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.