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.



Friday, March 7, 2014

Left Alone, Entangled in Ourselves

President Ronald Reagan had good reason to say, "Trust, but verify." Is this a good approach to living by faith in God, however?


Faith trusts the promise of God. What happens when we mix trusting God's promise of justifying us, declaring us righteous in his sight, with verifying his word? What happens when we seek to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, following our justification. It returns us where we were before faith: left alone, and entangled in ourselves. Oswald Bayer explains:


What are our lives directed toward? This is the decisive point. It is decisive in the controversy of Luther's theology with Roman Catholicism and with Pietism about that which has been called -- differing from Luther's own theology -- the question of relating justification and sanctification. To what do we look? May we and can we look away from ourselves and solely at Christ? Or do we look back at ourselves as made anew, seeking to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, in the progress we make, even in the sanctification that is said to follow after justification? When we are blessed by God and born anew, do we seek to feel the pulse of our own faith? Doing this is a dangerous displacement that leads us away from the Reformation understanding of faith. The moment we turn aside and look back at ourselves and our own doings instead of at God and God's promise, at that moment we are again left alone with ourselves and with our own judgment about ourselves. We will then be inevitably entangled in ourselves. We will fall back into all the uncertainty of the defiant and despairing heart that looks only to self and not to the promise of God. That is why it is so important to take note of the means and medium by which justifying faith comes.


Oswald Bayer, trans. Geoffrey w. Bromiley, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 2003), pp. 43-44.



Saturday, January 18, 2014

No CEO of Holy Spirit, Incorporated

Sidney Herald religion column published January 19, 2014


George Carlin said, “One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people.” The Holy Spirit is not an egotist. He does not talk about himself. He talks about the Son.


Tom Peters wrote: “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.” He tells how to promote SELF™.


Such is the world. The Holy Spirit is not of the world. The Spirit is not of this Age of the Individual. He is not the CEO of Me Inc. or Holy Spirit Incorporated. He promotes a brand, so to speak, but not his own. The Spirit promotes the brand of Jesus.


John says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:2-3)


We recognize the Spirit’s work by seeing where the brand of Jesus is recognized. Here is Jesus’ brand: the man Jesus is God come in the flesh. Wherever we see Jesus recognized as God incarnate, there is the Spirit.


“When the Helper comes …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26) “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)


The humility of the Spirit becomes clearer when we realize his magnificence in the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed summarizes from Scripture that the Spirit is uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, God, and Lord. It says, “In this Trinity none is before the other or after another; none is greater or less than another.” The Nicene Creed says the Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”


The Spirit is glorious, but He makes little of himself. With the Father, He gives the Kingdom to the Son. At the end of the age, the Spirit, with the Son, will return the Kingdom to the Father. At different times, the Father and the Son have the Kingdom, but the Spirit never does. The Spirit always is building a Kingdom for Others.


The great promoter, P. T. Barnum, said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens: nothing.” Without the Holy Spirit, nothing happens. Paul said, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 12:3)


So Martin Luther says in his Small Catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called my by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”




Friday, January 3, 2014

Finally! Some Satisfaction in the Atonement

Dying in a Garden

Ever since reading Gustaf Aulén's Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement, I have been studying in an intentional way the nature of the atonement.


This study has had two tracks. On one track, I went through the whole Bible reading it just for the purpose of finding its explanation of the atonement. What problem is the atonement solving? How does the atonement solve the problem? Specifically, why does substitution work?


Several times the Bible leads right up to the point of a direct, explicit answer, and then stops short. The climax of this is in Hebrews. The best thing I could conclude came in the linkage between Leviticus and Hebrews, where the sacrifice of Christ works not because of sacrifice or substitution per se (which would be only monism, where a principle of substitution would stand over God and require God to do things in a certain way), but because it was Christ the unique Christ who was sacrificed: it works because it was He who did it. As part and parcel of this view, sacrifice and substitution also work only because, firstly, God is triune. The Trinity accounts for the uniqueness of Christ, and it accounts for the effect on God of the sacrifice of Christ and his substitution for us in the sacrifice. The search for the theory of the atonement turned into the search for the identity of God and the identity of Christ; atonement works because of the Trinity and the Incarnation.


On the second track, I read from the church's literature on the atonement. I got a lot of good from some authors such as the several works of Leon Morris that relate to the atonement. I still recommend Morris and some others, but in general, I experienced a rising dissatisfaction with the leadership the theologians were exercising over us lay people concerning the atonement. This dissatisfaction reached a climax while reading James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL: 2006). There are more than four views, but this work selected four of them. It selected an author to represent each view. Each author contributed a chapter setting forth one of the views, and the other three authors contributed responses to that chapter.


This portrayed a church severely divided over an indispensable doctrine, the atonement. None of the authors succeeded in overcoming the views of the others. The divisions were not of kinds that could be either resolved or left satisfactorily to stand as paradox as we do with the Trinity, the Incarnation, and so on. This is like going to a committee of mechanics who are still arguing about what torque and drive train are. Disgusting. The sheep are led about by lost shepherds.


Of course, a major part of my problem is that I am not a theologian and lack the qualifications to be doing this work, most notably, any facility with Hebrew, Greek, or German. Two years of high school Latin help, but not that much. Yet, I am pressed into it because, like everybody else, I either live or die by the atonement. It is a matter of death and life. I am pressed into it also because I am a husband, father, and grandfather. It is part of the responsibility of these vocations to confess to my wife, children, and grandchildren what I believe about the atonement. Weight is there.


I give this background so that, by contrast with it, I can express to an extent my profound appreciation for the following excerpt from Albrecht Peters, trans. Thomas H. Trapp, Commentary on Luther's Catechisms, Creed, pp. 161-62 (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis: 2011). Here, Peters shows how Luther viewed two of the primary theories of the atonement. One of them is called variously the Latin, Anselmian, objective, payment, merits, or satisfaction theory. The other is called by Aulén and others the Christus Victor theory or the church's classical theory, in which Christ by conquest delivers us from tyrants. The tyrants are sin, death, the Devil, and the fallen world. If Albrecht is right, Luther, and so far as I know, only Luther, has accomplished something for my quest. I don't know yet whether this should be called a resolution, a harmonization, or what, but it looks very much like a solution to my problem.


The reformer thus takes up both constellations of motifs: on the one hand, Christ as the one who vanquishes all the powers of destruction and powers of death and, on the other hand, Christ as our substitute and as our propitiatory offering over against God's holy, judging wrath. Luther links both aspects in such a way that the hidden emphasis from the Western Church and the Middle Ages, on the punishing suffering of Christ, persists. The propitiation of God's wrath remains the center, in terms of content, in the catechisms as well; at the deepest level, it is God's curse of judgment that delivers us over to the powers of destruction. These powers stand in a unique relationship with God; according to the Large Catechism, on the one hand, they are our "tyrants," caught up in rebellion against God, and yet, on the other hand, they are the "harsh schoolmasters" that God Himself put in place, which means that they are the authorities who run the prison; the real prison came into existence for us when God gave us over under the condemning wrath of His Law. "Death, sin, hell, all of these come from the wrath of God; they are its harsh schoolmasters." Even among these ominous allies, Luther intimates that there is a pecking order; Satan stands at the top; he "clearly is to be identified as a prince over sin and the prince of death." This is the specifically theological dimension; to it corresponds an anthropological aspect. As we are free, in heart and conscience, from the accusation of the Law and from the wrath of God that thereby brings its onslaught, we are free, as well, with respect to the battle against the satanic demons; for us, these have been rendered harmless, because the wrath of God no longer stands behind them.


By means of these insights, Luther deepens and personifies both the "classical theory of the atonement" of the Christus Victor model as well as Anselm's teaching about satisfaction. By means of his hyper-realistic and drastic images of Christ's victory over the dark comrades, sin, death and the devil, he reaches back into the tradition of the early Church and the Eastern Church and renews its emphasis on the motif of a battle that encompasses the entire earth. But because he points out, in, with and under the onslaughts of the powers of death, how Christ fully suffers the deepest, holy wrath of judgment from God that hangs over all human guilt, and inserts the Law at this point as well, into the list of the powers that effect the curse, the reformer deepens the early Church's confession about Christus Victor by means of insights that are set forth initially by Paul: precisely by suffering the full consequences of the divine curse of judgment upon the guilt of human sin, Jesus Christ overcomes the original power of those that destroy.


Since Luther serves as a forerunner of the modern existential interpretation of Jesus' sufferings unto death by being struck down by the Law of God in one's conscience, he frees the Latin teaching and Anselm's motif of Christ's suffering as punishment, at the same time, from a type of moralism that is contractual and legal. Finally, in Jesus' cross and resurrection, the merciful love of God breaks right through God's own holy judgment. God does battle here with God.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kingdom: Righteousness, Peace, and Joy

Dying in a Garden

Righteousness, peace, and joy.


A highly brief and most useful exposition of Romans 14:7:


"St. Paul says that the kingdom of God is a matter 'of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' (Romans 14:7). Where Christ's righteousness is laid hold of, there is peace of conscience, and where there is peace of conscience, there is a profound joy."


Matthew C. Harrison, A Little Book on Joy, (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2011), pp. 46-47.



Monday, December 2, 2013

Second Advent: What We Don't Know and What We Do

Dying in a Garden


Second Advent:  What We Don't Know and What We Do
Advent 1, Year A


Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
Sidney, Montana


Matthew 24:36-44


Opening Illustration


The new minister had been asked to pray for rain. Following his prayer there was such torrential rains that crops were severely damaged. "That just shows you," said one farmer, "that you can't trust such prayin' to a preacher who don't know nothin' 'bout farmin'"


The preacher didn't know about farming, but he did know about praying. That's how we are concerning the second advent of Christ. There is something we don't know, but there is quite a bit we do know.


We Don't Know When the Son of Man Comes Again


This text expends many of its words on showing us that we don’t know when the Lord’s second coming will be. Ten times it says this, repeats it, emphasizes it, or illustrates it.


1.    Concerning that day and hour no one knows, v 36
2.    Not even the angels of heaven, v 36
3.    Nor the son, v 36
4.    The Father only, v 36
5.    As were the days of Noah … they were unaware, vv 38-39
6.    Two men in the field did not know, v40
7.    Two women grinding at the mill did not know, v 41
8.    You do not know, v 42
9.    The master of the house did not know, v 43
10.  He comes at an hour you do not expect, v 44


What We Do Know


There are some things we do know, however. We know that


•    the flood did come
•    one man in the field was taken and the other left
•    one woman at the mill was taken and the other left
•    the master of the house fell asleep
•    the thief broke into the master’s house
•    the Son of Man does come


We know that in the flood, God came in judgment. Those that were taken away were taken by flood waters. They were judged, condemned, and destroyed for sin. In Genesis 6:5-7, we read:


5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”


Jesus says his second coming is like Noah and the flood. Those taken by flood waters were taken in judgment. Those who were left were the eight in the ark. They were saved by the ark. The one man taken in the field is taken in judgment. The one who is left is saved. The one woman taken at the mill is taken in judgment. The one who is left is saved.


Didn't See It Coming


We also know that those taken by flood waters didn’t see it coming. Verse 39 says, “They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.”


The second coming will be the same. A man in the field and a woman at the mill will be taken in judgment, and they will not see it coming.


In Verse 43, the story of the master of the house that is robbed highlights the point that the master didn’t see it coming. He didn’t stay awake.


Stay Awake


Since we know that the Son of Man does come, but we don’t know the day or the hour, what should we do? We don’t have to figure it out for ourselves. Jesus tells us plainly:


•    v 42, therefore stay awake.
•    v 43, the master of the house would have stayed awake
•    v 44, therefore you also must be ready


The trouble is, watching is just what we don’t do. Like the master of the house, we tend to fall asleep. Like those in the days of Noah, we tend to go on with ordinary activities of life, paying no heed to warning.


Why We Sleep


Why don’t we watch? Why do we sleep?


One of the reasons is the length of time God takes to fulfill his threats and promises. It took a long time to build the ark, which is to say that God waited a long time to fulfill his threat to destroy the world. Bible scholars say it took 120 years. 2 Peter 2:5 says:


God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.


During that time, word of the flood and the ark spread. Bill Cosby took license in his comedy sketch about Noah building the ark. For example, I am pretty sure God did not call to Noah in a booming voice, "Noah, how long can you tread water." But Cosby did capture some important truths. That bit about the neighbors thinking it strange to have an ark on the driveway at his house does capture the truth that the ark was hard to hide. Everybody had heard about it. Ridicule spreads like a prairie fire.


During that time, Noah preached. 2 Peter 2:5 calls him, in one version, “a herald of righteousness,” and in another version, “a preacher of righteousness.” God threatened the world with destruction by a flood, and Noah preached it.


Noah also preached about the use of the ark, about the way of salvation, that by the grace of God and through faith, they could escape the coming destruction. He preached a righteousness of God apart from works of the Law. That is, after preaching the Law of sin and death through flood waters, he also preached the Gospel of forgiveness, righteousness, and life as gifts of God freely given to sinners through the ark. The ark was a type of Christ, the one who carries you through destruction to life.


But people took God’s patience the wrong way. Over time, they stopped listening to Noah. They forgot God’s Word. They forgot the judgment and threats of the Law. They forgot the forgiveness and promises of the Gospel. They went on with ordinary activities and fell asleep to the Word.


It’s Déjà vu All Over Again


Jesus is telling us that it will be the same way when He comes again. Although, through the office of the public ministry, the Church is preaching Law and Gospel as Noah did, because of God’s patience in waiting before his second coming, people are neglecting the hearing of the Word.


2 Peter 3: 3-10 explains this detail:


3 Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.
4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,
6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.
7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.


What Can Make Us Wakeful?


Jesus tells us to stay awake. But how can we stay awake?


This brings us into a very tricky part of today’s sermon. It is tricky because this is the point where everything we’ve gained so far can be lost in one moment, if I now preach that you can stay awake. You cannot stay awake.


Oh my. Are we wasting this entire morning? Have I spent this whole sermon telling you that you must stay awake only to finish by saying you can’t?


No, we are not wasting this morning, but here’s the deal. We need to turn this around. The Gospel is not something you do, but a gift Christ gives you. You cannot stay awake, but Christ can give you the gift of wakefulness. The Holy Spirit can keep you in the faith.


Listen to how Luther explains the third article of the Creed in his Small Catechism:


I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life.


See how all the action in our salvation is the action of God, not of us. See how his action is continuous from beginning to end. He does not only start us out in faith. He keeps us in faith. He gives us the gift of wakefulness through the second advent of the Son of Man, all the way to the resurrection and into everlasting life.


How Christ Delivers His Gifts


How does the Holy Spirit give us the gift of wakefulness? How does He keep us in the faith.


In 2 Peter 3:6 that we read a moment ago, notice the word "means." To destroy the world, God could have just said, "Poof," and it would have disappeared. But He didn't do that. He used means. He used water.


In the same way, He could have saved those eight souls by just beaming them upward off the earth, as in Star Trek when Captain Kirk says, "Beam us aboard, Scotty." But He didn't do that. He used means. He used the ark. He used wood. A man got splinters, blisters, and calluses on his hands building it.


He could have used something like mental telepathy to put into people's minds the idea of walking onto the ark. But He didn't do that. He used Noah's preaching.


Corresponding to that, today the Holy Spirit uses the means. And Luther says in the portion of the Catechism that we read a moment ago, He uses them in the church.


The Holy Spirit uses the Law and Gospel, He uses Baptism, and He uses the Lord’s Supper.


We cannot stay awake by ourselves, but we can go where the Word is preached. As they could have gone again to hear Noah, we can go again where Luther says the Holy Spirit is calling and keeping. We can go to the Church where, through the office of the public ministry, the Law and Gospel are preached.


We can use the Sacraments. The text we read earlier in 1 Peter 3:21 goes on in verse 22 to draw a parallel between the flood, the ark, and baptism.


21 God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.

We can remember our baptisms daily, and live a baptismal life of repentance and faith.


In the Lord’s Supper, in a sense, Advent is repeatedly happening. Christ repeatedly is coming to us.


He said of the bread, “This is my body.” He said of the wine, “This is my blood.” His word makes the bread and wine what they are, just as when He said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” This is the real presence of Christ’s body and blood with the bread and wine. It is a real appearing of Christ under the form of bread and wine. It is a real miracle every time.


Because his body was broken and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin, when He gives us his body and blood in Communion, we receive what they were broken and shed for. We receive the remission of sin. We receive food for our sojourn, food for keeping us in the faith, food for wakefulness while Christ delays his return because He is patient, because He is earnestly and tenderly calling sinners to salvation.


We do not know how to stay awake. We do not have the power to stay awake. But we know where Christ said his gifts, including wakefulness, can be received. We know He gives us his gifts in Word and Sacrament. Amen.