Sunday, May 16, 2010

All Theology Is Plagiarism—Part 3: All Theology Is Basic

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 16, 2010
John 17:20-26

Most people upon hearing an in-depth scholarly presentation of an esoteric theological doctrine would cause their eyes to glaze over. They would wonder what it has to do with anything. It’s true that most people don’t need to hear or understand theology in such a detailed way. In fact, those who do might need to be reminded that all theology is basic. Coaches often need to remind their athletes that no matter how good they are and how far they’ve come, they always need to go back to the basics. The fundamentals can never be ignored or taken for granted because there’s always someone who will work harder at mastering the basics in order to achieve the highest level of accomplishment.

We have seen how all theology is repetition. You can never hear enough the Gospel, especially since your sinful flesh constantly wants to revert back to its own notions. We have seen how all theology is communication. Thank God He has made known to us the Gospel and that we may respond to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

We must also know and remember that all theology is basic. It all comes down either to me or God. Your theology is going to come from yourself for from God. This is theology at its most basic and its most important. If you don’t get this right then you’re not going to get the rest of it right. If you don’t realize this fact then your theology is going to come from yourself.

When it comes to theology the way God does it, there’s no better place to begin than where it begins for us personally—at Baptism. This morning Whitley is the recipient of theology the way God does it. He brought her into His everlasting Kingdom through water and His Word. Water is the basic necessity for life. It is through this simple thing that God does His most basic work: He forgives our sins. Where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation.

Whitley is a cute little baby. But she’s going to grow up like we all do. She will go through the challenges of life the way we all do. Things will seem very complicated at times. Theology won’t seem so basic when she’s faced with temptations and challenges to the Christian faith and hardships. But it’s in those times that she can take comfort in stealing from the pages of God’s Word. The Word that tells her she is a Baptized child of God. The Word that tells her that at the most basic level God loves her and has forgiven her of all of her sins. That’s why she can continue to go back again and again to the Word of God and take what He says and make it her own.

But if we’re having trouble with this notion of plagiarizing from God, and it’s only natural, because our sinful nature has big issues with taking its cue from God, then let’s take a look at how God Himself handles this situation.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus did a very simple thing: He prayed. It was the hour He would be delivered over. It was already the time He began suffering on hour behalf, His soul sorrowful even unto death. His agony manifesting itself with drops of blood flowing from His brow. His weakness already apparent in needing angels to come minister to Him, just as at His temptation in the desert three years earlier at the outset of His Ministry.

He prayed there in that Garden. In the hour before being delivered over, hours before He would be hanging on a cross, He prayed. Did He know the words to pray? Yes, the petition He lifted up was that His Heavenly Father’s will would be done. Jesus was not concerned about His own will, which was sorrowful, weak. If there was any other way. But if that way were to go against the way—the will—of His Heavenly Father, then He wouldn’t want it. His will was His Heavenly Father’s will. It is this same petition He has given us to pray in His Holy Prayer, but not only in that Third Petition but in the entire Lord’s Prayer. We know what God’s will is for us because He has given us the things to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer and His entire written Word. We know what His will is because Jesus prayed that it be done in the Garden of Gethsemane and He landed on the mount of Calvary.

Jesus prayed there, too—on the cross. Among other things He said as He hung on the cross, He quoted Scripture. He plagiarized Himself, Him being God and the author of those very Scriptures He inspired. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? That is straight out of Psalm 22. It was the cry of being the recipient of the wrath of the holy God. But it was also a prayer. Speaking the Scripture. Being in line with the perfect holy will of God. Even the merciful will of God, as in this very act of forsaking His Son, God the Father was reconciling the world to Himself. This is why Jesus prayed as He did, plagiarizing the Scriptures—it pleased Him to endure the cross, scorning its shame.

What about His temptation in the wilderness? Couldn’t He have come up with some impressive rejoinders to counter Satan? But no, He was content with simply quoting the Scriptures. In each instance Satan tried to seduce Him, Jesus did not concern Himself with speaking something original, He simply quoted what had already been written down in the Bible. (Of course, it was original with Him as He is God.)

We’ll notice that the devil caught on to this trick and began quoting the Scriptures himself. The problem of course is that he was plagiarizing not God but himself because he was twisting the Scriptures. All our prayers, as well as beliefs, that originate with ourselves end up being this, a twisting of the Word of God. We too often use the Scriptures in order to conform them to what we want rather than bending our will to them. But Jesus’ use of the Scriptures was perfect. He was quoting them because that’s all He needed. Man does not live by bread alone, but by the very Word of God. Keep that in mind the next time you’re struggling in your prayer life. Man prays not by the things he needs but by the very Word of God.

And what about Paul? What did he have to offer the Christians he was called to serve? Well, he had a lot going for him. He was very well-educated and talented. But in terms of being an apostle, in terms of proclaiming the Gospel—he had nothing of himself to offer. He had nothing except for what he himself received from the Lord is what he said to the Corinthian Christians. What I received is what I delivered to you. What do we have to offer God? Nothing. Nothing but what He has given us. Nothing but what we have received from Him. This is why our prayers must consist of what we have already received from Him, and we simply offer up to Him what He has already delivered to us.

All of this with Jesus and Paul is plagiarism of what God had His people do in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 “…And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” [ESV]

They weren’t to teach their children what they dreamed up but what God had given them to say. How much more so with their prayers? How do you think they learned how to pray?

The Word of God teaches us that it plagiarizes itself. God submits Himself to His own Word and therefore we can be in no better position than to do the same. Our prayers are a natural outgrowth of that. Our beliefs, what we say to others, they also grow out of God’s Word.

This is an enormous consolation when you can’t think of what to say. Go to the Word of God. Be drawn in to what He has to say to you. Don’t worry about having to come up with spontaneous prayers or speaking from the heart. Let God’s Word take you through what is on your heart and mind, as you have a new heart and mind in Christ given you in your Baptism. Using the liturgy as a guide for prayer, using a prayer book of time-tested prayers that are formed by the Word of God, learning the Catechism, meditating on the Word of God, this is the pattern set forth by Christ Himself. Jesus took times out in His Ministry to pray to His Heavenly Father. His prayer that not His will be done but His Heavenly Father’s was the basis and substance of His prayers. Being in the Word of God, having a rich prayer life that flows from the Word of God, will then be the basis for what you say to others in their struggles. It will be the very basis for what you believe and take comfort in.

When Jesus hung on the cross He prayed, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Isn’t that so true? We don’t even know how to pray as we ought! Paul says so much in Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” [ESV] So if the Spirit is interceding for us we may as well just go all the way and plagiarize every last iota of God’s will. He forgives us and forms in us a new will, one that seeks His and one that prays according to it.

WWJD is something you still hear now and then—What Would Jesus Do? In our circles we spend a lot of time pointing out how WWJD is not exactly where Jesus was going when He said, Follow Me. That He Himself did what we could not do and we don’t gain salvation by trying to do what Jesus would do. Nevertheless, when it comes to prayer it would be helpful to ask: What would Jesus do? Well, He would pray. That’s what He did. And if He did, we certainly need to. And not only that, but He would pray what His Heavenly Father would give Him to pray.

So, What Would Jesus Pray? The Lord’s Prayer. That’s what He would pray. What did He say? “When you pray, say OUR Father.” And before you want to catch me in the trap that He would never pray “forgive us our trespasses,” because He had no sins of which to confess—yes, it’s true, He didn’t. He is sinless and remained sinless in His walk on the earth and is forever the spotless Lamb of God. But He also took our place, remember? He hung on the cross as the Sinner in our place. He was stricken for our iniquities. He never sinned but He stood in our place as the Sinner who was condemned. He didn’t need to be baptized, and yet, He did need to in order to fulfill all righteousness. That would be His righteousness credited to us. It’s an amazing thing that Jesus submitted Himself to be humble. To be beholden to the will of the Heavenly Father. In Baptism our Lord gives us His righteousness. He gives us a new will. A will that desires to submit to the will of our Heavenly Father.

The Large Catechism says that “nothing is so necessary as to call upon God incessantly and drum into his ears our prayer that he may give, preserve, and increase in us faith and obedience.” [Tappert, T. G. (2000, ©1959). The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (420). Philadelphia: Fortress Press] What better thing to drum into His ears than His own words?

You can’t outgrow the Word of God. You can’t come to the point where you have mastered it or where it is merely a simple thing to be understood. It is basic, and yet encompasses all of theology. Even if it were just a simple thing, there would be nothing greater in praying to God than saying to Him what He has given us in His Holy Word.

When you pray, take a bold approach. Hold God to His Word. Tell Him what He said. He loves to hear it. Be in His Word. Tell others what God Himself will give you to say. Pray what He Himself gives you to pray. If you wonder whether God answers your prayers, wonder no more. Praying to Him what He has given you to pray you are assured He not only hears but answers your prayers according to His good and gracious will.

If we look at this objectively, or maybe we should say, from God’s perspective, we will see that all theology is plagiarism. What you believe and the things you pray for are either going to be plagiarized from the sinful nature or from God. Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel reading is that all would hear the Gospel through the bold proclamation of it through the Christian Church. He died for everyone, He wants everyone to be saved, He provides for the Gospel to be made known to the ends of the earth, to all nations. There is nothing more basic than that. That’s why He wants us to fill our prayers, our thoughts, and the things we share with others with what He has given us in His Word. For what He will give us is eternity in heaven with Him. Amen.


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