Sunday, November 17, 2013

Inherit the Kingdom

Matthew 25:31-46
Trinity 26
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
Greenfield, Wisconsin

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    When we Lutherans hear a Gospel like today’s Gospel, we may get a little uneasy.  On Reformation Day we recently celebrated the Scriptural truth that we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone apart from works the Law commands.  But now it almost seems that the sheep are at Jesus’ right hand and have eternal life because of those good works that they did–giving food and drink and clothes to the needy, visiting those who are sick and in prison, welcoming the stranger, and so forth.  Is the Bible being unclear or contradictory here?  The words of this Gospel are holy and true.  How are we to understand them rightly?

    First of all, we misunderstand passages like this because we don’t listen to them carefully.  We’re naturally drawn to those words that talk about us and what we do.  But before Jesus says anything about our works, He speaks about His grace: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”  Notice how those words give the basis for everything else that follows.  The sheep on the right hand are called “you blessed of My Father.”  By the goodness  of God alone they have received blessing from Him.  And what’s the blessing?  That they would “inherit the kingdom.”  I will remind you once again, inheritances are not about what you do but about who you are.  If you’re in the family, you’re in the will, you get an inheritance.  If not, no dice.  You who were once children of wrath through your sin have been made to be children of God in Christ.  You are baptized into Him; you are washed clean of your sin by the blood that He shed for you on the cross.  Through faith in Christ, you are truly a part of God’s family.  And so you inherit the kingdom.  You are sheep because you have been given to wear the pure white fleece of Christ, the Lamb of God.  The kingdom was prepared for you by the Father through Jesus “from the foundation of the world,” before you and I were even around. 

    It’s who you are, not what you do that determines if you’re on the left or on the right.  If you’re a sheep, you’re on the right, if you’re a goat, you’re on the left.  Sheep have been made to be what they are by grace, having been brought to penitent faith in Christ.  Goats are what they are by the rejection of grace, through unbelief, disowning God’s family and Fatherhood, turning away from the gifts freely given them in baptism. 

    Now faith by its very nature is active in love.  For our faith is in Christ, who is love incarnate.  And so from the sheep’s faith flow these loving works that the Gospel mentions.  Putting to death the selfish old Adam in us through repentance, we seek by faith in Christ to do good and to help those in genuine need and to bring relief to their suffering.  Those good works will be judged by Christ as righteous and will be commended.  Those works, though, do not save the sheep.  For after all, there are plenty of unbelievers who also feed the hungry and help their neighbor, aren’t there?  There are a lot of charitable deeds done by Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and just plain atheists.  So what’s the difference?  The difference is that the works of the sheep are cleansed and sanctified by Christ through their faith in Him, while the works of the goats are not.  In other words, Jesus not only declares us righteous, He declares our works righteous, too, and receives them as gifts. It is written, “Without faith (in Christ) it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  Apart from faith in Jesus’ forgiveness, our works remain stained and corrupted.  Isaiah 64 says that apart from Jesus, even our very best good deeds are nothing but filthy rags before God.  Only through Christ can we do anything that is truly good in God’s sight.  As one theologian put it, “People are anxious over the necessity of good works for salvation; God is anxious over the necessity of salvation for good works.”

    And here’s another key point:  Note that Jesus specifically mentions that these deeds done for Him are done for His brethren. “Brethren” is a very particular term in the Scriptures.  It doesn’t just mean anybody and everybody.  The early church fathers took the term “brethren” in this passage to be referring to preachers, Jesus’ brethren who stand in His place and speak His words to His people.  Therefore this passage is talking at least in part about supporting the ministry of the Gospel, as you do with your offerings, and caring for the needs of those who are called to carry the good news of Jesus’ to the nations, especially if they are poor or persecuted or imprisoned as was the Apostle Paul.  To do that even for the least of the brethren, even the lowliest of missionaries and ministers, is to do it for Jesus who sent them.  It is to show forth faith, which desires to hear the living voice of Christ in the preaching of the Gospel.

    The term “brethren” can also refer to all Christians in general, the family of believers, those who have been made to be brothers and sisters of Christ through their faith into Him.  Those who are baptized are members of Jesus’ body.  So to do something for them is to do it for Jesus Himself. This oneness with Christ is renewed and strengthened each time we are fed with His very body and blood in Holy Communion.  When you relate with each other, then, you’re dealing not just with a motley assortment of people but with the body and blood of Christ.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these My brethren you did for Me.”

    Now the odd thing in the Gospel is that the sheep on the right hand seem blissfully unaware that they did these things.  You’d think they’d remember their good deeds done for the least of these brethren.  But that’s not how faith is. It doesn’t keep a record of good works, it just does them, without thinking about it.  The very best deeds you’ve done are the ones you’ve forgotten about or that you weren’t even aware that you did.  The character of Christian good works is such that they become better and better the less you are aware of them.

    For now because of our sin we still focus on our own good works and remember them and talk about them and take pride in them.  For that we must all repent.  But our faith will be brought to perfection on the Last Day, when the sheep are blessedly unmindful of the things they have done. For faith always focuses on the deeds of Christ.  “When did we do all these things?  All we did was believe in Jesus!”  Faith forgets itself that it may forever remember and Christ and His eternal gifts.

    Our Lord Jesus won those gifts for you by becoming needy in your place.  He was weak and hungry when He was tested in the wilderness.  On the cross He hung without clothing and said, “I thirst.”  He Himself took your infirmities and bore your sicknesses in His own body on the tree.  He was treated like a stranger amongst His own people.  He put Himself into the bondage of your hellish prison so that He might burst the bars of your captivity from the inside by His mighty resurrection. Through Christ you are set free from death and the devil; you are released from your sins; you are cleansed and forgiven in Him.  He made Himself to be the least of the brethren so that you would receive the greatest of His mercies.  It is He who showed the truest and highest charity, paying with His own blood to redeem you. 

    That’s how you receive the eternal inheritance, which was prepared  from the very foundation of the world.  It is written in Revelation 13 that Jesus the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.  The reality of the cross holds sway from the very beginning of creation.  It’s all a gift to you, given through the merits of Christ.

    Let us never forget, then, that the separation of the sheep and the goats occurs at Calvary. That’s where destinies are decided.  It was a goat who was crucified at Jesus’ left, one who mocked Him and didn't believe.  But crucified on Jesus’ right was a sheep who prayed in faith, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”  Brothers and sisters of Christ, you are at Jesus’ right hand.  For you were adopted into the family of God by water and the Word.  All that the Father has is yours.  And so you also are given to pray to the risen Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  And Jesus responds by giving you the Paradise of His own body and blood, where you are with Him and He is with you.  He says to you even now, “Come, you blessed of My Father, come to the altar; receive the kingdom prepared for you, given and shed for you, from the foundation of the world.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

You Are Not Born to Eternal Life When You Die

It has become common in obituaries in recent years to say that the deceased was "born to eternal life" on the day that they died.  I'm sure part of the intent behind that phrase is to find a more pleasant, less harsh way to describe death.  We used to say that the departed "passed away."  But that still doesn't fully hide the harsh reality of our mortality.  "Born to eternal life" is much more positive.

But there's just one problem with that phrase: it's not true.  As Christians we know that our birth into eternal life is not grounded in our death, it's grounded in Jesus' death.  Eternal life doesn't begin when life in this world ends.  It begins when we are crucified with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to a new life by water and the Word.  (Galatians 2:20; John 3:5; Titus 3:5)

We have eternal life already right now through faith in Jesus. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36).  That's not just a future but a present reality.  The eternal life we have in Christ begins in this life, continues through our earthly death, and is consummated on the Last Day when our bodies are raised with Christ to share in His glory (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2).  This is how Jesus can say that those who live and believe in Him will never die (John 11:26).  It is true that those who have died in the Christian faith are no longer burdened by the troubles of this world and our fallen nature.  But they already were born to eternal life, ever since they believed and were baptized.  

If we're going to talk about any future (re)birth, let us have in mind the resurrection of the body at Christ's return.  And if we're going to talk about being born to eternal life when we die, let the reference of that death be your baptismal burial and resurrection with Jesus.  "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in His death, we shall certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection" (Romans 6:4-5).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Suppressed Truth is Still the Truth

Truth that is suppressed, even by civil law, still remains the truth.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Thanks be to God for the Truth in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom unworthy sinners like me are freely declared righteous by His redeeming grace.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
John 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mother Nature, Father God

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Trinity 21
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
Greenfield, Wisconsin
Sermon Audio

✠ In then name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Throughout much of the history of mankind, there has been a battle going on between the religion of mother earth and the religion of Father God.  The religion of mother earth is paganism, where different elements of creation are thought to have some sort of supernatural or divine power.  Certain gods would be connected to certain pieces of land, or the sun, or the water.  Pagans would speak of the spirit of the trees or of the animals as forces they would have to appease or show proper respect to.  In other words creation itself was seen as being divine.  All the worship of idols was at its root a worship of the creation rather than the Creator.  Romans 1 speaks of this when it says, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things . . .  (They) exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator.”  The very term “mother nature” or “mother earth” is really a sign of our who we are as fallen creatures.  Formed from the earth, we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

    Of course, in this scientific age, we believe we’ve advanced beyond all the superstitious paganism of the past.  In our technological wisdom we can now explain everything logically and rationally, even down to the level of subatomic particles.  The wisdom of this age is that there is no personal, transcendent being called God.  Rather, it is said, through chance random processes spread out over billions of years, dead elements came together to form living things which developed over time into the vast variety of living plants and animals that we see around us today.  In this way all living things are connected because we are all joined somewhere on that same evolutionary tree of life. 

    But do you notice where that leaves us?  Right back with the pagans.  After all, if there is no eternal Creator God, then nature, the stuff of the universe must be eternal.  The material world is the only thing that’s real and everlasting.  And so, once again, man ends up giving his honor and love to the creation rather than to the Creator. 

    And it goes even further than that.  This evolutionary mindset inevitably begins to take on the characteristics of the old pagan religion.  We are intrinsically religious beings.  And if the Creator is excluded from the scene, then even a supposedly logical and scientific culture will begin to speak of the creation in spiritual terms.

    For the pagans of our culture, if you want to get closer to the divine you don’t go to church, you go to nature–so you can find inner peace and your spiritual connection to the universe.  Their temple is the forest or the mountains.  Cutting down a tree or retrieving natural resources from the earth is often viewed as an act of desecration.  It is seen as an attack on something sacred.  You hear the same sort of reverence and awe being shown for whales and dolphins and other animals, a mystical and worshipful tone being used to describe these creatures.  The whole Biblical order is turned upside down as animals are often implicitly portrayed as being higher than human beings because they are more in harmony with nature and with the “circle of life.” 

    Being spiritual today for many means being “green,” honoring mother earth.  And so the worst sort of sins don’t involve breaking the 10 commandments but rather not being environmentally pure.  In today’s society it would be a worse sin for me not to recycle properly than it would be for me to misuse the holy name of God, more immoral to have a large “carbon footprint” than to download pornography.  There is more outrage over someone abusing an animal than there is over the abortion of an unborn child.  And don’t even think about questioning the seriousness of global warming; just bringing that up is sheer blasphemy!  Environmentalism has become a religion in our day, as dogmatic as any medieval church.

    But here’s what the Scriptures say to all this: Human beings are not merely animals who happen to have highly developed brains.  God created man in distinction from the animals.  Only man is created in the image of God.  Only man is given that value and that status far above the animals.  Human beings are given a unique role as stewards of God’s creation.  God commanded man, “Fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  As those who bear the image of God, human beings are given to be the overseers of God’s creation, managing it, taking good care of it according to His purposes as His representatives.  We are even commanded by the Lord to subdue and have dominion over creation. In that way we continue His work of setting creation in order.  Man, therefore, is not below nature, in a position where he must reverence and worship her.  He is over creation by God’s own design to be a good steward and caretaker of what the Lord has made.  It is not to creation but to the Lord alone that all reverence and worship belongs.

    When there is a shift away from the worship of the Creator to the worship of the creation, from Father God to mother earth, then there is also a shift away from objective truth to a moral relativism, whatever suits our needs and our feelings at the moment.  For the Creator is unchanging and eternal; creation on the other hand is constantly changing and shifting.

    For instance, rejection of God the Father as our Creator has led to a rejection of the distinction between the sexes in our culture, as if man and woman were interchangeable.  The truth of our creation as male and female for the purpose of marriage and procreation has been corrupted.  Let me say it very clearly: acceptance of homosexual behavior is pure paganism.  It’s no longer about the unchanging God who ordered us as male and female, but the disordered and changeable nature of our inner thoughts and desires.  You know that you’ve been influenced by pagan thinking if you are tempted to believe that it’s actually a virtue to accept and approve of someone’s gay relationship or gay marriage.  Evil is called good and good is called evil.  “But what if they love each other?” it is said.  Not only is that a disordered and sinful love, it is a relationship that by definition cannot fulfill one of the primary purposes of marriage, namely to “be fruitful and multiply.”  Homosexual relationships are lifeless when it comes to producing children, not by health defect or by age but by their very nature. 

    Of course, we must also point out the heterosexual rejection of Scripture, too, where not only is marriage ignored or cast aside, but where the words “be fruitful and multiply” are conveniently ignored or rationalized away, and the sexual relationship simply becomes an instrument of one’s personal pleasure.  How far we’ve fallen, where if someone has more than a couple of children, they’re treated almost as if they’re polluting the earth and needlessly burdening themselves rather than being abundantly blessed by God.

    Romans 1 speaks of how pagan belief leads to sexual immorality.  It is written, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

    Don’t be fooled–this blurring of the lines between male and female isn’t just a side issue.  It is intimately connected with who God is as our Father and what He has done for us in Christ and our relationship to Him as a bride, as His chosen people who look to Him as the source of every good and perfect gift.  This stuff matters deeply.  For instance, in the ELCA, which bears the label of “Lutheran” in its name, there are congregations which pray not to Our Father in heaven but to Our Mother within us or some other non-masculine name.  Such churches, which of course approve of female priestesses to lead the worship of their god/goddess, are of a very different spirit from us.  Just because they use the name Lutheran doesn’t mean that they are.  Our culture’s incessant push to make the sexes interchangeable isn’t without consequence for the church.  Not only does it blur the distinction between Creator and creation.  It also blurs the distinction between the Redeemer and the redeemed.  It affects our faith in Jesus.

    You see, we believe that creation today is far different from what it was in the beginning.  Before man fell into sin, all was good; there were no cycles of death or decay or evil.  But, as proof that man is over creation, when he rebelled against God, all creation fell and was cursed with him.  Romans 8 says that all creation groans and is in bondage to decay.  While nature can be beautiful, it can also now be harsh and desolate and dangerous.  The circle of life is really the circle of death, where the strong survive and the weak die–and even the strong are eventually overcome. 

    All of this is the wages of our sin, which is death.  We have turned away from God and what He created us to be to try to become like God Himself.  We wanted to treat creation not as something that belonged to God that we were stewards of but as something that belonged to us to use however we pleased.  We ended up becoming like the animals, living according to our own instincts for survival or pleasure.  The image of God has been corrupted and broken in us, cutting us off from eternal life with Him.

    However(!), (and I know it took me a long time to get here, but here’s the most important part:) the same God who created us in love has entered into His fallen creation in order to redeem and recreate us in Christ Jesus.  Colossians 1 says that Christ Himself is the image of the  invisible God.  In other words, when man was created in God’s image in the beginning, that means he was created in Christ, who is the image of God and His eternal Son.  Already then, from the foundation of the world, Jesus was the heart and source of our life.  And in order to restore the image of God to us who had lost it, the Son of God came and shared in our humanity, true God became true man, that our humanity might be restored and the image of God might be imprinted on us again. 

    When God created all things in the beginning, He did so through His Word.  He spoke, and it was so.  “Let there be light,” and there was light.  The Gospel of John tells us that the Word was the Son of God, Jesus, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity.  It is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . All things were made through Him . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”   Jesus is the One who became a part of His own creation to renew it.  As your blood brother, He took your place under judgment and was held accountable for your sins.  Just as all creation groans, so He groaned and breathed His last for you on the cross to break the curse of death and free you from your bondage to decay.  The shed blood of Christ cleanses you and renews you and puts you right with the Father again. 

    And the creation account itself foretells and foreshadows this saving work of Christ.  For notice how the days are marked: it’s not morning and then evening the way we usually think of it, but first evening and then morning.  First it’s darkness, then it’s light.  First it’s the shadow of death, then it’s the light of life.  Jesus dies in the darkness of Good Friday to subdue creation, and then He rises at the dawn of Easter on the first day of the week to be the Light of the world, to put an end to death and to bring about a new creation. 

    The Scriptures say that in the world to come there is no night.  For the light of Christ will be all in all.  And that light of the new world has shined on you already, for it is written, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come.”  As the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at creation, so you were given a new life by water and the Spirit in baptism.  You descended into the depths and rose again with Jesus to a life that never ends, enlightened with His gifts.

    So do not think of the earth or nature as your mother; rather let us speak of mother church.  For the saying is true, “No one has God as his Father who doesn’t have the church as his mother.”  Here is the source of your life.  For here is Christ your Savior, who continues to speak His powerful, creative Word: “Your sins are forgiven,” and they are.  “This is My body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and it is.  Jesus is the new Adam who has dominion over all creation for your good.  He has subdued creation and set things in order again and made them new by His death and resurrection.  He is crowned with glory and honor at the right hand of the Father.  Considering all of this creating and saving work of God in Christ, we can only repeat what He Himself said: It is very good.

✠ In then name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Meditation on Daniel 6 for the Easter Vigil

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    This final reading from Daniel teaches as clearly as any of the previous readings about Christ’s burial and resurrection, and about our own dying and rising with Him.
    Daniel was one of many Israelites who had been taken captive by the Babylonians and carried away to live there in exile.  During the 70 years of exile, these worshipers of the Lord were outsiders, strangers in a strange land.  They longed to return to the Promised Land which God had given them.
    Isn’t that also how it is for God's New Testament people?  We also as Christians are like exiles in a foreign land, carried away for a time because of our sin.  This is not our true home.  St. Paul writes in Philippians, "Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."  As citizens of heaven we do not desire to follow the ways of the world, and therefore the world is often set against us.  The citizens of the world will try to make trouble or trip up those who are faithful to the truth of the Word.  In that sense we are not only in foreign territory but we are in enemy territory.
    That was certainly how it was for Daniel.  Because he was faithful to God and because he was distinguishing himself above all others in his service to the king, his enemies set out to undo him.  They knew that Daniel faithfully worshiped the Lord daily, praying toward Jerusalem.  And so they tricked the king into making a law that would forbid Daniel or anyone else from doing that for 30 days.  Anyone who broke that law was to be thrown into the den of lions to be killed.  Daniel, of course, refused to obey such a godless order, and he was condemned to death.
    This is also how it was with Jesus.  In His day he was upsetting the power structure by refusing to bow down to the man made ways of the Jewish leaders, and therefore he was a threat.  They set about to get rid of him.  Though he was blameless in every way, yet through deceit and trickery and betrayal they schemed to have him arrested and sentenced to death.  Not only did they bring false testimony against Jesus, but then they manipulated the mob into forcing Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus.  Just as Darius didn't want to kill Daniel, Pontius Pilate didn't want to kill Jesus.  But through the conniving of Christ's enemies, he decided that was the politically expedient thing to do.  In the end he sent Christ off to His death as the innocent Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
    When Daniel was placed into the pit where the lions were, a stone was brought and laid over the entrance to the pit.  And the king sealed the entrance with his own signet ring.  So also Christ was laid in the tomb, and a stone was laid across the entrance to the tomb.  Furthermore, that entrance was sealed with a Roman seal and guarded by Roman guards so that no one could come and steal the body.  Both Daniel and Christ seemed to have been defeated.
    But when Darius came to the den of lions early in the morning (as it was on Easter), he called out to see if Daniel was still alive.  And Daniel responded, "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me."  Is that not exactly what Christ did in an eternal sense through His death and burial?  He is the Angel, the Messenger of the Father, who shut the lion's mouth.  I Peter 5:8 says that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But Christ through His death confronted the lion and defeated him.  He shut his mouth forever.  For He took away the sin with which Satan could mangle us.  Now the devil has no power over us, just as the lions had no power over Daniel.  The beasts of Satan and sin can no longer bring us any eternal harm.  Christ has shut the lion's mouth.
    Daniel was taken up out of the pit unharmed.  So also Christ arose from the tomb in His full resurrection glory as the conquering Son of God.  But all those who were set against Daniel were thrown into the lions' den in Daniel's place, and it is written, "The lions overpowered them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever came to the bottom of the den."  So it will be for all those who are set against Christ and against those whom He has chosen in baptism.  Those who lay traps for the people of God will be caught in their own snares.  Trusting in Christ and clinging to Him, we will see our vindication in the end.  Satan and all those who reject or ignore Christ will be cast into the pit of hell. 
    Let us then live patiently as exiles in this world.  Let us pray with the Psalmist, "Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies; In You I take shelter."  For truly the Lord is our shelter from Satan, the world, and the grave.  He is a mighty refuge and a strong fortress to save us.  He has gone down into the pit and He has come out vindicated and victorious, and He now gives us to share in His resurrection.  Even as Easter will surely be revealed in all its glory in the morning, so our Lord Jesus will surely be revealed in all His glory when He comes again.  And we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, no longer exiled, but home with Him in the New Jerusalem above.  
What Darius the king said is certainly true of our Lord Jesus.
“For He is the living God,
And steadfast forever;
His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed,
And His dominion shall endure to the end.
He delivers and rescues.”

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Only Human

Meditation on John 19:1-22

People will sometimes blame their failings on the fact that "they're only human." However, the problem since the fall of Adam is not that we are human but that we are less than human. Our sin has dehumanized us, turning us in on ourselves rather than outward in love toward God and others. Beastly thoughts and words and actions often proceed from us. Survival instincts dominate. So it is written, "Man is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49:12).

And we don't like anyone drawing this to our attention, either. Better if they can be ignored or shut up. This is the behavior of those who are less than men. It is the behavior of the chief priests and the officers when they see Jesus. He is a threat to their territory and domain. And so they growl for His crucifixion.

But before they can cry out their desires, Pontius Pilate speaks words that were more true than he realized. He presents a bloodied and beaten Jesus and says, "Behold the Man!" Here is the One who is truly and fully human, who is not degraded and corrupted by His own sin. Here is the only real Man, who lays down His life for fallen creatures like you to raise you up as the people of God, His own beloved bride, His Church. He willingly allows Himself to be treated inhumanely to rescue you, to restore your humanity, to give you to share in His life and His glory. By His wounds you are healed and forgiven.

Behold the One who wears thorns on His head as a crown, to redeem you from the curse on the ground which you were created out of. Behold the Ram whose horns are caught in the thorny thicket of sin, who is offered up in the place of you Isaacs as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold the woman's Seed who is crucified at Golgotha, the place of a Skull, whose cross is driven like Jael's tent peg into the skull, whose pierced feet crush Satan's head and defeat the power of death.

This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. The chief priests don't like this inscription that Pilate placed over Jesus' head and ask him to change it. But the earthly authority whom God has established proclaims the truth. "What I have written, I have written." Jesus truly is the King of the Jews, that is, the King of all those who are the true children of Abraham. He reigns in mercy over His baptized ones, over all you who believe in His promises, and who are credited with His righteousness by grace alone.