2015-05-24

Sight

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"I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ear, and all my members." This is how Lutheran Christians confess their faith. Healthy sense organs are wonderful gifts that God has given us. But how often do we remember to thank Him for them? If a blind person were to be given the gift of sight, he would be very thankful.

Spiritually we are all blind by nature because of original sin. With our natural sense organs we cannot understand the Gospel. "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9).

We need the Holy Spirit in order to be saved. "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."

Jesus once told the self-righteous Pharisees: "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind". The Pharisees then asked Him: "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus replied: "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say 'we see'; your sin remains" (John 9:39-41). A person who can see does not need someone to lead him. But no one can enter eternal life, unless Jesus leads him there.

The Holy Spirit grants spiritual vision to believers in Christ. "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life" (John 6:40).

Beholding the Son of God does not mean seeing a vision. We see Him in God's Word and the Sacraments, when we believe in Him as our Savior from sin. Only a person who has come to a knowledge of his sin can see Him in this way. Without such a knowledge a person does not feel the need for salvation, and any talk about forgiveness is just idle chatter to him. Man does not comprehend that he needs to be freed from God's wrath.

But in the heart of one who has experienced God's wrath, the Gospel gets a welcome reception. Such a person gladly directs his gaze to the cross and beholds the Savior, who atoned for his sins. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14).

Once "we will see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2) and "As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I will be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness" (Ps. 17:15).


2015-05-17

Behold the man!

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"I'm at my wits' end, I can't go on", someone may cry out when life's skein seems to be hopelessly entangled. That which brought pleasure before has now led to despair and wretchedness. Others do not understand. They only say: "He has only himself to blame." But this causes further agony because it's true. He who has fallen is condemned by the people around him as well as by his own heart. At the same time he feels the pressure of God's wrath. There is no place to which he can escape. He is alone, but at the same time in God's presence - guilty. The words of the Psalmist are descriptive: "My sin is ever before me" (Ps. 51:5). "Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there" (Ps. 139:8). With a person like this in mind, we can repeat the words familiar to us from the Passion of Christ: "Behold, the man!" (John 19:5).

Jesus' suffering, however, was in some respects different. He indeed felt God's wrath deep in His soul. He too was alone: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). But Jesus' suffering was different in the respect that He did not suffer because of His own sins. He Himself was innocent. Our sins had been charged to Him. This is why He could not lose confidence in the Father. Confidently He was able to say: "Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit" (Luke 23:46). With the same confidence He was able to comfort the repentant criminal and look beyond death to the blessed life of Paradise. Jesus' suffering comforted the criminal, and brings peace even now to every troubled soul who trusts in Jesus. God's Son has once suffered God's wrath in behalf of us all. In Him, in such an amazing way, God's everlasting love was revealed.

Of those who are troubled to the point of despair, we can with pity say: "Behold, the man!" But this will not help them. The New Testament instead says to the despairing: "Man, behold Jesus!" That is why God's Son came to earth, so that "He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Committed sins remain committed and we must bear temporal consequences. But the forgiveness earned by Jesus solves the problem in God's sight. It grants peace to the conscience. It also gives us the desire and strength to do that which is right from now


2015-05-10

The unique character of the Christian religion

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There are many different religions in the world, but it is easy to divide them all into two groups.

The German-British scientist, Max Mueller, once said:

"In the discharge of my duties for forty years as professor of Sanskrit in the University of Oxford I have devoted as much time as any man living to the study of the sacred books of the East, and I found the one key-note - the one diapason, so to speak, of all these so-called sacred books, whether it be the Veda of the Brahmans, the Puranas of Siva and Vishnu, the Koran of the Mohammedans, the Zend-Avesta of the Parses, the Tripitaka of the Buddhists, - the one refrain through all - salvation by works. They all say that salvation must be purchased, must be bought with a price, and that the sole price, the sole purchase-money, must be our own works and deservings. Our own Holy Bible, our sacred Book of the East, is from beginning to end a protest against this doctrine. Good works are indeed enjoined upon us in that sacred Book of the East; but they are only the outcome of a grateful heart - they are only a thank offering, the fruits of our faith. They are never the ransom-money for the true disciples of Christ. Let us not shut our eyes to what is excellent and true and of good report in these sacred books, but let us teach Hindus, Buddhists, Mohammedans, that there is only one sacred Book of the East that can be their mainstay in that awful hour when they pass all alone into the unseen world. It is the sacred Book which contains that faithful saying, worthy to be received of all men, women and children, and not merely of us Christians, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners."


Thus spoke a scientist, who was thoroughly acquainted with the Bible as well as with other "sacred" books.

The Christian faith is a message that tells us of the salvation accomplished by God. The Christian faith is not an announcement of a bill that is due, but it can more properly be compared to a bill that has been stamped paid in our behalf. We have been redeemed with the precious blood and innocent suffering of Christ. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9).

The Christian faith is unique in this respect, that it brings us the grace of God as a free gift without our merit. As such a faith, the Christian faith, as it spread, made other faiths unnecessary without having to prove itself better than the pagan religions. Some accepted God's gift, others rejected it.

The Bible warns us about despising God's grace: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebr. 2:3). Everything has been done for our salvation. Christ's sacrifice is sufficient. "While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6).


2015-05-03

The Christian's panoply

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Christians are soldiers. The Bible says: "Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but... against the spiritual forces of wickedness" (Eph. 6:11,12). The Christian's fight is spiritual and for that reason he needs spiritual weapons and spiritual armor.

The Christian fights "having girded (his) loins with truth" (Eph. 6:1) In Eastern countries a belt around the waist bound the garment in such a way that a man could move without stumbling. Truth prevents us from going astray. It guards us against allying ourselves with the enemy. We can stand firm if we do not permit ourselves to be carried about by every wind of doctrine. The Christian truth is the Word of God, God's message of Law and Gospel, the whole Gospel with all its articles of faith revealed in the Scriptures. Christ crucified for the sins of the world is its center, and we accept it by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit through the means of the grace.

A Christian's garment is the breastplate of righteousness. When we have Christ as our own through faith, He covers our sinfulness. In Christ we are acceptable to God, and the devil has no power or authority over Christ. Christ is therefore the breastplate in which we must be clothed if we wish to win the battle.

A Christian's battle-shoes are "the preparation of the Gospel of peace." A Christian cannot come to terms with evil. That is why he is a soldier. But a Christian's main task is to be a "peacemaker". For that reason we have been given the Gospel. It tells us of that peace which Christ brought about by reconciling us to God. A troubled conscience finds peace in the Gospel.

Because God has forgiven our sins by raising His Son from the dead, a new era of peace has begun. It is not temporal, but spiritual peace. It is not present outwardly here in this world, but is in the hearts of those who believe. Christians have been called to proclaim this peace.

A Christian's shield is faith. It extinguishes all the fiery arrows of evil. All accusations and temptations ricochet off faith.

Our helmet is the salvation that awaits us on the Last Day. This hope gives us strength so that we have the courage to look up and continue confidently on our way.

We are also given a weapon. It is the sword of the Spirit or God's Word. A Christian's weapons are neither tangible nor carnal (2 Cor. 10:8). We fight "without human power and wisdom, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, in greatest weakness, lowliness and humbleness", as Dr. Luther says.

With these weapons and this armor even the weak can fight with confidence because God has given them to us. Even though how frail we are, God protects us with this armor. And even though we would be completely powerless, as we are, God's strength is in God's Word, and this strength is not dependent on our person. Thus we will be victorious with God's help.


2015-04-26

Angels

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The Bible speaks of angels in three different senses.

In the first and most common sense angels are invisible beings that God has created. There are both good and evil angels of this type. The evil angels are those who fell into sin. The good angels praise God. God has sent them especially to protect His children. Angels are present when members of Christian congregations assemble together, and Christians are exhorted for the sake of the angels to act properly and respectfully and to submit to God's order of creation.

The existence of angels cannot be proven by scientific methods, for as spiritual beings the angels are not of this world. Certain miraculous escapes from injury and death may offer a rational reason for some to believe in the existence of angels. Christians believe in the existence of angels on the basis of the Bible. If someone denies the existence of angels he also most likely denies the virgin birth of Jesus, His vicarious suffering, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven and His coming to judge the world, for the angels participate in all these events.

Christians also believe in the existence of evil angels. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the worldforces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). In fighting against the evil angels we need spiritual weapons, namely a faith that has Christ as its object and adheres to God's Word.

The Bible also sometimes uses the word angel in referring to people. The word angel means messenger. Of Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptist, God says: "Behold, I send My messenger before your face" (Matt. 11:10). The Apostle John wrote the seven letters in the Book of Revelation to the angels of the churches. He had no need to write to heavenly angels; the angels in question were the pastors of the congregations.

The third sense in which the word angel is used in the Bible is in reference to the Son of God, "God's Angel" (Ex. 3:1-15; Gen. 48:15,16, etc.). In these passages Angel and Lord (or Jahve) are equated. "Two designations, God and Angel, are used here for two different Persons, who are one in essence. The Angel is by nature the eternal God, otherwise Jacob would not have prayed to Him. He is nevertheless called an angel because of His office and work, which as a Son He had been given by the Father" (Luther). God "sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). That was His office.


2015-04-19

The bad birds

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A three-year-old little man came into my office and asked me to show him some Sunday School pictures. In the spring he had accompanied his older siblings to Sunday School and listened intently to the instruction. I gave the boy a picture of Jesus' parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15).

- What is this picture? the boy asked.

- Jesus is sowing seeds, I replied.

- What are those birds doing? the boy asked as he showed me the picture.

- They are bad birds that are eating Jesus' seeds.

A moment later I noticed that the boy had torn the picture. - Why did you tear the picture? I asked.

- I took out those bad birds.

I examined more closely what the boy had done. He had carefully torn off the bottom part of the picture where the birds were, and thrown it on the floor. In his hand he still had the upper part in which Jesus sowed the seeds, but in which no birds were seen. Taking the picture with him, the boy left my office, obviously satisfied.

The above example illustrates a child's exemplary faith. Jesus says: "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all" (Mark 10:15).

The boy had learned to trust Jesus. He wanted to hear about Him. The boy loved Jesus and wanted to drive away the birds that ate Jesus' seeds. The boy had not mechanically listened to the instruction. Jesus had an actual place in his heart.

The boy's faith manifested itself in deliberation and deeds. He took the side of the good and productive activity against the bad and destructive. The scene in the picture was beautiful but the evil deed of the birds destroyed the idyll in the mind of the boy. The boy longed for peace. He found it by doing what he did to the picture.

Children often can be teachers for us parents in matters pertaining to faith and truth. Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes God has prepared praise for Himself.

When children are taught matters pertaining to faith in the right way, they come to know Jesus as their own Savior. When a child's tender conscience troubles him, the Gospel finds a ready reception in his heart. We parents just have to speak to them of Jesus and His love for us. The Holy Ghost will then perform His miraculous work in the children, and some day we will be presented with a sample of this work, when we hear a surprising truth from the lips of a child.


2015-04-12

To parents, concerning youth

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Much has been said about the gap between parents and youth. The gap in question is hardly one that is insurmountable. Different attitudes can be explained in the light of different backgrounds in childhood, education, experience and lack of experience.

The more radical that changes in matters such as these, or in similar matters, are, the deeper the "gap". Mere differences do not have to lead to conflict. When the gap between generations is deep, the reasons for it demand a deeper probe, but at the same time the matter must be considered in the light of the conditions in which the parents and youth are currently living. According to God's Word parents are to bring up their children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4), teach them to obey and respect their parents, teach them to work, to be diligent, etc. Parents are to do all this in a manner that does not "provoke your children to anger" (Eph. 6:4), hence, in love guiding and advising them. In this way a child grows in the proper fear of God and experiences the home as a secure place.

We parents are asked: Have we done our duty? Or have we been influenced by new educational trends to such a degree that we have forgotten to offer our children that which is temporally the most important, that is, a home, and that which is eternally the most important, an upbringing in the fear of God? And if we have done this, have we done it for conscience sake in God's sight or in a selfrighteous spirit?

In writing about this subject, it feels as if the world is being rent asunder, and cannot bear to hear it. But do not criticize the youth, if you have abandoned them without a foundation and without the right direction for their lives.

We are all aware of the fact that in our time there is a great deal of division, weakness and ignorance. There are broken homes, unwed mothers, lonely widows, children must be sent to day care so that families can make ends meet. There is no lack of difficulties. But they must not prevent us from striving to give our children a Christian education. We must also seek help for those who are in trouble. The significance of the home, in particular the Christian home, must be understood anew, otherwise we are headed for destruction.

Youth have their faults, which we can see and which we do not like. But they have inherited their nature from us. However, we must neither minimize or exaggerate their faults. Trees produce good fruit through grafting. The physical development of youth occurs rapidly, but their spiritual development is a slow process. We have a tendency either to expect more than we should from youth or to expect nothing at all. Youth must develop a sense of responsibility before God and men.

Let us commend our youth to God in our fervent prayers. God will hear our prayers and answer them in His time.


2015-04-05

The joy of salvation

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The Lord sent His disciples to proclaim the good, joyful message that ChArist had atoned for the sins of all people and that heaven was open to everyone through Him. This is the task of the Christian Church also today. The Christian Church is not a conveyer of sad news. The true Gospel produces the joy of salvation in those who believe. How ardently every believer hopes that all the people of the world would understand that Christian faith is truly a good and joyous matter, worthy of study and worthy to be believed and spread abroad.

The world, however, does not view the Gospel in this way. Unbelieving people think that the Gospel terminates joy, restrains activity and burdens the conscience. But if you are one of these people, stop to consider why the message of the Apostle was given the name Gospel (good news), and why Paul, who was severely persecuted by unbelieving people nevertheless said that he did his work "always with joy" (2 Cor. 6:10). Do we not need exactly this type of life-giving strength in the midst of all the despair and uncertainty that plague the people of this world? But if the Gospel is a good and life-giving strength, then why do many not seek it, but instead fear and even despise it? Because what the Bible says is true: "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Darkness does not seek light, but light penetrates the darkness, "for everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:20).

A person cannot by his own strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. Conversion is a work of God. God takes hold of a person through His Word and drives him to despair. A person realizes that he is guilty in the sight of the almighty God and cries: "Woe is me, for I am lost." To him God says: "You will not perish; I have redeemed you. I will lift you up and place you on the rock of refuge. Do not be afraid, your sins have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ." Despair is replaced with the joyous assurance of salvation: God loves me because He has given His own Son to die for me. Even though I am a sinner, God is merciful.


2015-03-29

For the aged

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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.


2015-03-22

The Holy Trinity

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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.