Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Focus of Life is "None of the Above"

Focus of Life

The focus of life is, "none of the above."

 

The Pagan and secular worlds say we have three options for emphasis in our lives:

 

1. Doing.

 

2. Being.

 

3. Thinking (or believing).

 

Which is it? None of the above.

 

They overlook the fourth option:

 

4. Receiving.

 

Yes, receiving.

 

The Doer is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

God creates. The Father creates us, and He creates the rest of the creation for us. Pagans and secularists say this is too self-centered, but since God is love, He doesn't seem to think it is so self-centered for him to create creation for us, nor for us to be occupied with receiving it. Check out Luther's explanation of the First Article. You'll see it there. God is for you.

 

God redeems. The Son becomes incarnate. The Son lays down his life. No one takes it from him. He works blood atonement on the Cross. For whom does He do this? He invites you to say, "for me." In the words of Luther's explanation of the Second Article, you can say, "Jesus is my Lord, who has redeemed me ... purchased and won me ... that I may be His own." God is for you.

 

God sanctifies. The Holy Spirit is the holifying, sanctifying, the making-holy Spirit. Holiness is not just an inert attribute or property of the Spirit. The word Holy in the name Holy Spirit says what the Spirit DOES. He makes holy. He calls, He gathers, He enlightens, He sanctifies you, and the whole Christian church on earth. God is for you.

 

God delivers. He delivers justification, faith, and regeneration by the Word using water. He delivers his true body and blood by the Word using bread and wine. With the blood received in your mouth, He delivers to you what the blood was shed for, the forgiveness of sins. In the Word and Sacraments, God is Immanuel, God with us, who visits with consolation for sin and joy in salvation. God is for you.

 

True Worship. The true worship of God is to receive his gifts.

 

And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV.49)

 

Focus. Immerse your life in his gifts, and don't worry, you'll have all the doing, being, and thinking anyone could use. We cannot do, be, or think rightly without his gifts. But mostly, you will have life, and that abundantly and eternally, as a reception by faith of gifts from our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the God who is for us and gives us his greatest gift: Himself.

 

 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

You Are Nominated for the King's Choice Award

Sidney Herald religion column published November 16, 2014

Hollywood royalty. Millions watch them in theatres. More millions watch them when their movies are on television. Still more watch them receiving Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, and People’s Choice Awards. In those pageants, the media rank their glory by what they wear, who their designers are, who does their hair, and who arrives with whom. They are royalty, so they go from glory to glory.

Not so with the King of Kings. Jesus is a strange king. He kept voluntarily hiding his glory. He hid his royal glory by his birth in poverty, life of suffering, crucifixion, and death. In burial, the hiding was complete. To feel the weight of his humiliation in burial, it helps to recall the prominence of his Kingdom in the Gospel.

The Gospel is called the “gospel of the kingdom.” John the Baptist and Jesus announced the kingdom. The Twelve and the Seventy taught the kingdom. Between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus taught the kingdom. He sent out the Apostles to teach the kingdom. The end comes after the kingdom is preached in the whole world.

The Beatitudes begin and end with the kingdom. The kingdom is what most of Jesus’ parables are about. In them, He repeatedly says, “The kingdom is like.” Jesus says to seek the kingdom first. The purpose of being born again is to see the kingdom, and the purpose of being converted is to enter the kingdom.

Jesus entered Jerusalem in the style of a king. He was crucified as King of the Jews. Soldiers mocked him with a crown of thorns. People mocked him, saying if He was a king, He should come down from the cross and save himself. The repenting thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him when Christ came into his kingdom.

The hallmark of kingdoms is their glory. In a doxology sometimes added to the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” As King, Jesus was entitled to glory. With the prominence of his Kingdom in the Gospel, we could expect a display of glory. Instead, He was buried in dust.

The Bible pictures dust as the opposite of royal glory. The Lord said to King Jehu, “I lifted you out of the dust and made you ruler over my people Israel.” (1 Kings 16:2) In Hannah’s prayer, she said, “He raises the poor from the dust … to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

Instead of going from dust to throne, Jesus went from throne to dust. He buried himself in the grave we deserved, to give us his glory. He “calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12) He is “bringing many sons to glory.” (Hebrews 2:10) In the resurrection they “will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Through the word of his burial, you are nominated for the King’s Choice Award, his gift to you.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jesus' Senior Picture Was Not in the Newspaper

Sidney Herald religion column published October 19, 2014

 

I redesigned my Dad’s ’69 Chevy pickup. From a stop sign on a side street, I pulled into an intersection entering a 4-lane avenue. Wham! I hadn’t seen that car to my left. The officer gave me a date to appear. Wearing my Sunday suit, I walked 20 blocks to court. The judge asked, “How do you plead?” “Guilty.” “Your fine is $40.” In 1970, that was a pile of money for a high school junior. The judge wanted it all, now. I didn’t have it. My imagination conjured severe consequences.

 

The judge’s laser-targeted eyes shifted from me to something behind me. I looked where the judge looked. My Dad had followed me to court. He had been sitting quietly in the back, but now was coming forward with a check already made out. His love for me was showing.

 

The next year, our class was supposed to submit our senior pictures to the newspaper. Local businesses sponsored them in the graduation edition. Dad was the manager of a business that was going to sponsor mine. Through neglect, I failed to get my picture to the paper. When the edition came out, Dad was deprived of showing his regard for me. He suffered.

 

God the Father likes to show that He loves his Only Begotten Son. At Jesus’ baptism, He said so everyone could hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In Christ’s transfiguration, the Father said it again and added, “Listen to him.” Jesus always was aware of his Father’s love. (John 11:41-42; 15:9; 17:23-26; Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13)

 

But in his state of humiliation, Jesus passed through five steps: birth in poverty, life of suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial. In that fifth step, one of the things that made it a humiliation was that the Father's love for him was silenced.

 

In Psalm 88, Jesus speaks ahead of time about his burial. He said, “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?” (v 11) It is not declared. The grave silenced the Father’s love. Jesus was deprived the honor of love’s declaration, and the Father was deprived of showing his regard for his Son. They both suffered. Instead of a senior picture in the newspaper, Jesus went to the grave. Burial humiliated Christ because dust hid the Father’s love for him under wrath for our sin. The Psalm says,

 

I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,

 

Derek Kidner says, “There is no sadder prayer in the Psalter.” For our sin, Jesus descended from the bosom of the Father to burial and banishment by his Father. He did this to bring us to his Father. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) Through the burial of Christ when the Father was silent about his love for him, the Father openly declared his love for us. In our burials, we have the hope of the resurrection. Through the humiliation of his body being buried, we shall be raised in glorified bodies.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Did Jesus Have To Lose?

Sidney Herald religion column published August 10, 2014

 

Winston Churchill was visiting New York the day after the stock market crash of 1929. The noise of a crowd outside his hotel woke him. “Under my very window a gentleman cast himself down fifteen stories and was dashed to pieces, causing a wild commotion and the arrival of the fire brigade,” he wrote. Over the following weeks, investors committed suicide by shooting and overdose.

 

A loss of riches, if great enough, can make people sorrowful unto death. Jesus experienced this in Gethsemane. He “began to be sorrowful … very sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:37-38).

 

The Greek word translated “sorrowful” is lupeo. This word has various uses. A repeated use in the Bible relates to riches, loss, and poverty causing sorrow. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Sell all that you have … and come follow me. Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

 

Paul used the word when writing about persecutions and deprivations the apostles suffered. They were “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:10)

 

Jesus was born and lived in poverty. What riches could he lose in Gethsemane? What treasure could be so great that losing it would make him sorrowful to death?

 

His treasure was in the heart of his Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. He was losing communication with them.

 

The phrase “unto death” meant that Jesus was dying there and then. So “an angel appeared to him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:43). This was strengthening, but not comforting. The angel only braced up Jesus’ sinking bodily nature so that He would not die too soon, in the wrong place, in the wrong way. By prophesy, He must die as the Passover Lamb, on Golgotha, on a cross, not in Gethsemane.

 

The angel carried no word from the Father. The abandonment that finally caused the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” already had begun.

 

The communion of the Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit was the original treasure, the richest ever. The Trinity is love’s eternal home. Trinitarian love is what makes heaven heavenly.

 

Once we had communion with God. Adam walked and talked with God in the first garden. But sin separated us from God. This is our poverty without Christ. But Jesus suffered the loss of love’s riches unto death so he could give the treasure to us beggars.

 

By his redemption, Jesus took on the sin that separated us from God and overcame it. Jesus restores to us the love of Father, Son, and Spirit. (Ephesians 3:14-19). “If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him.” (1 John 4:14)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sitting in the Biggest Corner Ever

Sidney Herald religion column published June 8, 2014

 

A mother ordered her naughty son to sit in a corner. After a few minutes, he told his mother, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!” He obeyed, but he didn’t submit. The conflict of wills between two different persons remained.

 

In Gethsemane, the Father told his Son to go and sit in the biggest corner ever, the corner of the sins of the whole world. He was to sit, not for any naughtiness of his own, but for the iniquities of us all. He obeyed. He went to the cross. Is that all, or did He also submit? Did Jesus sit down on the outside while standing up on the inside?

 

Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

 

Suppose there were no Trinity. Suppose “Father” and “Son” were just different titles for the same person. What would it mean to say that Jesus submitted to his Father? Is there any such thing as submission with only one person? If God were a one-person god, Jesus would be talking only to Himself. He would not be giving up His will for the will of His Father.

 

Because the Son and the Father are different persons, one person is speaking to another. Prayer is real. It is not psychological self-talk. When Jesus says to His Father, “Let this cup pass from me,” one person is speaking to another. The Father wants the Son to go to the cross. The Son does not want to go. This is a dreadful temptation to a conflict of wills. Prayer deals with real issues between real persons.

 

The language “not as I will, but as You will” reveals the temptation clearly: “I will” versus “You will.” The I and the You are real. “I” refers to one Person. “You” refers to another. The temptation shows the distinction of the Persons of the Trinity. They are different enough for Jesus to experience temptation to a conflict of wills, sweating blood.

 

The temptation was resolved by submission. The Son submitted to the Father. Through the submission of Christ, the unity of the Trinity was preserved. Because his submission was ready, the temptation did not lead to sin. R.C.H. Lenski says, “From the first word of the prayer to the last Jesus submits to his Father’s will.”

 

In Gethsemane we are not viewing melodrama. Because of the Trinity, both the temptation and the submission are concrete — a sweaty, bloody affair. The innocence of the suffering of Christ goes beyond obedience to submission. He sat down not only on the outside, but on the inside, in our corner, for us, for our sins.

 

The sacrifice for our sins needed to be perfect. It couldn’t be mechanical obedience. It couldn’t be simulated or half-hearted. Because Jesus not only obeyed, but obeyed submissively, He is perfect to the uttermost, and his submission saves us to the uttermost.

 

 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

You're Not Supposed to Hit a Substitute that Hard

Sidney Herald religion column published May 18, 2014

 

When the quarterback sprained his ankle, his substitute came into the game. On the next play, there was no backfield blocking. Both outside line backers came in fast and hit the quarterback hard. His helmet came off. The ball rolled out of his hands. He lay there dazed. Finally being shifted to a stretcher, he said, “You’re not supposed to hit a substitute that hard.”

 

How many real football players would say that? Not many. Being a substitute puts a player into the game fully for the starter.

 

Christ is our substitute. He is in fully for us. In Gethsemane, he had no backfield blocking. He got hit hard by two charging linebackers.

 

There, Jesus “began to be sore amazed” (Mark 14:33) The Greek word is ekthambeo. It means to throw into terror, to alarm thoroughly. He saw something appear suddenly. It already was approaching him when first he saw it. It had the drop on him. It forced itself upon him. It was an assaulting, menacing horror. Jesus saw a killing nightmare.

 

His saying, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34), was not a look forward to the cross. The horror was killing him already in the garden. The nightmare would have killed him on the spot had not an angel strengthened him. (Luke 22:43) He saw the twin causes of death: sin and wrath. Those were the two linebackers that hit him.

 

Jesus’ cries in Gethsemane are not cowardly snivels, as if whining that linebackers should not hit a substitute so hard. They are his heroic substitution for us in facing the wrath of God on our sin. Facing wrath is lethal. It was killing Jesus. Before the foundation of the world, He had agreed bravely to this suffering.

 

Because Jesus was acting as our Mediator to bring us to God, he also had no backfield blocking against being hit by sin in his conscience. The qualification of a mediator is sympathy. To bring alienated parties together, the mediator must understand each party. Without sinning, Jesus suddenly felt what it is to be a sinner. He saw sin in his conscience as a killing nightmare. His holiness and his sympathy for sinners made him feel sin the way we should but can’t.

 

Francis Pieper says, “The transfer of our sin to Him was a purely juridical divine act [but this] penetrated to the very heart and conscience of the suffering Christ. … He felt the sin and guilt of all men in His soul as His own sin and guilt.”

 

Jesus took sin and wrath to give us forgiveness and peace. “Bless the LORD ... who forgives all your iniquity.” (Psalm 103:2) In justification, God gives us Christ’s righteousness and declares us innocent. Christ’s righteousness brings peace and joy. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (Romans 5:1) Matthew Harrison explains Romans 14:17, “Where Christ’s righteousness is laid hold of [by faith], there is peace of conscience and where there is peace of conscience, there is a profound joy.”

 

 

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Can an Old Cigarette Ad Show Us about Gethsemane?

Sidney Herald religion column published April 13, 2014

 

Some of you remember. Before 1971, television had cigarette advertisements. After that, the ads were banned.

 

The jingle for one brand went, “Over, under, around, and through; Pall Mall travels pleasure to you.” The video showed smoke passing over, under, around, and through tobacco to the smoker. This illustrates something that happened to Jesus in Gethsemane.

 

There, Jesus said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34) The Greek word translated “exceedingly sorrowful” is perilupos. The second part of that word speaks of sorrow. The first part, peri, tells where the sorrow was. It was over, under, around, and through. Grief both surrounded and penetrated Jesus.

 

Jesus became “deeply distressed,” “very heavy,” or “full of heaviness.” (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:33). The Greek here is ademoneo, the strongest word in the New Testament for depression. It means “sated to loathing.”

 

Sate simply means satisfying an appetite or desire to the full. After eating four pieces of cake with ice cream, you don’t feel like having more. If something forced you to eat more, you would go past being sated to loathing cake and ice cream. You would be full of heaviness. This heavy fullness amplifies that sorrow was over, under, around, and through Jesus.

 

Something glutted Jesus into severe depression by overfilling his mind. It was worse than tobacco, more toxic than tar and nicotine. It was our sin. Jesus loathed it and was saving us from it.

 

The atonement was under way in Gethsemane. Our sins were being laid on him as a sacrifice to reconcile us to God. This was a judicial assignment by God of our sin to him so that He, as our substitute, could satisfy God’s judgment for us. This assignment caused him to feel our sins in his conscience as if they were his. This does not mean He sinned. It means substitution, by his sympathy for us, went that far.

 

As sinners, we are dull or numb to sin. It takes a holy person to feel sin, to loath it, to be weighed down by sin into depression. Because Jesus is the only holy man, He is the only man who really felt sin.

 

These truths may weigh our hearts down, as they should. But take heart. God has brought joy from sorrow. The resurrection of Jesus shows that, though He suffered the sentence of death for our sins, He triumphed over sin and death. He can assign to us his holiness and life the way our sin and death were assigned to him.

 

As the assignment of our sins to him had an effect in his conscience, the assignment of his righteousness to us has an effect in our conscience. While the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not perfect the consciences of the worshipers (Hebrews 9:9), they pointed to Christ. Christ’s sacrifice cleanses and purifies our consciences by his blood (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22), and by his resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). Christ absolves us and gives us peace.