Wednesday, April 29, 2015

That Can't Be Here. It's in Chicago.

Talking about the black sheep of the family
Sidney Herald religion column published April 19, 2015

Marilyn and I were walking in Nice, Provence. While passing a gallery, something on a wall inside caught me. I stopped, stepped back, took a second look, and said, “That can’t be here. It’s in Chicago.”

Marilyn humored me as we went inside and headed straight to the painting that was the spitting image of one by Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne. Everything about it seemed true: colors, lighting, Post-Impressionist technique. Marilyn said, “What’s wrong.” “Nothing,” I said, “except that this hangs in the Art Museum of Chicago.”

A gallery assistant removed the painting from the wall, turned it around, and showed its certificate: “Vrais Faux 23/125.” I do not speak French, so I had to rely on Latin roots from two years of high school Latin. Vrais probably means true, I thought, and faux is false. True false? A genuine fake? That 23/125 seemed to be saying it was the 23rd copy in a series of 125. Ah, vrais faux, a convincing copy!

There have been dozens of convincing copies of Christ, many seemingly genuine fakes. Luke refers to this when reporting the deliberations of the council about what to do with the Apostles whom they had jailed but were found free and preaching in the Temple the resurrection of Jesus.

“A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel … said … before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.” (Luke 5:34-39)

How can we pick out the true Christ from a crowd of convincing copies? The resurrection assures us that Jesus is the Son of God. Apostle Paul says Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God … by his resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4)

“God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.” (Acts 13:31-32)

Many were resurrected with Jesus. “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52-53). It is hard to keep something like that secret. It is hard to persuade family and friends that those resurrected with Jesus had not been dead and buried like Jesus.

“He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days.” (Acts 1:3) “He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time.” (1 Corinthians 5:6) By the resurrection we know that Jesus is not just a good likeness of God, but the “express image of his person.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Talking About the Black Sheep of the Family

Talking about the black sheep of the family
Sidney Herald religion column published March 8, 2015

The children of a prominent family commissioned a biographer to write a book of family history. They warned him about the black sheep of the family, an uncle executed in the electric chair. The biographer said he could avoid embarrassment. “I’ll say he occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest ties, and his death came as a real shock.”

By contrast to the full truth, that’s how we usually speak of Christ’s crucifixion. We water down the embarrassment. In truth, the cross is a shame (Hebrews 12:2). Paul calls “Christ crucified a skandalon,” the Greek word for scandal. (1 Corinthians 2:23).

The cross is a scandal. Roman Senator Cicero said the very word “cross” should be “far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes, and his ears.”

“In light of the crucified’s degraded status and the heinous nature of the punishment, Gentiles understandably and not surprisingly viewed the victim with the utmost contempt. Indeed, ‘crucifixion’ was a virtual obscenity not to be discussed in polite company. The cultured world did not want to hear about crucifixion, and consequently, as a rule, they kept quiet about it.” (Martin Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross)

Notre Dame Professor Jerome H. Neyrey shows that the entire process from arrest to crucifixion and beyond was an extended series of degradation rituals. The purpose was not to try guilt and execute justice. It was to label the accused not only as one who did wrong in the case, but as a wholly shameful person in all that he was, did, thought, or hoped to be. The rituals made shame his total identity.

Classical authors report crucifixion had about 19 typical stages. Their purpose was progressive humiliation and loss of honor. We might list them, but crucifixion is so cruel, bizarre, and obscene that we might lose focus.

The apostles went everywhere preaching this scandalous Gospel: Christ crucified. In Corinth, Paul said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

They proclaimed God was this crucified Jew. They said this totally degraded, absolutely dishonored Jesus could save us from our sins! They said Jesus was scandalized not on his own account, but by the shame of our sin that He was bearing for us. They said, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Passing from cross to throne, from shame to glory, He is able to bring many children with him to glory. (Hebrews 2:10) The glory He will give us includes even reigning with him. (2 Timothy 2:12) So Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How to Find the Church

“If you want to find the church you don’t look for Christians. You look for the pure gospel of Christ. God only knows who the Christians are. But we can and must know what the gospel is. So we don’t look for the biggest group, the most prestigious group, the holiest group, or the most spiritual group of people. We seek out the pure gospel of Christ. We follow the example of that poor woman from Canaan whose daughter was severely demon-possessed. She knew more about the church than most theologians do. If our Lord Jesus said, “Oh woman, great is your faith,” it would do us well to pay attention to how she exercised her faith.”

Rolf Preus, “God May Try You; He Won’t Deny You,” The Second Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2015, Matthew 15:21-38, Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana, and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana, p. 2.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Did Jesus Use the iPhone's Apple Maps

Sidney Herald religion column published February 15, 2015

When iPhone got Apple Maps, Apple received a storm of criticism. The maps were inaccurate. Australian police issued a warning not to use them to get to the town of Mildura. It would leave users stranded in Murray-Sunset Nation Park, 70 kilometers off target, and in a dangerous place without proper preparation.

Jesus looks like He used Apple Maps. He was the King. He should have been on his way to glory. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” (Luke 9:51), turned onto the Cross road and arrived at shame.

The hallmark of kingdoms is glory. Jesus spoke of King Solomon “in all his glory.” Salome and her sons, James and John, used the words kingdom and glory as synonyms. She asked Jesus to give them high places “in your kingdom,” while they asked for the same places “in your glory.”

In the wilderness temptation of Christ, the Devil “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He promised, “I will give all this authority and their glory.” The kingdom and glory belong to Christ. (1 Peter 4:11; Hebrews 2:7; Revelation 1:6; 5:13) How was it temptation to offer him kingdoms and glory, when they are rightfully his?

Jesus told the twelve He would be “shamefully treated.” (Luke 18:32) When He said He must suffer many things and be killed, Peter rebuked him and said such things should not happen to him. Jesus wheeled on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! (Matthew 16:21-23) Why the strong reaction?

When we know the facts about crucifixion, we can see Peter’s point. Crucifixion is gruesome and grisly, ghastly and ghoulish, and yet Mark Goodacre says, “It was not merely the excruciating physical torture that made crucifixion so unspeakable, but the devastation of shame that this death, above all others, represented.” Crucifixion was so shameful, the Roman Senator, Cicero, said, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.” A king without glory, a shameful king, is a scandal and an offense.

The Devil’s promise was temptation because Christ’s road to glory was the Cross. Jesus was not lost. He knew the road. Afterwards he said, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26)

Necessary? Why? To save us, He had to undergo our shame. Peter’s problem, like ours, was revolt against needing so much from God, against his own shame put on display in Christ’s Cross. Peter was not protecting Christ’s glory, but his own, just like Satan, just like us.

Satan tempted Jesus to abandons sinners, but Jesus did not get lost on the way to the kingdom. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He found us in our shame and saved us. We can’t afford glory. We must receive the grace of his shame for us. The Father exalts Jesus because of what Jesus did for sinners.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

From Empire to Execution in Four Days

Jesus Is the Real Nowhere Man

Sidney Herald religion column published January 4, 2015


Napoleon moved with his army through Switzerland. People hailed him everywhere with thunderous applause and cheers. He seemed unimpressed. Someone said, "Isn’t it great, this roaring support of the people?” Napoleon replied, “The same people cheering for me today would cheer just as loudly at my execution.”


When Jesus showed his glory, people liked him. When He fed 5000, the crowd wanted to “take Him by force to make Him king.” (John 6:15) When He paraded into Jerusalem in the traditional way of kings, crowds blessed him as “the King of Israel!” (John 12.13) That was Palm Sunday. By Thursday, they cried, “Crucify him!” Like Napoleon said.


When Jesus hid his glory, people hated him. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world; [otherwise] my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered.” (John 18:36) No fight, no power, no glory. The chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)


When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, at first Herod was glad to see him. “He was hoping to see some sign done by him.” (Luke 23:8) Jesus showed him no sign. Because he saw no glory in Jesus, “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe.” (Luke 23:11)


Pilate’s soldiers also mocked Jesus. Each mockery was directed against his kingship. They clothed him with a purple robe, twisted a crown of thorns, put the crown on his head, put a reed in his right hand like a scepter, bowed the knee before him, saluted him with “Hail, King of the Jews,” worshiped him in mock worship, struck him with their hands, and spit on him. They struck him on the head with a scepter-like reed showing themselves as kings more than he was.


When the Romans crucified a criminal, they wrote the condemnation on a placard, such as, Traitor, Insurrectionist, or Assassin. On Jesus’ placard they wrote, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Such shame, to think you are a king and be so weak. They wrote it in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Let everyone read the shame.


At the cross, people mocked Jesus as a king without glory. “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” (Matthew 27:42) They were like Herod. They demanded glory.


Isaiah prophesied of this, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” (Isaiah 45:15) The power and glory, wisdom and holiness of God were hidden deeply under their opposites, weakness and shame, foolishness and guilt. The Cross is the opposite of glory. The Suffering Servant is the opposite of a king. He hides, suffers, and serves to be our Savior.


Jesus endured our rejection of him that we might have his acceptance with the Father. On the basis of Christ’s blood, we receive “his grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Word Does Things To Us: Law-Gospel Metanarrative

"Sixteenth century  humanists were already changing biblical exegesis by finding 'a literary method for handling the narrative construction of the Bible as a whole … where discrete biblical meanings congealed in a coherent body of knowledge.' Luther contributed to that search by providing a metanarrative that recognized the dilemma of the sinner and delivered God's salvation, categorizing the biblical message as law that condemns sinners and gospel that resurrects children of God.

"Over the following decades Luther's presupposition that God's Word is a living, creating instrument became intimately connected with defining this metanarrative of God's interaction with his human creatures. As he abandoned the allegorical method as his orienting hermeneutic, he slowly became convinced that Scripture's meaning lay not in 'the system of signification of the text's exoteric or esoteric meanings but rather in what the text actually did to him and for him.'  He proposed that the story of God's creation, redemption, and sanctification of fallen humankind proceeds out of Scripture and into the life of the congregation through the use of its message. This message functions in oral, written, and sacramental forms as the law kills and the gospel makes alive. 'Alive' for him meant living by faith in Christ, in the vertical dimension of life, and loving the neighbor in its horizontal dimension."

Robert Kolb, Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith, p. 46 (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How Jesus Fooled the World

Sidney Herald religion column published November 30, 2014


Messiah is a person foretold in Hebrew prophesies. The prophets spoke during more than 1000 years. Each added specifics to who Messiah would be.


To fool the world, all Jesus had to do was fulfill a few hundred prophesies. Let’s look at a sample.


Jesus was choosy about his parents, to make himself a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David.


He was fussy about the year he was born, the one foretold by Daniel.


He was picky about where he was born, the little town of Bethlehem, population 500-600, smaller than Culbertson. He had the Roman Empire slap on a tax at the right time to drive Joseph and Mary there when he would be delivered. That placed him among one to two dozen boys born there per year.


He hired the wise men who visited from the east through a temp agency. He ordered his own star in the sky marking his birthplace from the Sears Roebuck catalog.


A prophet said Messiah would be called out of Egypt. Another said that during his infancy, mothers all around would weep for their dead children. So Jesus enlisted King Herod, in an effort to get rid of Messiah, to kill off all baby boys up to two years old. That drove his mom and dad to flee for safety to Egypt and left mothers all around weeping.


A prophet said Messiah would be called a Nazarene. So after Herod died and the family was returning from Egypt, he talked Joseph and Mary into moving to Nazareth.


Those prophetic fulfillments already narrowed it down to Jesus being the only man in history who could be Messiah, but Jesus was an over achiever. He kept up the act through his life and even after his death.


He got Judas to betray him into death. He fixed the price of betrayal at 30 pieces of silver. He got Judas to throw down the silver pieces in the Temple. He got the Jewish leaders to use the 30 pieces to buy the potter’s field.


Since Jews executed by stoning, the Romans came in handy again. Jesus used their governor, Pontius Pilate, to execute him by crucifixion, as prophesied. Pilate was so accommodating, he executed Jesus with two thieves, and he placed Jesus between the thieves, as foretold.


The soldiers killing Jesus helped him fulfill prophesies surrounding the cross. They gambled for his clothes, offered him gall, pierced his side, and, though ordinarily they would have broken his legs with bats so he would die before the Sabbath started, oddly, they did not break his legs.


Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus’ body in his own tomb, so Messiah, though poor, was buried among the rich.


Why believe Jesus? It’s not the best reason, but one reason is, it’s too much work not to. I don’t have the brain power to refute all these prophesies and fulfillments. This Jesus is the Messiah who has power and authority to forgive your sins, and He’s willing.