Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. - Some Things I am Thankful For

Some things I am thankful for:
  • My Mom and Dad, who gave me life on purpose, brought me to the font of Baptism, raised me in the Catechism and knowledge of salvation, and made me unafraid of and accustomed to work.
  • My wife who, knowing my faults, married me anyway, and continues steadfastly with valor in sharing the forgiveness and grace of God to me, in whom my heart safely trusts.
  • My children, who avail themselves of the means of grace, continue in the repentance and faith of their Baptisms, and hand on the faith to my grandchildren.
  • My Pastor, who guards my soul against error and doubt; who faithfully and industriously preaches and teaches the Word, and frequently administers the sacraments; and who models Christian marriage and fatherhood.
  • My fellow congregants, who accept me in the equality of sin and the equality of salvation.
  • My country, by which God in his inscrutable wisdom has secured to me an easy life of peace and prosperity, insomuch that it perplexes me to consider the millions not similarly made at ease.
  • My employer and co-workers, with whom many hands make light work.
  • My neighbors here, who conduct themselves peaceably and in good order, who help one another in need, and who in their vocations and labors love one another.
  • My farm, the sign and medium of my stewardship.
Please join me in giving thanks to the Lord for all his benefits, especially for giving his Son into death for our salvation.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Who are these people, really?

Sidney Herald religion column published September 4, 2016

This is a presidential election year. There have been so many candidates. People wanted to know, who are these people, really? Who are these promise makers?

One of the parties started with four candidates. One candidate is a political veteran who has been known for decades. The others are less known. People wondered, who are they? Even about the veteran, media and political people ask, do we really know her?

Another party started with 17 candidates. Most of them are political veterans, but known mostly only in their own states. One is a national celebrity, but he never ran for office before. Media reports paint him as flexible in his positions. Pundits ask, who is he, really?

Many people had a similar reaction to Jesus.

Many thought Jesus was a political figure. Wise men from the east asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) That title, King of the Jews, recently had been newly coined by King Herod for himself and himself alone. It was a political title, and the use of the title by the wise men sounded like political trouble from a rival. “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:3) They all wanted to know, who is Jesus, really?

The question, who is Jesus, persisted. The religious leaders feared that He was a threat also to them. When Jesus said, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven,” and “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” they grumbled, saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?" (John 6:42)

In his home town of Nazareth, his neighbors said, “‘Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ And they were offended at Him.” (Mark 6:3)

To say that He came down from heaven and that He is the bread His Father gives from heaven was to say that He is the Son of God. That is why they tried to deny it by saying who his earthly father, mother, brothers, and sisters were.

But, Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4) The resurrection brings Christ from his state of humiliation, by which he voluntarily laid aside his appearance of glory, to his state of glorification, in which his Father made it plain that Jesus is his Son.

All Jerusalem knew of his resurrection because of the political turmoil about his empty tomb. The apostles and many disciples saw him alive. In one case, more than 500 disciples saw him at once. (1 Corinthians 15:6). “The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:52-54)

Why does it matter who He is? Because just like presidential candidates, if He is not truly who He says, He cannot make good on his promises. Jesus “was delivered [to the cross] for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) Jesus promises justification, the forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus really is the Son of God, because He is resurrected, He really gives justification. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Why was Jesus dead only until the Third Day?

Sidney Herald religion column published July 17, 2016

In May of this year, a federal judge in Brooklyn sentenced a woman convicted of drug importation with intent to distribute to probation rather than prison time. The theory was, the restrictions on felons outside bars are punishment enough. The New York Times reported that Judge Frederic Block suggested anything more would be overkill.

In 1701, attorney Basil Montagu published an address to both houses of the British Parliament titled, "Hanging not Punishment Enough for Murderers, Highwaymen, and Housebreakers." He noted that many laws had been enacted to try to reduce the tide of those crimes. With those laws, there was an increase in executions, but still the tide was rising. Hanging, it seemed, was too short a punishment for the crimes.

That is the civil realm. How about the spiritual realm? How much punishment does sin deserve?

We need to include in our computation two aspects of sin: original sin, and particular sins. We usually think of only our particular sins. Limiting the issue that way, we pick out some of our sins, ignore the rest, and go to work diminishing how bad they are. After a while, we have ourselves convinced that our sins are not so bad, and our punishment from injuries, sorrows, and disappointments in this life probably is enough, and when we die our souls will fly straight to heaven.

We tend not to see our sins the way those we've hurt do. How much does God love those we've hurt? What should He do about that?

Worse yet, Americans today have practically no conception of original sin, or think it is not really sinful sin, or think it is not such sin as condemns in and of itself without any particular sins. Of course we'd say that. We are not the victim of it. It is more realistic to consider who we offend by sin, and let that Person have a say. That Person will be in this heaven we think we’re going to. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine that He will have a say there, even if we won’t give him one here. Maybe we need to be a little more objective.

There is a goodly number of people who already have been more objective, who sense the enormity of their sin, and wonder how enough atonement ever could be made for their sin. They are fearful and doubtful. If you are one of these, it is to you that I speak now, and ignore the rest for the time being.

There is a way you can know the atoning death of Jesus was enough punishment for your sin. You can know because of his resurrection, ascension, and being seated at the right hand of the Father. You can know because, three days is not the measure of his sacrifice. His value as the Only Begotten Son is the measure. His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death are enough because of who He is. Because it was him, God raised him from the dead and said, “Enough,” for the whole world, for you.

Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans 4:25 “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day.” Acts 10:39-40 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 His value as the Only Begotten Son is more than a match for your sin.

The Way Out for General MacArthur, Jesus, and Us

Sidney Herald religion column published May 1, 2016
During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur was on the Philippine island of Corregidor helping to defend that country from invasion by the Empire of Japan. Fearing that Corregidor would fall and MacArthur would be taken prisoner, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to go to Australia.

MacArthur balked from February 20 to March 11. He argued that help could make it through the Japanese blockade, and save the Philippine people from enslavement. A submarine was provided for MacArthur’s escape, but he wanted to show that there was a way out. By showing that there was a way out, he would be showing that there was a way back, a way of salvation for the Philippine people.

MacArthur obeyed the President, but broke through the blockade with his “Bataan Gang” staff in PT boats. He set out after sunset. After two days of being bounced around on rough seas, nearly being spotted by a Japanese warship, and thought to be dead and buried under the waves of the ocean, on the third day, he reached Cagayan on Mindanao.

When MacArthur reached Melbourne, Australia, he declared, “I came through and I shall return.” MacArthur showed that there was a way out and a way back to deliver the people from slavery.

Jesus showed that there was a way out, a way back, and deliverance from slavery to sin, death, and the Devil. On the mount of transfiguration, “two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Luke 9:30. That word “decease” is a translation into English of the Greek word that also is translated as “exodus.” Exodus, like exit, is a way out.

Exodus for the Hebrews was a way out of bondage to Pharaoh and Egypt. This, like General MacArthur escaping through the sea, was an escape through the Red Sea. In Jerusalem, Jesus would accomplish an exodus, a way out of bondage to the Devil, the world, and the sinful human nature. He, being fully divine and fully human, would take our place, suffer death, be buried, and on the third day rise again to life. Like MacArthur, He promises to use that way out as a way back, to return for us, and deliver us into the freedom of his everlasting kingdom. People asked Jesus for a sign of who He was and how He could do all the things He was saying He would do. He answered, “No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

This referred to the death and burial of Jesus. From the fish’s belly, Jonah prayed, “You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.” Jonah 2:3. Nearly these same words are spoken by Messiah in Psalm when he is dead and buried for our sins. He cries, “All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Psalm 42.7.

In passages like these, the Bible frequently uses being under water as a symbol of death and burial. Apostle Paul uses that imagery to teach Baptism. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4. In Baptism, we go under water, joining Jesus in his death and burial. Rising out of the water, we join Jesus in new life.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Spruce Goose and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Sidney Herald religion column published December 6, 2015
During World War II, Henry Kaiser, steel magnate and shipbuilder, conceived the idea of a massive flying transport. He turned to Howard Hughes to design and build it. It was 6 times larger than any aircraft of its time. Beyond its size, creating this airplane was challenging because of government restrictions on war materials like steel and aluminum.
Hughes designed this “Flying Boat” entirely in wood. Hardly anyone thought it could rise from the water. Hughes did not seem to know what he was talking about. His ideas of aeronautics seemed wrong.
The plane originally was designated the HK-1 for Hughes-Kaiser, but even Kaiser withdrew from the project. The plane was re-designated the H-4. But the press insisted on calling it the “Spruce Goose,” despite its being made almost entirely of birch. It was their way to ridicule an idea that would not get off the water.
But on November 2, 1947, during a taxi test, Hughes made an unannounced decision to fly. With a co-pilot, several engineers, crewmen and journalists on board, the Spruce Goose rose from the water and flew.
Jesus had his own Spruce Goose. It was his flogged, crucified, and dead body. He said it would rise from the grave, and people thought he was crazy or demon possessed.
In one of the four trials of Jesus, “Some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’’” (Mark 14:58) He had not said, “made with hands.” He had said simply, “this temple,” about the temple of his body. He meant that after his crucifixion, death, and burial, on the third day he would rise in his body from the grave.
Jesus said publicly that He “must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly.” (Mark 8:31)
John tells us the value of this rising of Jesus in his body from the grave. “When He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:19-22).
Because of the resurrection, they believed what Jesus had said. His bodily resurrection showed that He knew what He was talking about. As Hughes knew something about aeronautics, Jesus knows something about resurrection. Christ’s resurrection assures us that his teaching is true.
The teaching is what Jesus told Martha. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25) The Apostles “preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:1) The Church still preaches today that by faith in Christ, our sins may be forgiven


Why He Went Out of State for Surgery

Sidney Herald religion column published September 6, 2015

The week he was gone from work, no one knew where he went. When he came back, he didn’t say, and no one asked. He seemed to be himself, except he was not going on like he usually did about his healthy lifestyle.

In time he confided in a coworker. He’d gone out of state for surgery. He gave a thin explanation of his condition. The coworker asked, “Don’t any surgeons in this state do that kind of surgery.” He said, “Yes, but I was ashamed.”

“Everyone has health problems,” the co-worker said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.” “There is for me,” he said. “You know I’m all about healthy lifestyle. Every part of my life is ruled by health consciousness. Some people say I preach it. Getting this condition ruins everything. It makes everything I’ve done and said foolish. It’s humiliating. I didn’t want people to know.”

The Church teaches that death is one of five steps in Christ’s state of humiliation. But why? Everyone dies. Where’s the humiliation in that?

It was humiliation because death made Jesus look like the healthy lifestyle preacher who, in truth, was sickly. Jesus not only preached life. He said He is life, that He has life in himself (John 5:26), that He can give life (John 6:33), abundant life (John 10:10), and eternal life (John 6:40). He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Because He preached such things, for him to die seemed to ruin everything He had done and put the lie to everything He had said.

Jesus went so far as to claim that all of Scripture is about him and his power to give life. He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) As extreme as that is, He went further, saying, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Really? All Scripture is about him? We must lose our lives for his sake? Wow. If that’s not true, talk about vanity!

But if it is true, talk about the humiliation of his dying. Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” (Philippians 2:8) This Person, who is life, obediently died to give life to us who were dead in our trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13) He snuffed the light of his life, hid his glory, and took our death-shame of sin.

Jesus willingly humiliated himself in death for us that we might live. “Christ died for the ungodly,” (Romans 5:6) “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) This He did openly, being crucified for the entire world to see, because he is not ashamed to call us his brothers. (Hebrews 2:11) and our bodies may rise from our graves to eternal life and blessedness.


FUBAR: Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition

Sidney Herald religion column published July 26, 2015
In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Private Reiben asks, "Where’s the sense of riskin' the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?" Captain Miller says, "We all have orders, and we have to follow 'em. That supersedes everything, including your mothers." Private Reiben asks, "Even if you think the mission's FUBAR, sir?" "Especially if you think the mission's FUBAR," answers Captain Miller.
Corporal Upham asks, "What's FUBAR?" As things go from bad to worse, he learns what FUBAR means: fouled up beyond all recognition. (sanitized version).

When something is messed up so badly that it cannot be recognized as what it is supposed to be, that's FUBAR. That's what happened to Jesus when He was executed for our sins. Not only was He so messed up that He could not be recognized as God, even his humanity did not appear. Both were hidden under our sin that He was bearing.
“His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind,” or “His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being.” (Isaiah 52:14) Before crucifixion, Roman flogging already had accomplished this.
Flogging was a legal preliminary to Roman execution. Hebrew law prohibited more than 40 lashes. The Pharisees established a law of only 39, in case of miscount. Roman law was different. The executioner had discretion over the number of lashes. Some never made it to their crosses.
The tool for scourging was the flagellum, a short whip with several heavy, leather thongs. Some had lead balls near the end of each thong. Others had jagged stone, broken pottery, or pieces of bone. The pain of blows was intended, but the idea went further, to cut the skin.
“Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn bleeding tissue.” (C. Truman Davis, M.D. in the journal Arizona Medicine) In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson was not exaggerating.
As preached by the apostles, the point was not how badly Jesus suffered, but that his appearance portrays how bad our sin is. Sin makes us unrecognizable as the humans we once were in Adam before the fall. We are FUBAR.
Our ruin showed on Jesus when He took our place and carried our sin. But Jesus triumphed over our sin with all its damage. He went from humiliation on our behalf to glorification. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He sat down at the right hand of the Father where He rules over all things. As He once shared our sinful ruin, now He shares again his Father’s glory. This glory is more dazzling than the ugliness of our sin. He prays for us. He sends us the Holy Spirit to commend the Gospel of forgiveness to us. Through the Gospel, He promises to share his glory with us in our resurrection.