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Monday, June 21, 2010

God the Crucified - Honoring the Father

(part 2 of 9)

Christ is always the first Word in Christianity. The scriptures teach this from the very beginning according to Jesus words, “These are they which testify of Me.” This emphasis honors the Father.

The most famous occasion when God spoke to His chosen people was on Mt. Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments. There He was not the incarnate God wrapped in human flesh. There He was God clothed “in cloud and majesty and awe” (LSB 357.3). The people were so frightened by this that they begged not to hear God like this again. And, far from being angry, God agreed to this! He said,

They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:17-19)
This promise was fulfilled in Jesus. He is the One who is flesh and blood, like Moses, and to whom God commands us to listen. In fact, one of the few times when God, the Father, speaks from heaven, that is all He has to say. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son...listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5). The point here, is that God the Father Himself commands us to give full attention to Jesus. Therefore, it can hardly be dishonoring to the Father when we do this.

This is more than sound logic. It is, in fact what Jesus tells us, as well. When Philip asked Jesus to reveal the Father, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father’” (John 14:9). Jesus is very clear here. The full revelation of the Father is seen in Jesus, and it is wholly unprofitable to seek out the Father apart from Jesus.

It is especially significant that this conversation between Philip and Jesus took place just moments before Judas went out to betray Jesus. The timing of this exchange shows that Jesus’ depiction of the Father is completely bound up in His suffering and death by crucifixion. After entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus said,

The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain... Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” (John 12:23-28)
Here, by another voice from heaven, the Father indicates that His glory, His revelation, His true face is known exactly in Jesus Christ and, particularly in His suffering and death. That is why I have said, if you want to know God the Father... if you want to honor God the Father and glorify God the Father, you can only do so by fixing your attention on Jesus Christ in His suffering and death.

That is why it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews. “He [Jesus] is the express image of His [the Father’s] person” (Hebrews 1:3).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Repentant Coin?

What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’” (Lk 15:8-9)

This parable is simple and brief. It tells us of God’s nature. He diligently seeks out the lost and rejoices greatly when He has found you.  How comforting. How beatiful. How amazing. Nobody can possibly miss Jesus’ point here. But have you ever thought about how Jesus ends this parable?

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Lk 15:10)

Jesus here emphasizes the heavenly joy of finding the lost. But He also says something else. He also equates this finding with repentance! This does not square very well with our notions of repentance. Perhaps that’s why this final point of the parable is rarely noticed.

In Jesus’ world, repentance means that He searches until He finds you. But where is our part in that?

If Jesus wanted to talk about repentance wouldn’t it be better to give the coin some free will? Maybe the coin should be like Frodo’s ring that “wants to be found.” Too bad Jesus does not understand repentance as well as we do. If He did, He would never have told such a ridiculous story of a repentant coin.

...or

...maybe

...He knows more about repentance that we do. Maybe we should learn from Him what repentance is. If we could learn to think like Jesus, repentance would no longer be the part of our salvation that we accomplish through the exercise of our free will. If we lived in Jesus’ world, repentance would be just as much as a gift from God as being found is a gift from God. And God would remain the One who seeks and saves the lost.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Chapter 2

Two Words from God – not One only.

In chapter 1 we reviewed the basic fact that God and His salvation do not come from inside us but from outside. Thus a preacher is necessary. As St. Paul says it, “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10).

This leads to a second point. Anything that is already inside of us and can be learned, accessed, or figured out without a preacher is not that preached word which creates us anew and gives life. God’s Word which gives life (the Gospel) says something more than God’s Word telling us how we are supposed to be and behave. This Gospel alone has the power to rescue from death and the devil and give eternal salvation to all who believe it.

Thus there are two Words that the Bible teaches – both of which are from God. First, there is God’s Law teaching us how we are supposed to think and feel and speak and do. Second, there is God’s Gospel which literally creates us into this kind of person by giving us Jesus.

Knowing about these two different Words, we are now equipped to guard against two different falsehoods: Legalism and Antinomianism.

Legalism is the opinion that we can be saved by trying harder and harder to measure up to the Word of the Law. This opinion can be found both within the Church and outside the Church. Legalistic Christian teachers emphasize the Ten Commandments as the way of salvation as though that is all you need to be saved. Legalistic non-christian teachers say that “all you need is love.” You don't need preaching or sacraments or Christ, just do the god things that your consciences tells you to do. Both deny that it is God's Word of Gospel – and that alone – which saves.

Antinomianism is the opinion that God's forgiveness is so radical that any and all references to the Ten Commandments are no longer true. They treat Christ as a different kind of God than the One who gave the Ten Commandments and talk about the Holy Spirit doing a “new thing” as though we are saved to follow a completely different kind of life than the one taught in the whole of Scripture. Thus they deny that the Word of Law is from the same God as the Word of the Gospel and treat our re-creation in Christ as though we are made into something completely different than anything that has appeared on earth before.

We, on the other hand, believe that God speaks two Words: the Word of Law which forever describes the thoughts, words and deeds of Adam (true humanity), and the Word of the Gospel which makes us truly human by bringing us Jesus who is the New and True Adam.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God the Crucified - God Is Jesus

What follows is the first installment of nine concerning the title for this blog, the crucifixion and the crucifix.

Ask any Christian the question, “Who is Jesus?” Most likely you will get the same reply, “Jesus is God.” That is, of course, right. It reflects the very language of the Nicene Creed which confesses, Jesus to be, “of one substance with the Father... who...was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”

However, as soon as you say that Jesus is God, it begs a prior question; namely, who is God? Of course, this question could be answered in any number of ways. He is the creator of all things, the unmoved mover, the all-seeing eye, the almighty One, the life force, the one to Whom we owe absolute obedience. While, each of these answers is true in its own right, sensitive Christians can see a problem begin to emerge. God is defined with no reference whatsoever to Jesus Christ. Jesus enters the picture only at the second point.

To the extent that we put Jesus in second place, any ideas that we have about who God is and what He is like will be skewed and off the mark. It is only when we are thinking about God apart from Jesus that we can ask questions like, “How can God be so harsh as to condemn people just because they don’t believe?” or “How could God let Hitler and Stalin do such evil things?” “Doesn’t it make God an evil being if He can consign people to the pains of hell with no end ever?”

I’m sure that you’ve heard these kinds of questions before—you might have even raised them yourselves. They present vexing philosophical problems which have given rise to a great many heresies among those who attempt to answer them. But the simple fact that I want to point out here is this: These questions will simply never cross your mind while you are standing at the foot of the cross. It is impossible to look upon God as He hangs on the cross and say, “How can you be so evil as to condemn people to hell?” The reason is obvious. God is hanging on the cross for one reason and one reason only—to rescue people from that fate! While we are witnessing Him giving everything He is and has to rescue the world from death and hell, it makes no sense whatsoever to ask, “How He could be so mean as to put people there?” Those kinds of questions only make sense as long as we are thinking about God apart from Jesus on the cross.

For this reason, the Apostle Paul was determined to know and speak about nothing other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is for this reason, also, that I believe a crucifix to be such a beautiful figure to have constantly before your eyes. It keeps you centered on the one and only revelation of God that makes you a Christian.

Every other monotheistic religion in the world can tell you all the logical things about God and then stand around and speculate how this almighty, transcendent Being might sometimes be merciful — and under what conditions. Monotheists who take the Christian angle will tell you that Jesus is also God, and that the merciful Jesus kind-of balances out the harshness of God. But true Christians of all ages have confessed not only that Jesus is one face of God; rather, we teach that Jesus is the only face of God. That makes all the difference.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Council of Nicea, 325

On this date in 325 A.D. the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church began meeting at Nicea—a suburb of Byzantium (Constantinople). At this council, three items were dealt with.

1. The doctrines of Arius of Alexandria were examined and answered with the Nicene Creed.

2. Questions about the authentic dating of Easter were dealt with. The Christian Church decided to stop relying on the Jewish community to provide the calculations and, instead, decided that the true date should always fall after the first day of spring.

3. Several universal rules for Church governance were agreed upon. Thus begining a discipline known as Canon Law.

Currently there are a few urban myths that make the Nicene Council into some heavy-handed Imperial power-grab which forever changed the course of “authentic Christianity.” These are exaggerations at best and calumny at worst. In any event, for the scholars who would like to see them answered, click here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Joseph Barnabas, Apostle and Martyr


“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

“And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Bar-nabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:32-37)

Thus we are introduced to Barnabas. A relative of John Mark, He was the first Christian in Jerusalem who recognized Paul as a brother in Christ and introduced him to the other Apostles. He was sent by God to Antioch to establish the second see of the ancient church (where the disciples were first called Christian). From Antioch, he was sent out as fellow missionary with Paul into Galatia. Early in his second journey with Paul, he stayed in his homeland of Cyprus and became patriarch of that Church where he was (according to legend) stoned by the Jews in A.D. 61 and now awaits the resurrection of the flesh. His feast day is June 11.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Chapter 1

Every man-made religion in the world begins with the inside and goes out from there. “God helps those who help themselves” was just Benjamin Franklin’s way of saying “do what is within you” which was a popular medieval saying.

The problem with this advice is twofold. First, what is within you is why you are in the predicament you are in (Mark 7:21). Second, you can never truly say that you have done “what is within you.” No matter how hard you try, there is always some improvement that you could have made.

Jesus, therefore, points us to something altogether different. Not “what is within you” but “Who is outside of you.” God does what you cannot and God does it perfectly when you cannot. And what God does is to become a man — “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14).

God the Word is external to us. This is why salvation is through preaching and not through meditation. It is through eating and not ruminating (chewing cud). Salvation is through being washed and not washing ourselves.

And this external Word and preaching doesn’t just offer advice in holy living, or encouragement to try harder, it actually kills the old man and creates a brand new man.

Thus, the lies of the world are exposed and corrected.
  • The world is not progressing toward a higher goal...it is ending and being created anew.
  • People are not what they do...they are what God makes them by His creating Word.
  • Humans are never acting on their own as though independent from their creator...they are being acted on by God who kills us and raises us anew.
  • Freedom is not found in us creating ourselves by an act of free will...freedom is, rather, a total confidence in God who makes us who we are--Lords of everything and servants of everyone.
  • God does not rule His kingdom by the system of rewards and punishment that we see in the kingdoms of this world. God rules His kingdom by giving death and life to His adopted children just as He gave the cross and resurrection to His only-begotten Son.
  • Death cannot be overcome by good behavior or by thinking correctly...death is overcome by Christ who gives us to participate in Himself through His flesh and blood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Boniface of Mainz, Missionary and Archbishop

June 5th marks the 1256th anniversary of the death of Winfrid of Wynfryth, Apostle to the Germans. Following the collapse of the old Roman empire, it was left to Christians from the British Isles to bring Christianity back to the European continent.

Through this tireless servant of the Word, God blessed generations of Germans and Scandinavians with the life-giving Word and Sacraments of Christ. This set the stage for the Reformation (8 centuries later) wherein God would use Christians from Germany to shine the bright light of His holy Word to the whole Christian Church on earth.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Luther for the Armchair Theologian - Introduction

Beginning this Sunday, June 6, and continuing through the next twelve Sundays, we will be blogging through the above-mentioned paperback by Steven Paulson. To purchase a copy from Amazon.com and follow along, simply click on the title of this post.

By way of introduction to Luther’s thought, let us first state for the record that Luther was not concerned about the freedom of the individual conscience. Contrary to popular notions, the Reformation was not about “freedom from the shackles of Roman Tyranny.”

Rather, the Reformation was about the Word of God and the Word of God alone.  But don’t take my word for it, let Luther say it for himself. “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason... I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God” (p. 3).

For Luther, Christianity is not about some absolute freedom and autonomy. Rather, it is about being freed from Satan and made servants of the true God (Luke 10:20-22). And this freedom from Satan means freedom from his lies while service to God means subjection to His Word – in which is true freedom (John 8:36).

This is why Luther’s initial struggle against Rome’s distortions of, and additions to, the Bible quickly turned into a battle on two fronts. Already five years into the Reformation, Luther was forced to oppose other so-called reformers for the same reason that he opposed the Roman errors. These “fellow reformers” seized upon Luther’s Reformation as a chance to throw off the shackles of Rome but they never understood that our true bondage was not a bondage to any human institution but to Satan’s lies–lies which we are all too ready to believe. Rejecting the laws which Rome had dreamed up apart from the Scriptures, they simply replaced them with their own laws which they themselves dreamed up apart from the Scriptures.

Freedom from Satan will never be accomplished by our own works whether those works are seeking out personal holiness or social justice. The “social gospel” is just as enslaving as the “gospel of works.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

J. A. A. Grabau (1804-1879)

On June 2, 1879, Johann Andreas August Grabau fell asleep in Jesus in Buffalo, New York. He was first and foremost a pastor to his flock. Most well known for a single document that He wrote to the people of the Buffalo Synod titled simply “Hirtenbrief” (Pastoral Letter). This is a simple, pious letter of encouragement to the congregations in his care. But it became the center of a storm when leaders in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod took exception to it’s view of the pastoral office.

Grabau was born in Olvenstedt, Prussia (now a part of greater Magdeburg, Germany). He was the son of Johann Andreas Grabau and Anna Dorothea Jericho. Grabau was educated at the grammar school in Olvenstedt (1809-1818), the Magdeburg Gymnasium (1818-1825) and at the University of Halle (1825-1829).

After three years as a teacher in Magdeburg and Sachsa bei Nordhausen, Grabau was ordained and installed as pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Erfurt in June 1834. Grabau was jailed twice for refusing to use the Prussian union Agenda and was permitted to immigrate to America in summer 1839 with members of Lutheran congregations in Erfurt and Magdeburg. They settled in Buffalo, New York where he served as pastor of a Lutheran congregation for 40 years.

On July 15, 1845, along with four pastors, Grabau became the founder of “The Synod of the Lutheran Church emigrated from Prussia” (German: Synode der aus Preussen ausgewanderten lutherischen Kirche) which became known as "the Buffalo Synod"). Grabau also founded the Martin Luther College in Buffalo. Grabau retained control of the Martin Luther College and remained as its rector. The official organ of Grabau’s synod after 1866 was Die Wachende Kirche, under his editorship.

Grabau was married on 15 July 1834, to Christine Sophia Burgraf, the daughter of Johann Andreas Burggraf and Friedericke Louise Elizabeth Beulke. They had at least three children: Johann, Wilhelm and Beata. Grabau died on 2 June 1879 in Buffalo, New York, shortly before the 40th anniversary of his arrival in the United States.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Justin, Martyr (ca. 100 - 165)

Justin is the most important of the second century apologists (defenders of Christianity). He was born in Palestine and tried several philosophical schools before he was introduced to Christianity (probably near Ephesus). Once he studied the prophets of the Old Testament and observed the lives of the Christians, he became one of its staunchest defenders.

He wrote: “I, myself used to rejoice in the teaching of Plato and to hear evil spoken of Christians. But as I saw that they showed no fear in the face of death and of all other things which inspire horror, I reflected that they could not be vicious and pleasure-loving.” (Apology 2.12)

After some time as a travelling teacher, he ended up in Rome and taught some people who would become influential in the next generation of Christianity (most notably Tatian and Irenaeus). He earned his nickname during the reign of Marcus Aurelius when He was flogged and beheaded under the Prefect Junius Rusticus in 165, thus enjoying his own portion in the fearlessness toward death which has first inspired him to investigate the Hebrew prophets.