Monthly Archives: April 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 16:23b-30

Prayer is not an occasion when we instruct God about our needs. Prayer is God’s reminder to us of our needs and of the blessings He lavishly gives. Once you know the shift from prayer being our work toward God to God’s work toward us, you can see why Jesus ties prayer and joy together.

When Holy Scripture exhorts you to rejoice, it’s not a command. It’s a reminder of who you are in Jesus. You are redeemed. You are a new creation. You’re baptized. You’re bodied and blooded, washed and sanctified, grafted into the vine of righteousness that is Jesus Christ. All He is and all He wins is for you. Living in Christ is joy.

Now you see why prayer and joy run together. You might as well include faith in Christ. These three strands form a bold cord. Boldness can be a negative, but for a Christian boldness, especially in prayer, is a positive thing. When you were young living with Mom and Dad, you were bold to ask for the most outrageous things. If your parents were like my parents, the answer was usually “no” or “when you have your own job and make your own money, you can buy whatever you want.” As you grow up, you find that’s true. You also find that your money won’t buy whatever you want.

So you learn not to be so bold in asking for the things you want or need. The first place where boldness and confidence drops is speaking to our Father in heaven. You get lazy. Your conscience makes all kinds of accusations about not being worthy enough to speak to God about your affairs. You doubt. You’re certain God isn’t listening because He’s not sudden enough to answer you. Joy in praying falls away. You learned in the Small Catechism that we pray to the Father “with all boldness and confidence”, but that becomes too hard as you grow in years.

What gives a Christian joy in prayer? God invites us to pray. Why bother praying if our Father in heaven did not command us to pray. His command is not a burden. His command is practically begging us to stay connected to Him. People pay lots of money to talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about what bothers them. Both are helpful in their own ways. Consider that you have a Father Who is all ears. He can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the good and bad things in your life. King David sings in Psalm 27, You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

How could you, by nature a sinner, lying in dust and ashes, dare to enter praying before His Majesty without His command? You could do this because His Majesty invites you to pray. It’s as if He says to Jesus: “Tell my children: you shall pray to the Father; this is His gracious and good will, and He looks at your prayer with favor.” This is why the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

You don’t approach the throne of grace with confidence using your name to bark out what you want. You’ll not get a fair hearing talking to our heavenly Father that way. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds not only in your ears, but also before the Father. He loves to hear you ask with boldness and confidence in His Son’s name. Jesus makes you pure from all sins. You are perfectly righteous before God, without spot or blemish. You are holy. Holy people ask the Holy One for what they desire. Relying on Christ’s perfect merit given to you pleases God. These prayers smell like fragrant incense. These prayers are asked with great boldness.

Yet uncertainty remains because of the sinful nature. Does God really hear my prayer? Do I have a clear sign from Him that my prayer is heard? Doubt destroys all confident courage and all boldness. There’s plenty of doubt to go around, especially without some sort of divine stoplight that could show me whether or not my prayer is heard. Imagine it if it’s possible. Red for “Don’t ask right now, God is too busy.” Yellow for “Be careful, God’s in a dicey mood today.” Green for “Ask away, He’s all ears, and He’s quite generous right now.”

The divine stoplight is always green because of Jesus. You have certain promises for prayer. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Jesus adds a double oath to the beginning of His words. He never lies. He gives you double certainty that His Father will hear you and that Jesus Himself will intercede for you by saying, until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

The divine stoplight of prayer is a nifty idea, but there’s no clear word from Scripture that such a thing exists. Always asking and never taking, always leaving with an empty heart and empty hands robs you of all joy in prayer. Perhaps that’s how it seems to you every time you lay your requests before the Father, even with great boldness and confidence. Beloved, there is an eye in heaven that sees you. There is an ear that hears your cry. There is a heart that beats for you. God gives you more than prayer and understanding. Your joy is full in Jesus Christ. You live in His resurrection joy and hope.

The doxology, or conclusion, to the Lord’s Prayer says it all: For Thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever and ever. Amen. Martin Luther teaches us concerning these words, “This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means ‘yes, yes, it shall be so.'” You have joy. You have prayer. They go together because you have a Father Who is all ears and a Savior Who prays for you and with you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

[The Spirit of truth] will take what is mine and declare it to you. Christ is glorified when what belongs to Him are declared to be yours because of Jesus. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation are what belongs to Him. These are yours because Jesus says so. The Holy Spirit, the Helper, Comforter, Advocate, Ombudsman, Spirit of truth, call Him what you will, is the One Who delivers the goods directly from Christ to you.

If Jesus does not go away in His ascension to the Father, then none of these things are yours. What is more, the preaching of sin, righteousness and judgment is meaningless. All preaching is meaningless because Jesus will have broken His promise if He does not ascend to fulfill all things. A broken promise by God’s only-begotten Son does you no good. That is why Jesus says it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.

The Helper comes to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. The one who has ears to hear will hear this conviction in a different way than the one who has no ears to hear. For one set of ears, this conviction comes as sweetness and light. For another set of ears, this conviction is foolishness, perhaps even a lie.

No one likes to be convicted concerning sin. Consider that some Christian congregations do not talk about sin. Bad life choices, yes. Sin? That’s a fighting word. Sin is a condition. No one likes to hear about a condition than condemns you to eternal death. Jesus says the Helper will convict the world concerning sin because they do not believe in Me. The conviction concerning sin is a proper conviction. The evidence is certain. Unbelief condemns. Our Lord tells His disciples in the last chapter of Mark, whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Your sin’s root cause is unbelief. When the Helper directs you to the preaching of the Law, you hear exactly what happens to those who do not place their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior of sinners. You are condemned. You receive what you deserve: not only temporal, but also eternal punishment.

The Law is unrelenting…until Christ. Remember the words of the confession of sin a little while ago: “I am heartily sorry for [my sins], and I sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” The good and wise Law of God is silenced in Jesus Christ. He alone keeps the Law for your sake. His blood and righteousness alone are your precious treasure. The boundless mercy of our heavenly Father is gracious and mercy to sinners like you because of Jesus Christ. Your conviction of sin is Christ’s conviction of sin. He becomes the transgressor. You receive the benefits of His suffering and death for your transgressions.

The Helper convicts the world concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer. Jesus’ words here sound backwards. Righteousness is yours because Jesus ascends to His Father and you no longer see Him. Shouldn’t Jesus stick around to make sure everything is on the up and up in His Church? There must be another way for the Helper to keep me connected to Christ than His descent on Pentecost after Christ’s ascension. Besides, I do the right thing and keep a clean nose. I treat others like I want to be treated. I’m a righteous person.

How quickly you forget the prophet Isaiah’s words: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. You wouldn’t want to hold a polluted garment before the face of Almighty God and offer Him your righteousness! There is only One Who is righteous: Jesus Christ. His suffering, death, and resurrection are completed with His ascension to His Father. There He sits at the place of authority as our great High Priest, interceding for us before our Father. There He sits, hearing your prayers, preparing a place for you with Him. Your righteousness is complete, holy, perfect, and all-sufficient in Christ.

The Helper also convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Satan is the ruler of this world. He is judged a liar and a fool. Satan knows Jesus will stomp his head. Satan knows Jesus is the Son of God Who comes to undo what Adam did in the Garden. Satan knows his time is short. That is why he works hard to destroy your confidence in Christ. Satan wants you to believe there is no way Jesus dies for someone like you, especially when you continue in your pet sins. He wants to plant the seed of doubt in your mind like he did to Adam. You are not like God, yet you should be like God. So why not forget about God and go your own way. You will be free.

Your so-called freedom outside of Christ is actually slavery. You are a slave to sin. You hear today’s epistle from James and cringe. Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness. You strive to do this every day, but you fail. All you seem to know and do is filthiness and rampant wickedness. Then comes the second half of that verse: receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. The implanted word is Jesus Christ. He alone is able to save your soul. The Helper keeps you clinging to Christ in the preaching of the Word in sermon, baptism, absolution, and Supper. The implanted word is watered and fed. It puts down roots and grows into maturity as long as your branch stays connected to the True Vine of Christ.

The Helper proclaims the conviction of the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. See yourself in the Helper’s proclamation. Your sin is paid in full by Christ shedding His blood for you. Christ’s righteousness covers you in the garment of incorruption. You are judged worthy of eternal life because of Jesus. The Helper does not help Himself. The Helper does not help you save yourself. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, glorifies Christ when He takes what is His and declares it to you. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-23a

The joy of this world is actually sad stuff. We sing in the hymn, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me”: “What is all this life possesses? But a hand Full of sand That the heart distresses. Noble gifts that pall me never Christ, our Lord, Will accord To His saints forever.” Daily life proves it. You can’t stop death and final judgment. Even the best moments of this life quickly flee and reality sets in. You can’t take all the happy times with you to the grave.

Things are different for Christians. Jesus tells His disciples and us today, that your sorrow shall be turned to joy. He later adds four consoling statements that encourage us to look beyond now to what is to come for all who trust in Christ as their Savior: I will see you again. Your hearts shall rejoice. No one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask Me nothing.

These statements from our Lord set the tone for today and the four following Sundays through Pentecost. Jesus is preparing His disciples for His ascension to His Father and the forthcoming descent of the Holy Spirit. Consider how miserable things would be for the disciples if Jesus remained with them. There would be no crucifixion, no resurrection, no ascension, and no promise of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. They will soon have enough sorrow because the Savior will be taken from them and they will not see Him. It seems as if the forces of hell will win. Every promise Jesus makes about His passion will not come true.

So it is for us today. It seems as if Jesus has left us alone to fight the powers of hell without His comfort. Not only has He seemingly abandoned us in spiritual crosses, but also those temporal crosses seem to multiply…and God doesn’t say anything as we suffer. Jesus calls that time when He will not be seen a little while, but it feels like a long while, perhaps several lifetimes rolled into one moment.

Jesus reminds us again today: Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice...you have sorrow now. Like the disciples, we too are weak. We are weak in knowledge and in faith. We’ve been well trained in the promises of God, yet when the going gets tough all that knowledge doesn’t pay our taxes or heal our infirmities or bring broken families together again. The last thing we do when there’s trouble is pray. Prayer is our bailout, our backstop when other helpers fail and comforts flee. Our sin makes us distress. Our fellow Christians disappoint us when, instead of mutual encouragement, they instead pile on our misery with their own miserable words and actions. Perhaps you have done the same when the shoe is on the other foot.

The prophet Isaiah captures how it is with us. One minute we say, the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. The next breath we say, the Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. The world always seems to win. You try to do the right thing, but suffer for it. Yet here comes Jesus in the midst of bleak circumstances with the cry, your sorrow shall be turned to joy.

Our Lord’s words are true. We don’t want to believe it, but He hasn’t skimped once. The hard part is trying to figure out how long the little while lasts. Merrily go our enemies and children of the world, hopping and skipping through life with no cares. We walk around like Atlas, carrying every burden on our back. How long is this little while going to last? The answer is: a little while.

A little while, then we will be free of our frail trust in God’s promises. A little while, then weakness of body and spirit will be shrugged off us like water on a duck’s back. A little while, then all your particular temptations will be gone. Christ promises: I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of Me.

You will ask nothing of Jesus because everything will be yours. Everything is yours now, though not in its fullness. Forgiveness is yours. Eternal life is yours. Salvation is yours. Jesus earned it for you. Temptations, doubt, frail faith, weak faith, and all sorts of worries remain because sin remains. Jesus will see you again, and in that day you’ll ask nothing. You’ll know all that troubles you will be taken away. Death is swallowed up in victory. Satan and his companions will be cast into the burning lake of fire. The dead in Christ will rise.

Your sorrow will turn into joy. I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. The first words of today’s Introit say it all: Shout for joy. Shout for joy to the Lord because His Word never fails. What you suffer now in your body, mind, and soul, will soon be gone. You won’t remember them. You won’t care. You are in Christ. You will be perfect in the New Creation. The old has passed. The new has come. You’ll have nothing to ask Jesus for, because all things are yours.

Shout for joy. Jesus goes to His Father to prepare a place for you. He sends the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to keep you close to Him in His gifts. Your enemy lies vanquished. Your Savior has won the victory and gives you all the spoils. The hand full of sand soon will be brushed aside. In its place you receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. That day is only a little while away. Until then, shout for joy, for He sent redemption to His people. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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Love Flows FROM Forgiveness

And as we do not receive remission of sins through other virtues of the Law, or on account of these, namely, on account of patience, chastity, obedience towards magistrates, etc., and nevertheless these virtues ought to follow, so, too, we do not receive remission of sins because of love to God, although it is necessary that this should follow….Thus in Luke 7:47 Christ says: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. For Christ interprets Himself [this very passage] when He adds: Thy faith hath saved thee. Christ, therefore, did not mean that the woman, by that work of love, had merited the remission of sins. For that is the reason He says: Thy faith hath saved thee. But faith is that which freely apprehends God’s mercy on account of God’s Word [which relies upon God’s mercy and Word, and not upon one’s own work]. If any one denies that this is faith [if any one imagines that he can rely at the same time upon God and his own works], he does not understand at all what faith is. [For the terrified conscience is not satisfied with its own works, but must cry after mercy, and is comforted and encouraged alone by God’s Word.] And the narrative itself shows in this passage what that is which He calls love. The woman came with the opinion concerning Christ that with Him the remission of sins should be sought. This worship is the highest worship of Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was truly to acknowledge the Messiah. Now, thus to think of Christ, thus to worship Him, thus to embrace Him, is truly to believe. Christ, moreover, employed the word “love” not towards the woman, but against the Pharisee, because He contrasted the entire worship of the Pharisee with the entire worship of the woman. He reproved the Pharisee because he did not acknowledge that He was the Messiah, although he rendered Him the outward offices due to a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her worship, ointment, tears, etc., all of which were signs of faith and a confession, namely, that with Christ she sought the remission of sins. It is indeed a great example, which, not without reason, moved Christ to reprove the Pharisee, who was a wise and honorable man, but not a believer. He charges him with impiety, and admonishes him by the example of the woman, showing thereby that it is disgraceful to him, that, while an unlearned woman believes God, he, a doctor of the Law, does not believe, does not acknowledge the Messiah, and does not seek from Him remission of sins and salvation.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V, paragraphs 30-33

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Which Came First: Forgiveness or Repentance, Part Two

More from Dennis Ngien. Part one is here.

Hearing God’s pronouncement of his forgiveness can be a very powerful motive for us to seek reconciliation with him. For instance, when someone has broken a relationship, the word that the wounded party has forgiven the guilty one can serve as a strong impetus causing the offender to seek reconciliation. Our repentance is not a condition of grace, but only a response to grace. Whereas “legal repentance” takes the form, “Repent, and if you do, you will be forgiven,” “evangelical repentance” takes this form, “Christ has given himself for you for the forgiveness of your sins; therefore, repent! Receive his forgiving grace in repentance.” The latter is Luther’s – the gift is primary, and the response secondary. By putting the emphasis on the primacy of the word, Luther gave priority to the responsive rather than causative character of faith.

The justifying word, “I forgive you,” is the content of the gospel, whereas repentance is our response to the gospel, not our causing it. “[O]nly as the word is maintained as the work of God, does faith retain the character of receptivity or reception of other gifts” (Charles Arand, “That I May Be His Own“, page 167). This, too, is in accord with Luther’s sacramental theology, in which God gives himself in his Son. In the Eucharist, Christ spoke the justifying word which effects forgiveness in us. The words of Christ’s institution summon from us an unconditional response of faith and repentance; they foment a sacramental piety, which is not contingent upon any human invention of pious works or pious desire. A conversion (repentance and faith) that is not rooted in God’s justifying word-act, specifically in the mass, is not true conversion. The sacrament is purely God’s action on our behalf, to which we respond with gratitude and thanksgiving. Unlike Zwingli who stressed the signifying character of the sacrament for which thanksgiving was rendered, Luther saw the causative character of God’s word in it as the source of gratitude. We thank God for coming into our lives and redeeming us as the recipients of the inestimable benefits promised in Christ’s last will. It is precisely by our unworthiness that we become the object of God’s grace. Therefore when faced with doubts or a lack of assurance, Luther did not ask, “How is your devotional life or prayer life? How about your good works?”, instead he exhorted believers to heed Christ’s words, the very “sum and substance of the whole gospel.” He encouraged believers to accept and affirm God’s word of promise given in Jesus Christ through the mass (and other means), quite apart from any emotions they might experience. We are to hear Christ’s words, by which our identity is forged and by which we are transformed into images of the one whose innocence we receive in a happy exchange for our sins. In the mass, we experience the power of his re-creating word at work. In Pannenberg’s estimation, “We (thereby) receive a new identity, but we do not possess it separately, in our separate existence apart from Christ, but only ‘in Christ’, which is to say in faith that unites us with Christ, with the Christ ‘outside ourselves’.”

With his emphasis on the objective nature of God’s work for us in Christ, Luther shunned the inward experiences of a subjective nature as a legitimate basis of assurances of any place before God. Not by introspection but only by ex-centricity – by looking outside ourselves (extra nobis) to God’s “speech act” in Jesus Christ can we find assurance. Our inner experience must not become primary, in which case we begin to turn away from faith in Christ to trust in ourselves. When this happens, we are reverting to righteousness by works as the outcome To Luther, the objective word of Christ is the anchor of faith, and the landmark of true piety. Faith cleaves to the sacrament, trusting that God’s word be done unto it. It is an anathema to attack Christ’s words, for to do so is to attack the gospel itself; to deny Christ’s words is to deny his justifying action on us, thus nullify the power and use of the sacrament.

Everything depends on these words. Every Christian should and must know them and hold them fast. He must never let anyone take them away from him by any other kind of teaching, even though it were an angel from heaven [Galatians 1:8]. They are words of life and of salvation, so that whoever believes in them has all his sins forgiven through that faith; he is a child of life and has overcome death and hell. Language cannot express how great and mighty these words are, for they are the sum and substance of the whole gospel. (Luther’s Works Volume 36, page 277)

Dennis Ngien, “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser“, pages 101-104

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Which Came First: Forgiveness or Repentance?

This is a section from Dennis Ngien’s book “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser“. I’m presenting it in a few parts because the section is long for a blog post. This is part one.

As regards the order of salvation, is forgiveness by God logically prior to our repentance, or repentance logically prior to forgiveness? To resolve this, we are necessarily confronted by the question: how does God forgive our sins? Does God forgive only when we repent? Some would say that God cannot forgive if we do not repent. And if God forgives the unrepentant, would he not be charged with condoning their sins? What are we to make of the liturgies of the Church which speak to the effect that “whoever repents of his sins may be forgiven.” Is it theologically accurate to speak of God’s forgiveness in this way, that our repentance is the prerequisite of God’s forgiveness? Though it is not entirely wrong to speak of it in this way, there is a hidden danger in it, for it may lead people to feel that repentance is something we must do in order to obtain, earn or deserve God’s forgiving grace. In that case, repentance becomes a “work” necessary for salvation, in which case we are no longer saved by grace alone. If repentance is a work necessary to achieve God’s forgiveness, then we are confronted with an acute problem that haunted Luther then and haunts our conscience now: how much work is necessary for salvation?

In the popular mind, repentance is defined as feeling sorrow for our sins. But to what extent are we really sorry for what we have done amiss, and to what degree are we simply sorry about the consequences of the sin? For instance, the child caught stealing money is very sorry, sorry for being caught and having to suffer the punishment for it, but not necessarily sorry for their criminal offence. Also if forgiveness is based on feeling sorrow, how can we be certain that we feel the right kind of sorrow for our sins? It is true that the Bible links forgiveness and repentance. But there is no evidence that repentance is a cause of God’s grace. For Jesus certainly pronounced forgiveness when there was no sign of repentance. At the cross, he uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Those who crucified Jesus showed no signs of repentance; on the contrary, they were getting much sadistic pleasure out of torturing him. Likewise Jesus shocked the Pharisees by proclaiming the opposite of what they wanted to hear, that the paralytic’s sins had been forgiven, despite no sign of repentance by the paralytic (Mark 2:5; Matthew 9:2; Luke 5:20). In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the son was forgiven by the father. Was he forgiven only when he returned home, or because he returned home? Neither! The father’s attitude was always one of forgiveness, independent of the son’s disposition towards him. If anyone had known the mind of the father, he would have gone to the son in the far country with this good news: your father has forgiven you, let’s go  home. The truth of the matter is that the father’s attitude towards the son was not changed by the son’s returning home. The only change was that the son, by coming home, put himself in a position to recognize or appropriate the father’s forgiveness, not cause or condition it. The most succinct explanation of this was found in Luther’s Large Catechism, where he commented about the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer:

Here again there is great need to call upon God and pray, “Dear Father, forgive our debts”. Not that he does not forgive sin even without and before our prayer; and he gave us the gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness, before we prayed or even thought of it. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.

Luther caught this vision of God’s forgiveness as unconditionally given. It does not wait for us to repent or to pray for it. God’s forgiveness is thus prior to our repentance and prayer. His forgiving grace does not waver, and it refuses to abandon us. His love for us is completely realistic and unconditional, based at every point on the prior knowledge of the worst about us so that no future discovery about us could ever disenchant God in the way we so often become disillusioned about ourselves. The father has forgiven his son even in the far country, even before he repents, or before he feels sorry, or before he comes to his senses. But the son cannot be reconciled insofar as he remains aloof in the far country. He has to come home and “accept” his father’s forgiveness. Faith, as Paul Tillich aptly defined it, is “accepting our acceptance.” Forgiveness is already there, and all we need to do is to receive it and accept it. Nevertheless our acceptance by God does not depend upon our accepting his grace, for we are already accepted by God in Jesus Christ. It is a gift given to us. If our accepting causes God’s acceptance of us, then our salvation is not by grace alone. Therefore any understanding of salvation in a legal context in which we have to do something meritorious so as to earn God’s forgiveness was not part of Luther’s theology of grace. There is a causal relationship between forgiveness and repentance, Luther maintained. But it is never our repentance that causes God’s favour; rather, it is God’s forgiveness that causes our repentance. To invert the evangelical order of grace, making repentance prior to forgiveness, is to destroy sola gratia, for it regards God’s grace as conditional upon what we do. For Luther, God cannot be made gracious. The indicatives of grace are prior to the imperatives of obedience. Thus salvation must be understood in the evangelical context, in which the priority of the gospel and primacy of God’s justifying words reign so supremely that they effect a change in us, moving us towards repentance and faith.

More to come….

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Be Not Afraid of the Wolf

Whoever is a pious preacher and Christian does not allow himself to be intimidated when he sees the wolf; rather, he is ready to give up his own body and life before he permits his neighbor to be robbed of the Word and a true understanding of Christ. This was true of the holy apostles, as well as the beloved martyrs; they did not flee, but bravely defied the jaws of the wolf. That is how it should still be. Whoever wishes to be a pastor must be committed with his whole heart to seek only the glory of God and the welfare of his fellow man. If, however, he does not solely seek God’s honor and the good of his fellowman, buy by his office seeks for personal gain or his neighbor’s hurt, you may be sure that he will not stay the course. Either he will shamefully flee and leave the little flock, or he will be silent and leave the sheep without pasture, that is, bereft and deprived of the Word. These are hirelings who preach for their own aggrandizement; they are greedy and never satisfied with what God daily and benevolently provides for sustenance. We preachers really require no more from our calling than food and raiment. Those who want more are hirelings who have no love for the flock; a devout pastor, on the other hand, gives up everything for the flock, even body and life….

A faithful preacher, therefore, should present nothing other to his people than Christ only, so that people learn to know Him, Who He is, and what He gives, and do not wander away from His Word of promise, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I give my life for the sheep,” but believe that He alone is to be esteemed as the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. That is what should be preached to the people, so that they may learn to know their Shepherd. Thereafter, then, we must emphasize the example of how Christ for our sake did all and suffered all, so that we, in turn, for the sake of the Word might willingly do and suffer all. Even as He carried His cross, we, too, should carry our cross. These two topics need to be preached in Christ’s Kingdom.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Third Sunday of Easter (John 10:11-16)

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Justification Is STILL For Preaching

Constitutive for the preaching of justification is the distinction between law and gospel. It is not that the gospel can only be understood in the light of the experience of sinner with the law – hence ex negativo. The gospel has, positively, a surplus of that experience; otherwise it would be no more powerful than the law. Nevertheless, if the gospel is not understood as undeserved liberation from the accusing and condemning power of the law, if it is not understood as unconditional acquittal in spite of evident guilt, it loses its incredibly miraculous nature, and ends up being eviscerated and reduced to a self-evident truth that basically appeals to the free will of the listener to do good. The gospel, and therefore God’s love, is trivialized whenever his judgment is silenced. The church’s preaching is seriously flawed if it speaks of peace with God without making clear that this peace is preceded by enmity and strife (Romans 5:10). God’s love is not something self-evident. For in his compassionate love, God speaks against himself: against the God who speaks completely against me in the law and in his judgment. In the gospel, however, God speaks completely for me. The gospel is based on a revolution in God himself, where God’s own will is overturned in himself (Hosea 11:8); the New Testament expresses this with the difference between Father and Son, between God’s life and Jesus’s death. Only if we perceive the radical distinction between law and gospel will we grasp the saving significance of the death of Jesus Christ; he redeemed us on the stake of the cross “from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13; see 2 Corinthians 5:21). With his Son, God himself pleads our cause, he sacrifices himself for us. Our freedom, “acquired” for us on the cross, is “distributed” in the proclamation – paradigmatically in the Lord’s Supper: given for you. The basic gesture involved in preaching the gospel are the opened hands that give and bestow the gift of freedom on those who hear through the Holy Spirit in faith, so that they themselves are empowered to open up their own hands, otherwise tightly clenched in self-reference to thank God and give to the neighbor.

Oswald Bayer, Foreword to “Justification Is For Preaching

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Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

Last week it was Mary. Jesus continues the one word greeting with Peace. The disciples certainly need His peace. They are behind locked doors, talking about what they had seen and heard that day of resurrection. Perhaps they are comparing notes and coming up with a compilation of activities. Jesus is not in the tomb. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, disappearing from their sight after He breaks the bread. Now He appears with ten of His intimate disciples, showing them His hands and side and greeting them with Peace.

A greeting earlier that day brought in the peace of God. The good news of The Lord is risen! revived them again and fanned the almost doused spark of faith. The little while Jesus told them about on the night when He was betrayed was over, though another little while would begin after His ascension to His Father. They saw their Savior, just as He promised, with wounds still in His hands and side. He Who once was dead is now alive and lives to all eternity.

You can only imagine how the Ten disciples behind locked doors felt when they saw Jesus appear among them without using a door. Some once were angry at Him. All fled Him. One even denied he knew Him. Jesus thought nothing of it. There was no anger in His word of Peace. Granted the disciples had heard this greeting many times, as it is a common greeting among Jews. We even hear it now and then today: Shalom. This greeting of Peace, though, is no mere greeting. Jesus is not merely saying, “How you guys doin’!” His Peace conveys what it says. Jesus announces His peace upon His disciples.

It is as if Jesus tells them again that all their sins are redeemed. He comes among them not as an angry judge, but as their Savior Who brings them the peace of God from His grave. This is why Jesus shows them His hands and side. He wants them to see, even to touch, the source of their peace. Once they saw their Lord and touched His wounds, Saint John says the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Ten of the disciples were glad that night. Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. Thomas spent eight extra days in his sadness, stuck in his doubts and unbelief. Why did he not believe the unanimous testimony of the other ten men present that night? Perhaps he needed to see it for himself. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.

So it remains today not only with those outside the Christian faith, but even among us. The mere proclamation of peace with God through Jesus’ blood and righteousness is not enough. Give me Jesus. The proclamation and distribution of the Gifts of forgiveness and life is not enough. Where are the bones? Where is the flesh? I need to hear that voice, preferably in English and not in Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew or even Latin. Simply saying Shalom won’t cut it. Bring Jesus to me, let me make sure He isn’t some illusion, let me hear Him talk to me, and maybe even perform some sort of sign, and then I’ll weigh the evidence and make my judgment. He’s got a 50/50 shot in my faith.

That’s what happened with Thomas one week after the resurrection. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. That’s all it took for Thomas. My Lord and my God! he responds. Jesus then adds, have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Jesus adds the last two sentences for you and me. The heavenly sign of peace of the Risen Savior is for you as well. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things. The Son speaks to us in the Preaching Office, the office that proclaims reconciliation. The Preaching Office is not confined to one man in one place. This office has servants placed there by God Himself to give the Gifts that Christ gives His Church. Jesus is careful not to leave His reconciliation in the hands of servants who are sent to proclaim His reconciliation. This is why our Lord breathes on His disciples and tells them receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

It’s easy to see why so many have doubts about how Jesus administers His peace to people. The smart money is on some sort of direct relationship between the sinner and the Savior. Somehow, someway, we think we have to do something or say something in order to feel His peace. Our Lord does not want doubt brought into the picture. Where there is feelings and sentiments, there remains a hint of doubt. How will you ever be sure you have obtained His peace? Maybe you think you have it but you’re not sure, especially when another Christian claims to be sure.

Jesus puts His Gifts with something that is able to be seen, heard, smelled, touched, and even tasted. He brings His peace in words, in water, in bread, and in wine. He sends sinful men to distribute His peace in His stead and at His command. The bringing of Christ’s peace does not rest on the man who brings you His peace. Christ’s peace is there, in what His errand boy gives you. The man can change, as we see when a pastor takes a call elsewhere and is replaced by another man. The message and the Gifts, however, never change.

The same peace revealed to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, even to Thomas and later to Paul, is the same peace you have in the Good News of sins forgiven and new life bestowed. You are free. All your debt is paid. Behold His hands and side. Washed and fed in His peace, you need not fear death and hell, for Jesus has gone before you into those places and suffered what you deserve. All that’s left is Peace for you.

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