We all get older, but not all of us age in the same way. Some lose their strength gradually, others are called to eternity while they are still relatively healthy both physically and mentally. Becoming old is often frightening. Even believers are not free of this fear. Death frightens because it is never natural. God did not create man to die, but "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). For man to die is most unnatural. And how difficult it is to approach death with a troubled conscience.
The Christian faith has a medication for aging and death. It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has conquered death by His own substitutionary death. "By this the love of God was manifested in us (shown us), that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9). Whoever is afraid of the wages of sin, may place his trust in Christ and live a new life. He who believes in the Son is a new creation. Outwardly, of course, we are subject to death, but death cannot swallow us. For a believer in Christ, death is the gate to eternal life, because we have been baptized into the death of Christ. "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:3,4).
When our strength begins to fail we might not have the energy to read God's Word as before. We cannot even always partake of holy Communion. A believing elderly person may be concerned about this. But we must not think about our own strength, but rather trust in God's strength. Already in holy Baptism He has adopted us and made us His children. Through His Word He has kept us in the Baptismal Covenant, or if we have fallen away from it, He has brought us back to it. And even the most wretched sinner is invited to return. God does not forsake us when our strength fails, but says: "Even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you; And I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you" (Is. 46:4). God's supply of grace is never depleted and His strength does not fail.
God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. According to this Word Christians worship only one God. "There is no God but one" (1 Cor. 8:4). "Listen, Israel: the LORD, our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4). He is the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There is only one name of God and it is the "name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:19). (God's Name is not the same as a designation!) When Jesus was baptized the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Ghost descended on the Son in the form of a dove. Each Person acted separately but nevertheless there were not three God's, but only one.
We must believe a profound truth such as this on the basis of the Bible. God is so far above our ability to comprehend that we cannot understand Him in His essence. We can only believe that He is what He is. If we with our mind formulate a conception of God that agrees with our way of thinking, we actually lower God to the level of our ability to comprehend. Attempts have been made to illustrate the triune nature of God. It has been compared to a triangle: Just as in one triangle there are three angles, so too in the Godhead there are three Persons, and just as the angles of a triangle do not become three triangles, so too the three Persons of the Godhead do not become three different Gods. This example illustrates the matter in a way. But it leaves much to be desired. For we would have to imagine that each angle of a triangle is the whole triangle, inasmuch as each Person of the Godhead is the whole God and not just some part of the Godhead. The Bible says that in Christ "all the fulness of the Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). We can only inadequately describe God with illustrations, for God is the only one of His kind, far above this creation of His. We must be content with what the Bible tells us about Him.
The Bible calls each Person God. Of Jesus it says: "This is the true God" (1 John 5:20). Peter told lying Ananias: "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?... You have not lied to men, but to God" (Acts 5:3,4). In addition the Bible ascribes divine attributes and divine works to each Person. Some have wanted to make the Son and the Holy Ghost inferior to the Father in the Godhead. But what has been the result? They have made little gods of the Son and the Holy Ghost and have therefore fallen into polytheism. The doctrine of the Trinity is not meant to be dissected by our reason, but rather to be humbly believed according to the Bible.
The Bible is a collection of books. None of its 66 books has been preserved in its original state. This does not, however, mean that the Word of God has been lost. The original manuscripts were copied, and from reliable copies new copies were made. The copies are called manuscripts. Thousands of these manuscripts of both the Old Testament and New Testament have been preserved. Even in recent times valuable manuscripts have been found and others may still be found. The manuscripts differ from each other in some instances but the differences are usually insignificant. It is generally agreed that the differences do not affect any doctrines of the Bible making them doubtful or controversial. By comparing the oldest and most reliable manuscripts to each other, the correct reading of the original text can be determined. For no other ancient book have as many manuscripts been preserved as have been preserved for the Bible. The great number of Biblical manuscripts and the fact that they are in such close agreement with each other testify that the text of the Bible has not been changed in the course of the world's troubled history.
Some of the New Testament manuscripts are from as early a period as the second century. The entire New Testament collection of books is from the fourth century, only about 200 years after they were originally written. It is possible that among the preserved manuscripts there are some that were copied directly from the originals.
Until the time of the discoveries at Qumran (1947), the oldest Old Testament manuscripts were from the 9th and 10th centuries. The Qumran discoveries included manuscripts that are a thousand years older. And what is especially significant is that they confirm that the Old Testament text has been preserved intact.
The copyists were conscientious in their work. The Jewish copyists had to observe the following rules: The copyist can never depend on his memory. Before writing he must look up every word of the original text and pronounce it audibly. Between every book he must leave three blank lines. Deuteronomy must end exactly on a certain line. The copyist must be dressed fully in the Jewish manner as he copies. Every time he writes God's name he must first consecrate himself, wash his whole body and his pen, and dip it deeply enough into the ink so that he can at the same time copy the word before God's name as well as the name itself. In copying this holy name he must be so devoutly committed to his task that he would not even notice the king if he were to speak to him during the time he is writing. The copy was not acceptable if even one letter was missing or if there was one letter too many, if prose was written as poetry or poetry as prose, or if two letters touched each other. The manuscript had to be examined within 30 days.
These rules may seem strange to us but they were a safeguard against carelessness, they contributed to the birth of exact, reliable copies, and prevented the preservation of erroneous ones. At the same time other regulations served as simple examining means to insure that nothing had been added or that nothing had been omitted.
God's Word truly has not passed away.
We are accustomed to considering the ability to speak as one of the features that separates man from animals. But we have perhaps not often paused to consider that the ability to speak has a much higher significance. True, the words proceding from our mouths are sometimes very earthly.
Originally the use of words was a divine attribute. God spoke already before man was in existence. "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Heb. 11:3). The Second Person of the Trinity is called the Word. Through Him all things have been created. The existence of the entire universe depends on the fact that it is supported by God's Word. It is not only a creative force but also a sustaining power. The Word has this power in the realm of creation as well as in the realm of faith.
Spritually a person is by nature dead in his sins, without life. God created him in his own image, but because of the fall into sin he no longer has this image. In some respects he is not complete. In the spiritual sense he is non-existent, even though he does exist. He is active but his activity is misdirected. He is God's enemy. For a person to get a new beginning, to be renewed in God's image and therefore to full humanity, life must be recreated in him. The Bible calls this rebirth and compares it to God's works of creation (2 Cor. 4:6). When God creates faith in Jesus in a person through the Word and Baptism, this person becomes a new creation. The Word is also the means of this creation.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by calling out: "Lazarus, come forth!" (John 11:43). Through the power of the majestic Word life returned to Lazarus and he was able to heed Jesus command. In the same manner a person dead in his sins becomes spiritually alive when Jesus' substitutionary atonement is proclaimed to him and he is told: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). In a certain respect, however, there is a difference between spiritual and physical creation. Lazarus could not resist Jesus' Word. He had to come forth. In the same way on the Last Day everyone will have to appear before the Judge whether he wants to or not. But now when God speaks through His Word and the Sacraments, people can resist Him, for although they have no spiritual life, they are nevertheless active against God.
"Every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you" (Ex. 20:24), says the Lord. According to this promise even the Sacraments have new creative power, because they are connected to God's Word.
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). God did not give His revelation to the Prophets and Apostles in English. That is why we need translations. Because language develops, new translations are needed as time goes by. It is refreshing to be able to read God's Word in the clear language of our time.
The attempt to translate the New Testament or the entire Bible into good present-day language is a matter that deserves our support, provided that new translations do not appear too often. It is well for each generation to become acquainted with a certain translation. A good translation may help to promote Bible reading and in that way be a good instrument for doing mission work.
Translators have a great responsibility. The Bible, with the threat of punishment, warns against adding anything to or deleting anything from the Bible. The translator must be especially careful and meticulous. Translating is not easy because it is extremely difficult to express only what and exactly what the original language says. But translators must earnestly try to do this. The pastor of a congregation must, in his teaching, be able to clarify the meaning of a translation on the basis of the original language if need be. In this way he sees to it that nothing is detracted from or added to the Word of the Bible.
In other words a translation must never be presented as the absolute revelation of God. God's Word must be sought in the manuscripts written in the original languages. A translation is an approximation. On the other hand the difficulty of translating must not be stressed too much. It has been possible, and still is possible, to translate the Bible so that through its words the matters pertaining to faith can be clearly understood. But especially when we are called upon to defend the teachings of the Bible we need the original languages.
"Truly I say to you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her" (Mark 14:9). Thus spoke Jesus concerning Mary of Bethany after she had annointed Him with costly perfume of pure nard before His crucifixion.
However, there were those who did not see anything praiseworthy in Mary's act. They were indignant and remarked: "For what purpose has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denaris and the money given to the poor." And they scolded Mary. But Jesus defended her and said: "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has annointed My body beforehand for burial."
What was it that was so special about Mary's act that it deserves to be spoken of throughout the world? Why were the others so indignant about it? Can we find anything comparable in present day life? Mary's act was so praiseworthy because it was motivated by love and respect for her Savior. Mammon had not made her its slave. On the contrary her deed indicated that she was its master and a servant of the Lord. Mary does not seek honor and praise for her deed. Only a person with true faith is capable of performing such a deed. Certain ones did not have such faith. That is why they were so indignant. Their hearts were attached to Mammon. They were not incensed because of the needs of the poor, but rather because Mary's act of love did not provide them with the opportunity to practice their greed and the money was beyond their reach. If they had truly wanted to help the poor they could have used their own money.
We find people like this today. They are opposed to giving money for the support of the preaching of the Gospel. Mission work to them means nothing more than offering aid to developing nations. But there is no Church without Gospel preaching, and a Gospel-preaching church helps the poor (1 Cor. 1:18, Gal. 2:10).
Where can we find Mary of Bethany today? She is so rare that this portion of the Bible is to be read wherever the Gospel is preached, so that people will get the right picture of the Christian sacrificial spirit and unselfish love. Yes, we can find Mary if we have eyes to see. She is the faithful Christian, often a poor woman, who may be criticized for everything from A to Z, but in the sight of God is a pillar of the Church.
The Apostle Paul writes: "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). A peculiar doctrine has been developed by some on the basis of these words. According to this doctrine of theirs all Israel according to the flesh will be converted and then all Jews will be zealous in doing mission work. However, the Apostle Paul says: "A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom. 11:25). It will be impossible to convert Gentiles after their full number has already been saved. After that time no Jews will be converted either, because then the end of the world will occur. The teaching that the Jews as a nation will be converted stems from the fact that Jesus' spiritual kingdom has been made into an earthly kingdom. Jesus Christ's kingdom will not be established here on earth in a visible manner. It is rather a kingdom of faith in human hearts. The Apostles were among those Jews who did successful mission work among the Gentiles. The Old Testament prophesies concerning them. We can no longer expect a new era. "It is the last time", writes John (1 John 2:18).
What Paul says about the salvation of all Israel has to be understood in the context in which he presents the matter. He has much to say about the position of Israel in his letter to the Romans, chapters 9:11. In these chapters Paul stresses the fact that Israel according to the flesh is not the same as spiritual Israel. Israel according to the flesh has indeed received much from God: the Covenants, the Law, the Prophets and the Son of God Himself, the Messiah.
But when Israel hardened its heart it remained under God's wrath. The Bible does not err in this matter, for the true Israel was the remnant that believed. Not all the Jews hardened their hearts, and this is how it will be at all times. Some branches have at times been broken off from the cultivated olive tree because of their unbelief, but when they are converted they are grafted back in again. While in the state of unbelief such people are "enemies from the standpoint of the Gospel" but from the "standpoint of the election they are beloved". All of Israel according to the flesh will not be saved, because this matter cannot be understood to mean that God's Word has failed, "for they are not all Israel who have descended from Israel" (Rom. 9:6). "It is those who are of faith that are the sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7).
- Come back. The ice is too thin.
- Don't try to scare me. Be quiet. The ice will carry me.
In the same instant the ice gives way and the man sinks.
The above incident illustrates how people often relate to matters pertaining to Christian faith. But the Christian faith does not want to frighten us with the threat of hell. It warns us so that we will not have to spend eternity there. "The Lord is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). Nevertheless many are traveling the road that leads to eternal damnation. "For the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it" (Matt. 7:13).
Such a warning is needed. Many apostates are convinced of this in their conscience, but they harden their conscience and travel their own way even though the future seems hopeless. They do not want to repent, neither do they want to hear of the possibility of being lost. They regard all warnings as an attempt to frighten them and regard love as hate. To placate their conscience people are ready to descend to the level of animals according to the formula: The tree decays where it falls. According to this a person does not have an immortal soul and a body that will be resurrected, he does not have to give an account to God and is not subject to judgment.
But Jesus says: "Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). And the Lord's Apostle says: "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
We have all merited God's wrath and condemnation. Let us not be proud. God is the Supreme Majesty. Let us rather humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. God is merciful to sinners for the sake of His Son. Jesus has borne God's wrath in our behalf. Believing in Him we have forgiveness for all our sins through grace. "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5). He credits us with Christ's atonement. Everyone who trusts in Christ Jesus is saved.
No one, who trusts in Jesus' name, will be ashamed. Not even you, who are now walking on thin ice. Jesus grasps hold of those who are drowning and places them on the road that leads to heaven. Everyone placed on this road is happy that he was warned. Those in the company of Jesus are not angry, they are thankful. Therefore do not accuse Christians of frightening you, but rather listen to your conscience and conclude: The ice is starting to crack. Leave the thin ice and come to Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Even death was unable to destroy this Way. Come, when the Holy Ghost beckons and draws you.
In recent times the battle which the enemies of the Christian faith are waging against the Bible has received much publicity. The battle is not something new. Only the people engaged in the battle have changed.
The church that adheres to the Gospel has always believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions speak of the Bible as the Book of the Holy Ghost and as God's Word. Martin Luther, referring to the Bible, said: "God cannot err." He based his remark on what the Bible says about God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18, Tit. 1:2). Jesus said: "The Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
The Church of God has always understood that attacking the Bible amounts to destroying the foundation from under the feet. For the Church which the gates of hell shall not prevail against is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).
Informed Christians and pastors cannot leave the Church unprotected against the attacks of the Bible critics. They defend the Bible because the love of Christ constrains them. If the Church gives in to the critics of the Bible, how can it then lead the rationalists to know the truth when their time of visitation arrives? And how could we permit the foundation of their faith to be taken away from the people? Going along with the opinions of men in matters of faith is lovelessness. Jesus says: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words, and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:23,24).
In this sinful world, admonition and love do not mutually exclude one another. The Law of God must be permitted to do its duty. It must set man before God as a lost and condemned sinner. Only then will the Gospel be acceptable to him. The same is true when someone rebels against the Bible. His own opinions of spiritual matters must be condemned and made worthless. Only then will he be able to hear when God speaks.
We must not try to understand our old Adam. It must be drowned through daily repentance in the water of Baptism so that the new man can come forth. The Bible says: "Reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth" (Tit. 1:13,14). But the Bible also says: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).
Only the very best athletes are eligible to participate in the Olympics, and only the winners receive a gold medal. In the Christians' Olympics too, only the winners are decorated with the laurel wreath of victory, but the participants are not the selected best, but are rather the lame and the crippled, the weak and the powerless, people without opportunities. To them God has given His own strength so that "they will run and not get tired, will walk and not become weary" (Is. 40:31). This strength is forgiveness of sins in the name and blood of Jesus. We, the weak, are urged to run our race in God's strength and to follow the example of the victorious athletes: "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win" (1 Cor. 9:24). In these spiritual Olympics every Christian is urged to win. Our opponents are not other Christians who threaten to take our prize. A prize has been reserved for every Christian. Our opponent is elsewhere, closer to us. It is our own sinful flesh, which tries to prevent us from believing in Jesus. Paul says: "I run in such a way... as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave" (1 Cor. 9:26,27). The original language pictures a prizefighter who jabs himself under the eye and makes his body his own slave. The Apostle was truly a superb fighter in the spiritual sense. He did not permit his Old Adam to win but conquered it. He kept his flesh in subjection with the fist of God's Law. His God-given body could not serve sin, but was the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle had to fight hard against sin so that he would not be rejected.
In like manner we too must confess that we are such great sinners "that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom. 7:18). Our Old Adam will not become good by trying to improve it. It must die every day and our new man must rise up in its place. In daily repentance the Christian appropriates the forgiveness of sins and the strength to lead a godly life, granted to him in Baptism. Living a Christian life means daily using the blessings that were given to us in holy Baptism. These blessings are forgiveness of sins, deliverence from death and the devil and eternal salvation. We receive these blessings through faith.
Our final destination encourages us to fight the good fight of faith. "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we, an imperishable" (1 Cor. 9:25). Everlasting, undisturbed life in heaven awaits Christians. This life is ours already now through faith because of Christ's merit. Now we fight to remain in faith.
Therefore we must be free of everything that would hinder our participation in the race, whether it be false doctrine or some sin that easily besets us, and compete according to the rules. Why don't you also enter these Olympics? The viewing stands are already filled with invited guests, angels and saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord. But there is room on the race track and the supply of gold medals is endless.