to repent. We need to do what God gives us to do. Because that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about His giving to us what we do. Everything from Him is a gift. When He calls us to repentance He doesn’t call on us to muster up more good works and a greater resolve to stop sinning. He calls us to be filled up with His Son. That’s why we look to the cross. Because it’s all about Him. It’s about what He has done for us. He turns us away from our sin because He does away with our sin.

If repentance is about what we do then we’re still muddied up in our sin. If we look to that glorious cross where our Savior hangs then we see no longer our sin but life that is filled up with Him. We actually end up seeing ourselves, but as God Almighty sees us—people who have been redeemed by what the eternal God has done for them in the Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Son Of Adam, Son of God

First Sunday in Lent
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Luke 4:1-13

What do you think Joseph was like? We don’t know a lot about him. We know He was called by God for a most unusual task. To be the guardian, the father even, of the Savior of the world. We know he risked his very own life to protect his wife and the young child she bore and gave birth to. We know after all these remarkable events occurred he made his living as a carpenter in a small town in a region above Judea.

There is another thing we know of him and that is because he is every bit like us in that he was born of a woman. That means he was a sinful man. He believed in the God of the Israelites, the One who sent the Messiah, the Savior of the world. But he was a sinner nonetheless. Though called to a unique task, he was by no means unique as a person. He was a man, and that meant he needed a Savior.

Luke tells us that Jesus was his son. And that’s true. But He wasn’t only the son of Joseph, He was the son of a line of men who preceded Him. We’re all the product to a certain degree of those in our lineage. If you go back far enough your lineage takes you back to the first man, Adam. And that’s exactly what Luke shows with Jesus’ genealogy: He was the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, etc., all the way back to Adam. Jesus, the son of Adam.

But how was it that this particular lineage produced a man born of a woman that was as they were in every respect but without sin? The Bible tells us that also. Though He was the product of a female womb, it was a virgin womb, not of the union with a man. Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not Joseph. So Jesus, though the son of Adam like you and I are, is also the Son of God.

It’s much more remarkable what Jesus went through as the Son of God than as the Son of Adam. We expect difficulties. Trials, tribulations, hardships. We’re human. We live in a fallen world. We are fallible creatures. We’re going to have slips and slides in our lives. Nothing surprising here. Jesus was a man, too. It’s only sensible that He went through those things.

But the Son of God? The one of whom His Heavenly Father said: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Oh yeah? How beloved was He really, when immediately upon being Baptized, anointed by His dear Heavenly Father, He was sent into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted for forty days by Satan without food? That’s an odd way to show Your only-begotten Son Your love for Him. I don’t imagine Joseph ever remotely considered doing anything like that to his son, long hours in the wood shop notwithstanding.

The suffering of Christ did not involve only eighteen hours between the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross. Three years before His crucifixion the assault began in the trial in the desert. If you think what the chief priests or the Roman soldiers brought on was excruciating, you haven’t seen anything yet. He suffered beyond what I can imagine physically, but I’m a wimp when it comes to pain anyway. Jesus did not come here to receive a few scourgings and some nails in His hands and feet.

He came to take our punishment upon Himself. Our punishment for our sins is not physical, although there is certainly torment involved in being in hell for eternity. Our punishment is spiritual. It’s being banished from God forever. What Jesus came to do was to be the recipient of that. What Satan wants to do to you and me—tear us away from God and His care of us—He attempted to do to Jesus.

He pulled out all the stops. For three years Satan assaulted Jesus. It culminated in the cross. If we wish to know what God thinks of us we can look to His Son. The Son of God was led by the Father into the desert in order to take the hit from Satan. In His eternal grace and love God calls us His sons because of His Son who remained faithful in the face of temptation even as we often fail.

Satan’s challenge to Jesus was: “If You are the Son of God.” But what did he tempt Jesus with? Food. Jesus was hungry. God doesn’t get hungry. He doesn’t need food; He doesn’t need anything. But God became a man. The son of Adam out there in the desert was hungry. He was in need. Satan simply told Him what He already knew: He was God and could alleviate His discomfort easily.

But the Son of God was not deterred: “Man does not live by bread alone.” What he lives by is the Word of God. That’s why Jesus quoted the Word of God. As men, we often revert to our base instincts, like our need for food. That’s good as far as it goes, it’ll keep us alive. But we live by faith; the Word of God is our sustenance for our souls.

Does it strike you as odd that Satan’s next temptation was in offering the kingdoms of the world? He had just as much acknowledged that Jesus is God. Why would the devil think that Jesus would be interested in the kingdoms of the world when He is the Lord of the Universe? Because Satan knew that Jesus had chosen to become a son of Adam. A mere man. We humans are prone to wanting more. Prone to wondering if God is holding out on us. Isn’t that where Adam and Eve fell into sin?

But Jesus once again shows the devil where true glory is to be found. It is in the worship of the one true God, not in the amassing of wealth. Jesus put His money where His mouth is and once again quoted the Word of God. It is indeed by the Word of God that we live, not anything Satan might hold before us.

Okay, so let’s live that way you say, Jesus. Satan was catching on so attempted to get Jesus to “take God at His Word”. It was a feeble attempt, of course. But Satan operates that way. He deceives. He takes the Word of God and twists it to suit his own purpose, which is always to put doubt in our minds about God.

So take Him at His Word! He says He will guard you, give Him an opportunity to do it, since You trust in Him completely.

It’s not hard to guess how Jesus responded this third and final time—with the Holy Word of God. Yes, trust in God should be complete, but that also means you should never put Him to the test.

You know what? We would know this if we’d follow Jesus’ lead. Get into the Word of God. Know it. Learn it. Take it to heart. Inwardly digest it.

But we don’t. We use the Bible the way the devil does, to suit our own needs. The Word of God is living and active. It is a double-edged sword. It cuts away the feebleness of our sinful nature. But it is a soothing balm which heals us.

Because we are sons of Adam, we are done for, as it would appear that Jesus was in the desert. But as sons of God we are a new creation. We are clothed with Christ. We are given protection from the evil one and promised not all the kingdoms of the world but the Kingdom of Heaven. We’re in the line of Joseph and Adam. But we have been given a new lineage: we are sons and daughters of the King and Savior, the Son of God Himself. Amen.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Crucified One is the Lord

Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Acts 2:36

A meditation on a portion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon might seem out of place in Lent, especially on Ash Wednesday, a day of solemnity. A day of repentance.

Pentecost is a celebration. It’s a day to give thanks for the birth of the Church.

But what was Peter calling the people to in his Pentecost sermon, the first sermon in the Book of Acts? Repentance. The birth of the Church begins in repentance. The Church itself daily begins in repentance.

I wonder if that put a damper on things that first day of the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, thousands of people were converted, a new wind was blowing. Why did Peter have to bring up anything about repentance? Why the talk about sin? Why take the knife already stuck in them and twist it by telling them that they crucified Jesus?

Because there are certain things we need to know. And God is the one to tell us what we need to know. We may not like to hear what He has to say. We may deny it. We may even ignore it. But His words are clear: know for certain.

What is it we ought to know? Peter concludes His Pentecost sermon this way: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The very last word of the first Christian sermon is “crucified”. The nailing of Jesus to the cross is the center of the Christian Church. At the heart of Christianity is the crucifixion of the one man Jesus. Our Christian lives, they are nothing apart from the one who was brought to death on the cross.

And who did it? The House of Israel. We may not think that applies to us since we’re not Jews. But remember which sermon this was—the first Christian sermon. Peter was preaching to you and me. The Holy Spirit got a lot of mileage out of that sermon almost two thousands years ago by having it still preach today. To you and me in fact.

It’s what we need to hear on Ash Wednesday. On this first day of Lent. Because it’s about repentance. What does the death of Christ do for us if it doesn’t bring us to repentance? If we’re not met with our utter unworthiness and sinfulness in seeing Christ hang on that tree, what are we thinking of ourselves? That we’re okay? Is that why Christ died on the cross? Because we’re okay as it is?

No, He was crucified because we need the sacrifice on our behalf. To repent is to turn around. What do we need to turn around from? We’re thinking we’re okay as we are. We need to turn around and look at that one man on the tree. Because in His death is life. Because in that crucified one is the Lord and Christ.

I was watching the animated version of Ben Hur the other day and Ben Hur kept wanting to serve in the Messiah’s army to overthrow the Romans. But his friend kept telling him that Jesus’ army was not of this world. Jesus came not to battle the Roman Empire. He came to assault our sinful nature.

It is so corrupt that we nailed Him to the cross. We weren’t there, but we have done our part. We keep sinning against Him, don’t we? Why do we do that? Why would we who know why Christ died and rose continue to abuse His commands?

Know this for certain, the one we nailed to the cross with our sins is both Lord and Christ. He is not only the only God but the Savior of the world. That’s why He died. He wasn’t the victim of people who reveled in killing innocent men. He was the Victim God the Father gave on the altar of Calvary as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. He chose that death precisely because He is both Lord and Christ.

Know this for certain, in His death is life. This is how we know He loves both you and me and every sinner—He chose that death on our behalf. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Highest Mountain

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Luke 9:28-36

There’s something about the mountains. It’s not just getting away from it all. When you’re in the mountains you feel like you’re on top of the world. You can see panoramic views you can’t see from down below. You marvel at the grandeur. It’s easy to understand why when you experience something exhilarating it’s called a “mountain-top experience”.

We all know what that’s like. Peter, James, and John experienced it. Actually, they literally experienced it. There they were, on the mountain. And when they witnessed what God showed them they didn’t want to leave. This is good being here! Let’s stay here and set up shop. No way we’re going back down the mountain to our ordinary lives.

They thought they had reached the pinnacle. The highest mountain. It would seem so. Isn’t that why Jesus brought them up there? Here, I want to show you something no one else has seen. So it must be where it’s at, right?

Well, the problem is that Jesus didn’t want them staying up there. He brought them up for a short time. What He really had in mind was to make the trek back down the mountain. Because the Mount of Transfiguration wasn’t really the highest mountain. No, there was one that was higher, even if it wasn’t taller. And even if it wasn’t as spectacular. The highest mountain in the world, even, doesn’t compare to it.

God has a thing with mountains. He uses them for important stuff. We see that in our Scripture readings for today. Moses was brought by God up to Mt. Nebo. There he could see the Promised Land. Only from that vantage point could he really see the splendor of what they had been wandering toward for forty years. But there’s another mountain from which we have the vantage point of seeing the true Promised Land. That’s because it’s a higher mountain, even if it’s not as tall as Mt. Nebo.

The most famous mountain of all, of course, when it comes to Moses, is Mt. Sinai. On that mountain God also made a spectacular display, although unlike Peter, James, and John, the Israelites wanted to get out of there. And they weren’t even on the mountain. The display of God’s glory they saw was of smoke and fire and thunder. But though God showed His awesome power on that mountain, there is still one that is greater. It reaches higher because it shows God in His fullness, not just His holiness.

And what about Moses’ cohort, Elijah? It was on Mt. Carmel that God showed his power through the actions of Elijah against King Ahab and the prophets of Baal. Ahab abandoned the worship of the true God and opted for the message of the 450 prophets of Baal. It was on Mt. Carmel that Elijah made his stand against Ahab and the so-called god of Baal. Setting up two altars, the prophets of Baal prayed to no avail to their wisp of a god. But when Elijah prayed to Yahweh, fire was sent blazing down from heaven upon the altar. A spectacular display of supremacy, but Carmel is but a mound against the mountain that reaches up beyond sight.

It’s actually on the Mount of Transfiguration that this highest of all mountains is spoken of. It’s in the midst of Jesus’ spectacular display of glory that is pointed a mountain which shows us fully who Jesus is and why there was yet one more ascent to make. You see, Moses was invited up the great mountain of Sinai. God brought him up to the peak of Mt. Nebo. Even in that singular moment when God called him in the burning bush God came to him on a mountain, Mt. Horeb. Elijah displayed for all to see on Mt. Carmel who the true God is. Jesus gave the opportunity to three of His disciples to enter on top of a mountain which was unlike any other, in which Jesus was transfigured before there very eyes.

But all of these mountains are plains compared to the one which only Jesus could ascend in order for us to attain heaven. Not many people can climb Mt. Everest, but it can be done. No one can make their way to heaven, no matter how much they might try to stay on the mountain of their self-delusion. Believing all paths lead to salvation. Turning God’s mercy into a flabby notion that God won’t condemn anyone. The mountains we raise of our own sense of self worth, however, are what we most often rely on. But how many times do we have to keep ascending those mountains before we realize we invariably slide back down? What will it take for us to acknowledge that we can’t claw our way up the mountain into heaven? The only way for us to reach heaven is for Christ to ascend a mountain that He alone must ascend.

And that is why He came back down the Mount of Transfiguration and set His face toward Jerusalem. That is why on the Mount of Transfiguration He and Moses and Elijah were speaking of His “departure” which, Luke says, He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

There was a mountain there, right in Jerusalem. More of a hill, really. But it’s the highest mountain there is because of the fact that Jesus ascended it for His “departure”. In other words, His death. Calvary is the highest mountain because it reaches heaven.

What kind of a religion glories in a mountain like Calvary? In a cross where the experience of Jesus is bitter and gruesome? Why not in a majestic event like the Transfiguration? Why were Peter, James, and John so wrong? Isn’t Jesus truly glorious? Isn’t Jesus truly Lord of all and doesn’t He eternally reign over all? The Old Testament goes to great lengths to glory in the eternal Mt. Zion, the heavenly counterpart of the chosen city Jerusalem. Why is the hill of Calvary the center of the universe when it comes to God?

There’s a reason Moses and Elijah were with Jesus at the Transfiguration. And why they were talking with Jesus. Because we have to know that no mountain will show us glory apart from the hill of Calvary. No mountain-top experience will last if there is no cross. The Mount of Transfiguration is not really about the glorious experience of itself at all. It’s about the glory of God that is known ultimately on the mountain of Calvary.

When Jesus went up the mountain with the three disciples it was to pray. Jesus did not suffer Himself to be lead up the hill of Calvary to pray, but He did pray there. The most wonderful prayer of all, in fact, was uttered by Christ on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is why there is no true glory of God only in the Transfiguration, because without the cross there is no forgiveness.

While on the Mount the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. It was a glorious sight, but there is no more glorious sight than the face of Jesus being altered from the scourging and His clothes tattered and torn and even stripped from Him. Isaiah prophesied that His appearance would be “marred more than any man”. Who usually thinks of glory when picturing the bloody face of Jesus on the cross? God does. Not because He’s a sadist, because His supreme glory is His mercy upon fallen man.

The men God had brought at distinct points in history to significant mountain tops now appeared in glory with Jesus as He was transfigured in a dazzling display of glory. But their mountain-top experience was done a little differently than how we would do it. Moses and Elijah thought this was the perfect time to talk about Jesus’ impending suffering and death. What good at all would it do for Jesus to come to this mount and give a glimpse of His glory if everyone was lost? Moses and Elijah are pointing us to the highest mountain of all, the one that leads us to eternal glory in heaven as they experience it now.

Luke tells us that Peter and his compatriots were very sleepy. They almost missed the big show! But they got to see it after all and thought it was marvelous. Exactly the opposite of what they thought when Jesus was taken into custody, beaten, and nailed to the cross. On the Mount of Transfiguration they wanted nothing more than to remain there. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, they couldn’t get far enough away.

As if to bring Peter, James, and John back to their senses, God the Father covered the scene with a cloud. Even the creation spoke what it thought of Jesus the Son of God being humiliated through crucifixion as the clouds covered the sky and darkness reigned for three hours until He died. But the light of God’s salvation could not be darkened during those six hours Jesus was on the cross. It was in the darkness of that moment His love and glory showed through most brilliantly.

How Jesus must have longed on the cross to hear again those words spoken of Him by His Heavenly Father at His Baptism: “This is My Son, My Chosen One” and here again in His Transfiguration. But there was nothing of words of comfort like that as Jesus hung limply on the cross. What He received instead was abandonment. He cried out to His Heavenly Father: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Do we understand now why God the Father said of His only-begotten Son at the Transfiguration, “listen to Him”? If there’s ever something you should hear it is this, what Jesus said on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It is in that sorrowful death of Jesus and the being forsaken by His Father that you and I are given mercy.

For a moment, there on the Mount with Jesus His disciples saw Moses and Elijah. But it didn’t last, just as all mountain-top experiences do not last. Suddenly, Jesus was alone. It was time to go back down the mountain. For three years the disciples had been with Jesus. But in the moment when normally they would think to be there for Him when He most needed them, they were nowhere to be found. He was alone there on Calvary. And it has to be that way. The mountain of Calvary reaches up to heaven because Jesus alone has paid the penalty for the sin of the world. Amen.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Paradigm Shift

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Luke 6:17-26

Do you know anyone who doesn’t have anything going on? I don’t either. Everyone I know is busy. They have all kinds of things going on. It’s the same with me. We fill our lives up with all kinds of things. There’s things we have to do, things that come up, things we want to do, things we should do. We have to run the kids off in fifty different directions. It seems like our boss is running us off in fifty different directions. We have repair projects at home, problems to solve at work, errands to run, volunteer work to take care of. We have enough going on as it is, it seems that we shouldn’t add anything else.

And maybe that’s true. But maybe we should do things differently. Maybe what we need is a paradigm shift. Now you won’t find the phrase paradigm shift in the Bible. Jesus didn’t go around preaching the Good News and telling people they needed a paradigm shift. But what He was actually doing in coming here to earth was to deliver to people a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a radically different take on something. It’s a change in which things will seem upside down. It’s hard to have a paradigm shift because we’re so ingrained in our own modes of thought or action. Like being busy. We’re so used to filling our lives up with so many things that we couldn’t conceive of getting rid of some of them because they all seem important.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives a slightly different version of the beatitudes we know so well from the Sermon on the Mount. In giving us these beatitudes He’s delivering to us a paradigm shift. It appears He’s saying that we’re blessed if we have less. But He’s really telling us that He gives us more. When it seems we’re already filled up as it is, Jesus wants to pile on more?

What’s going on here? What is Jesus wanting to do with us? He’s giving us a paradigm shift. He’s rearranging things for us so that they’re upside down.

In a fascinating twist in Luke’s Gospel account, someone other than Jesus at a particular point gives a beatitude: “When one of those who reclined at table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” And isn’t it true? Of course it is. That is exactly why Jesus has come. But listen to how He responds to the man:

A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s describing those who are the “blessed” of the beatitudes. The ones who are lacking spiritually. They are filled up in Christ. It is the unworthy, those who are in need that Christ welcomes and fills up. We are truly blessed in Christ, we have new life. But there’s a twist even here, and this is the paradigm shift.

The kind of “blessed” life Jesus is talking about can be seen in the great story that Tolkien told in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo is just your ordinary hobbit but is given an extraordinary task. He is to take the ring forged by the enemy of Middle Earth and destroy it in the very fire from which it was forged. Otherwise the enemy who created it will destroy Middle Earth. Frodo experiences countless adversities. He’s taken advantage of, he goes through physical trials, hunger, danger, but through it all remains faithful to his task.

In him we see a picture of Christ. Jesus was pressed upon by all kinds of trials and yet forged on. In The Lord of the Rings that ring carried by Frodo was destroyed and Middle Earth was saved. On Mount Calvary Jesus Himself was destroyed and we are saved. In giving us these beatitudes Jesus is saying, Blessed are you because you are in Me. Our blessedness is in being in Him.

He doesn’t say, however, Blessed are you when you are in Me for your life will now be full of happiness and things will go your way. Your load will be lightened and you will be freed up to live a carefree existence. No, what happens instead? Like Frodo, the new life we have in Christ means more trouble will come our way. We will be pressed from all sides. It most certainly will not always seem that we’re blessed.

But that is because the beatitudes aren’t about how we need to be in order to be blessed by Christ. They’re about who He is and what He has done in order to bless us. He became hungry, staving off temptation in order to fill us up with the Bread of Life. He became poor in order to give us the very riches of heaven. He was mocked and treated shamefully so that we may hear the words of our Lord Himself to us on that glorious day when He comes again: “Blessed are you of My Father, enter into the eternal kingdom of glory.”

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day and he said one of his profs at the seminary was asked the question of whether we’ll still be married in heaven. His response was: It’s amazing how many questions I get about heaven and none of them have to do with Jesus. What is heaven about, after all? Is it about whether we’ll be married, or whether our pets will be there with us, or how we’ll be spending our time for all of eternity? Isn’t it really about Christ? That we’ll be in His glorious presence?

Here is your paradigm shift—it’s all about Jesus. He is your new life. He is your righteousness. Blessed are you for you will be filled. Blessed are you for yours is the very Kingdom of God. Blessed are you indeed. Amen.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

“The Bible Is My Creed”

Why do we have creeds? Isn’t the Bible enough? Are we placing creeds over the Bible when we subscribe to them?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is how the Bible begins—stating that God created the universe. God not only is the creator of history, He works in history. The work of His salvation concerns historical events. Further, the fact that we have that statement in written form shows us something about the God who created everything—He works with words. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” That is how John begins his Gospel account. God is not only the God of words, but He became flesh and that flesh dwelt among us. God in the flesh is Jesus Christ and John tells us that He is the Word. Words matter to God.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is therefore the truth. In that sense it is a statement of what we believe. But how do you take the truth of God’s Word and present it in a form where you can succinctly say what it is we believe, i.e. what God has given us to believe in His Word? That’s where creeds come in.

Creeds are for Confessing
Christians confess. Confession is “saying the same thing”. Homologeo comes from the word “homologos”, of one mind. The word “homologeo”, to confess, literally means “to say the same word”. When we confess we are saying the same word as God; saying back to God what He has said to us.

In what ways do we do this?
Confession of sins—1 John 1:8-9.
Confession of faith—Matthew 10:32-33.

Our confession (of sins and of faith) comes from, is based on, and flows from the Word of God.

How did Creeds come About?
The people of God have always been a confessing people: always needing to confess their sins; always called upon by their Lord to confess the faith they hold. Jesus Himself gave confession to the faith He authored and engenders in us: John 18:33-37; 1 Timothy 6:13. When He Himself confessed boldly in the face of persecution, how much more will we, the people of God, confess our faith in Him to the world, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15]?

Scriptural Examples of Confessing the Faith
Deuteronomy 6:4
1 Kings 18:39
Deuteronomy 26:5-9
Matthew 16:15-17
John 6:66-69
Romans 10:8-10
1 Corinthians 12:3
1 Corinthians 15:3-7
1 Timothy 3:16
Romans 1:1-4
Philippians 2:6-11
1 Corinthians 8:6
2 Corinthians 13:14
1 John 4:2-3, 15; 2 John 1:7

The Nature and Purpose of Creeds
The Early Church used creeds in their life as the Christian community. Creeds primarily have their place in the worship service. Creeds are confessed not just by individuals, but by the community as a whole. This also guards against false doctrine being taught or promoted.

Creeds were also used to catechize. In preparing people for Baptism creeds would be used to teach them the faith. Their confessing the creed then would be the act of making that confession their own confession of faith.

There are always different voices in the Church. False teachers rise up. False doctrines creep in. This forces the Church to state clearly what it believes. It draws the line in the sand, so to speak. Error must be combated with the truth. Creeds give clear and universal declaration to the truth and condemnation of error.

Credal Developments in the Early Church Fathers
Ignatius of Antioch [c. A.D. 107]
Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly begotten of God and of the Virgin, but not after the same manner. For indeed God and man are not the same. He truly assumed a body; for "the Word was made flesh," and lived upon earth without sin. For says He, "Which of you convicteth me of sin?" He did in reality both eat and drink. He was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate. He really, and not merely in appearance, was crucified, and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. By those in heaven I mean such as are possessed of incorporeal natures; by those on earth, the Jews and Romans, and such persons as were present at that time when the Lord was crucified; and by those under the earth, the multitude that arose along with the Lord. For says the Scripture, "Many bodies of the saints that slept arose," their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude; and rent asunder that means of separation which had existed from the beginning of the world, and cast down its partition-wall.

He also rose again in three days, the Father raising Him up; and after spending forty days with the apostles, He was received up to the Father, and "sat down at His right hand, expecting till His enemies are placed under His feet." On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathaea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord's day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord's Day contains the resurrection.

The Witness of Justin Martyr [c. A.D. 165]
That according to which we worship the God of the Christians, whom we reckon to be one from the beginning, the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible; and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had also been preached beforehand by the prophets as about to be present with the race of men, the herald of salvation and teacher of good disciples.
The presbyters of Smyrna [c. A.D. 180]

We also know in truth one God, we know Christ, we know the Son, suffering as he suffered, dying as he died, and risen on the third day, and abiding at the right hand of the Father, and coming to judge the living and the dead. And in saying this we say what has been handed down to us.

Der Balyzeh Papyrus [c. A.D. 200 or later]
Confess the faith…
I believe in God the Father Almighty
And in his only begotten Son,
Our Lord, Jesus Christ,
And in the Holy Spirit,
And in the resurrection of the flesh
In the holy catholic Church.

The Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus [c. A.D. 215]
Do you believe in God the Father All Governing?

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Who was begotten by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died (and was buried) and rose the third day living from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, and (in the resurrection of the dead)?

Creed of Marcellus of Ancyra [c. A.D. 340]
I believe in God, All Governing;

And in Christ Jesus His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was begotten of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried, who rose from the dead on the third day, ascending to the heavens and taking his seat at the Father's right hand, whence He shall come to judge both living and dead;

And in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, life everlasting.

Creed of Rufinus (Aquileia) [c. A.D. 404]
I believe in God the Father almighty, invisible and impassable;

And in Christ Jesus, His only Son, our Lord, who was born by the Holy Spirit from Mary the Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried. He descended to hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended to heaven, where He sits at the Father’s right hand and from whence He will come to judge both living and dead;

And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of this flesh.

[Creeds reprinted from John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982)

Irenaeus’ formulation of the Rule of Faith [c. A.D. 180]
To this order many nations of barbarians give assent . . . believing in one God, Maker of heaven and earth, and all that in them is, through Christ Jesus the Son of God; Who, for his astounding love towards his creatures, sustained the birth of the Virgin, himself uniting his manhood to God, and suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again, and was received in glory, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the judge of those who are judged; and sending into eternal fire the perverters of the truth and the despisers of his Father and his advent.

Tertullian’s first formulation of the Rule of Faith [c. A.D. 200]
The Rule of Faith is altogether one, sole, immovable, and irreformable-namely, to believe in one God Almighty, the Maker of the world; and His Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, on the third day raised again from the dead, received in the heavens, sitting now at the right hand of the Father, coming to judge the quick and the dead, also through the resurrection of the flesh.

[Rules of faith reprinted from Originally from Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990 reprint)]

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

The Nicene Creed [as approved at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381]
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Creed of Chalcedon [A.D. 451]
Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul {meaning human soul} and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these "last days," for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten -- in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without con-trasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the "properties" of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one "person" and in one reality {hypostasis}. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word {Logos} of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers {the Nicene Creed} has handed down to us.

The Athanasian Creed [c. A.D. 500]
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;
2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.
14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;
16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;
18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.
19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.
26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.
27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.
31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.
36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;
39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;
40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
42. and shall give account of their own works.
43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

The Question of Authority
The Bible alone is the authority for what we believe, teach, and confess. The creeds of the Christian Church give witness to the faith of the Word of God. The history of God’s people has been one of making declarative statements of faith in the God they put their trust in. The creeds are authoritative because they are faithful statements of the faith of the Bible. They meet the need for a community of believers that gathers in worship to receive the gifts of God and respond in thanksgiving and in confession of faith. They meet the need for a Church that must constantly make known what it is it believes, teaches, and confesses. They meet the need for the Christians that make up the Church who continually are learning and growing in the faith once delivered to the saints [Jude 3]. The faith is rooted in the historical events of God acting in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. When the Christian Church confesses its creeds it is confessing nothing other than that which our Lord has given us in His Word. The Church will continue to confess the faith forever.

[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Monday, February 5, 2007

Jacob (Israel), Patriarch

By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. [Hebrews 11:21]

Of all the things Jacob did, this is an interesting one to point out in the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11. Jacob was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham. Abraham and Isaac were great patriarchs but it was actually from Jacob that the Israelites, the Old Testament people of God, got their name. That’s because God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.

It was by faith that Jacob was being used by God to the very end of his life. In this case blessing his grandchildren of Joseph that he thought he would never see [Genesis 48:4-11]. Blessings aren’t limited to the line through which the Savior would come (Jacob’s son Judah). God always has more blessings to give. Even though Jacob was on his way out of this world, there was enough strength left in him to bless Manasseh and Ephraim.

What a great picture of how God loves us to the end. Even on the cross Jesus was speaking blessings upon us. “Father, forgive them.” “It is finished.” We are in the line of Israel now because of Jesus’ blessing to us in His dying for us. We are the New Israel, the Holy Christian Church.

[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Depart [ ] Me

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Luke 5:1-11

It never really sounded appealing to me. Why would you want to go to a river or get out on a lake and sit there holding a pole with a line that you cast out into the water? Yes, there’s some excitement in catching a fish… but the sitting there waiting, it seemed like a waste of time. So I never had much of a desire to go fishing.

But three of my friends in college loved to fish. So I went out with them a few times. They knew all the tricks and had all the right equipment. They would give me a pole and some line and some bait and I thought, how hard can it be? How is using all that stuff they use and knowing where to cast the line and how to cast it and all the tricks of the trade different from just getting the bait into the water? If the fish are there, won’t they see it and bite?

Well, while I was sitting there waiting for the fish to bite, my friends would be catching fish as if they were coming right out of the water onto their laps. There was a lot more to fishing than I realized. They were good at it because they had taken the time to learn the craft. And for my friends this was just a hobby.

Peter spent his life learning the craft of fishing because it was his profession. He knew the ins and outs and was constantly honing his craft. His professional operation was not quite as simple as throwing the line into the water waiting for the fish to bite. The kind of fishing he and his crew did was hard work. There were no poles. Rather, there were huge nets that were weighted around the edge. Long nights were spent putting the net down in the right place and hauling it up from a big catch. Not only did the fish have to be cleaned but also the nets.

I admire them and their work but don’t envy them and their line of work. They made their living because they were good at what they did, but they also endured times where they saw little results. Now how do you think my friends would have reacted if I had sat there and told them what to do and where to cast the line? They would scoff at me because I don’t know what I’m talking about.

This is how Peter felt when Jesus told him to cast the nets into the water. Jesus, you don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re professional fishermen. We do this for a living. We know what we’re doing. You may be a very talented rabbi, but you don’t know the first thing about fishing. Peter tries politely to point this out to Jesus. We’ve been working hard all night! If that hasn’t done it, nothing we do now will.

But Jesus doesn’t show up where Peter is fishing to tell him how to do his job. In fact, He got into the boat in the first place because He needed room to do what He was really there for—teaching the Word of God. Peter was busy cleaning the nets but he was hearing Jesus proclaim the Word of God. It’s in this setting Jesus tells him to put down the nets. He even says why, to catch fish. Peter is reluctant but nevertheless says: “But at Your Word, I will.”

Jesus was no fisherman. But He is God. And He is the Savior. Peter had done all he could through the night in his toil and came up empty. Jesus concluded His proclamation of the Word of God with a miraculous catch of fish. What was it that constrained Peter to fall before Jesus and confess his sinfulness? The Word of Christ. It has that power. It brings about what it says. Jesus said let down the nets for a catch, and a catch there was.

If Peter was unable to make a catch of fish like that on his own, being the professional fisherman he was, how much less would he be able to be a fisher of men, being unworthy, a sinful man? How could Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, minister to a people of unclean lips? The Word of the holy God has this effect on people. It brings us to our knees. It flattens us with the realization that we’ve come up empty.

Peter doesn’t even make a confession of sins. That is, of specific sins. His confession is that of Isaiah’s, of utter sinfulness. He is unable to stand in the presence of his holy Lord. If he, a professional fisherman, can’t bring in fish like Jesus, he knows he has no chance when it comes to righteousness. “I’m undone,” Isaiah cried before the holy Lord. “Depart from me,” Peter pleaded with Jesus.

But God would have none of it. Why did He come to Isaiah in the first place? Why did Jesus come to Peter? Not to flatten them but to take away their guilt. “You’re sin is atoned for,” the angel assures Isaiah. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus comforts Peter. And you think a net-breaking catch of fish is something? You will see greater things than these. I am making you into a fisher of men. You catch fish to kill them so they can be eaten. You will catch men so that they may live.

I’ve since learned that there’s more to fishing than just catching fish. There’s something to be said for being out there in nature and just sitting and waiting. Enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. Taking in the peaceful flow of the river. Having time to be away from the cares of the world and the pressures of everyday life. No, I don’t have a passion for it, but I can see why people do. I can appreciate how someone like Peter loved it so much that they want to do it for a living.

You think Isaiah and Peter had a passion now for being fishers of men after the Holy God had called them to that vocation? Were they now going to work each day brimming with excitement, ready to dig in the trenches and call people to repentance and share with them the Good News of Christ? I don’t know. Maybe they had days like we do, where it doesn’t seem all that exciting. Maybe Peter had days where he longed to get back out on the lake and bring in a good haul.

But yes, they did now have a passion for what God had called them to do. But it had nothing to do with any excitement they might have felt, or not, about it. The passion they had now for being fishers of men was something that God Himself had given them in cleansing them of their sin, renewing them in heart and mind, making out of their sinful flesh a new creation.

This is Jesus’ passion. His passion is you and me and every other sinner that has walked the face of the earth. His passion is to come to us and atone for our sins. His one true love is you and me, coming to us not in vengeance but with mercy, His declarative Word to us: “Do not be afraid, I give you new life.” You will now catch men. You will be a new person, one who is as I am.

And is this now because we’re gung-ho about our new calling? Is that what the passion is Christ gives us? No, it is His righteousness. It is He that is our new life. We are no longer our own. Our passion for bringing the Gospel to the lost is not a motivation we now feel, it is Christ in us. The angel took the coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips to cleanse him from sin. From this very altar the body and blood of Christ that was sacrificed on the altar of Calvary touches your lips in the bread and wine to cleanse you from sin. When you receive this most precious gift of Christ Himself hear His words also: “Do not be afraid.” Your sin is forgiven.

You are now a catcher of men. It’s true that every day you are able to say with Peter to your Lord, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man.” But hear His Word to you. He does not depart from you. He gives you, in fact Himself. “Depart in Me.” Go in peace. Serve the Lord in this joy. In Him. Amen.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Presentation of Our Lord

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. [Luke 2:22]

Doesn’t this verse strike you as funny? As if Joseph and Mary were bringing Jesus to the temple to say to God, “See? Here He is”, as if God didn’t know about Him until they presented Him to Him. God was the one who told them about Jesus, that He would be their son, that He would be the Savior.

But the reason is given: (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”). [Luke 2:23] Jesus from the beginning of His sojourn on earth was fulfilling the Law of God, something we have not done. That’s why He came. He came to fulfill what we are unable to do.

And at the end of His sojourn on earth He did something else: He was presented once again before God, this time on the cross, as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to God in the temple they offered the customary sacrifices [Luke 2:24]. Little did they realize that that is nothing compared to the sacrifice that would be offered up in thirty years to the very same God. It would be their own son. It would be the Son. The Son of God. Born of Mary. Suffered under Pontius Pilate. Presented to God the Father as a sacrifice for all born in sin.

Jesus Christ now presents us before the Heavenly Father as saints who are covered with His righteousness.

[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]