Among the youth of our day there is an effort to bring about changes in our society through certain means of pressure and coercion, by attacking matters straight on and by-passing the methods presupposed by our nation's laws, decrees and good proven customs. Those involved in this effort do not represent all of our youth - perhaps only a small minority. They are influential largely because of the media, which seem to have difficulty in presenting matters from a realistic perspective. This method (the direct approach), which has been learned from the world, has also been used in the Christian churches. The task of the Church has been construed to include not only curing the ills of society, but also curing them by unconventional methods
The Bible gives Jesus the name, Chief Shepherd, and those who believe in Him are called His sheep. This is a beautiful illustration. The Good Shepherd takes care of His sheep and loves them. The sheep follow the Shepherd, need Him, and recognize their own Shepherd's voice from among the voices of strangers. Instruction in God's Word that is based on this illustration should be emphasized in our day, because that which is directly contrary to the teaching of the illustration is happening today. Many shepherds are hirelings. To them their own welfare and security are more important than the fate of their sheep. The sheep are not warned by them concerning the voices of strangers or false doctrine, but are rather urged to be faithful to all shepherds regardless of what they teach.
Jesus says: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). Jesus' sheep listen intently to determine whether the voice they hear is that of their Shepherd or the voice of someone else. If it is all the same to a person what is proclaimed, just as long as something is proclaimed and a nice speech is given, then such a person is not one of Christ's sheep. If on the other hand a person has a desire to hear God's Law so that he will come to a knowledge of his sins, and at the same time has a desire to hear the Gospel in order to believe in the forgiveness of sins, he has the characteristics of a sheep of Jesus. A true Christian also longs to receive instruction that will offer him guidance for leading a Christian life. But what if something contrary to God's Word is taught? To one of Jesus' sheep this type of teaching should be like the howl of a wolf that quickly frightens him away.
A sheep does not trust his shepherd on the basis of sight. Sheep's clothing can deceive. The voice is the deciding factor. Preaching must be in agreement with God's Word. He who teaches contrary to God's Word is a false shepherd. "A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:5). It is the sacred responsibility of God's children to judge whether or not the preaching and teaching they hear is in accordance with God's Word. If it is, they must follow it. If not, they must go where Christ's voice is heard.
Our Reformer Martin Luther says of shepherds: "I am one of God's sheep. I want to have and accept His Word. If you will give me His word, I will regard you as my shepherds. But if you set up another doctrine, and do not offer me the pure Gospel, I do not wish to regard you as shepherds or to accept your voice. For the Ministry of which you boast does not extend any further than the Word does. If someone is a shepherd we must accept him; if he is not, we must depose him from office. For the sheep must judge the voice of the shepherds."
Some have at times advised false teachers to resign from the shepherd's office, but no one has followed such advice. Why not? Well, has anyone ever heard of a wolf, by his own initiative, leaving the sheep he holds captive? This does not happen. The sheep must flee from the wolves and true shepherds must keep the wolves away.
Many do not understand the significance of pure teaching. The ear has become numbed. But a true sheep, the older he becomes, is more and more attached to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Nature, bursting into its summer dress, is refreshing and pleasant to observe. It has the spirit of life and hope. The Bible compares Christian faith to this type of aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:14) that Jesus sent His disciples to spread.
Sin brought a deathly smell into the world, into our body and soul. But the Savior bore our sins and reconciled us to God. Now everyone who believes in Him has forgiveness of sins in His name. This is the sweet aroma of eternal life which springs from the Gospel. It brings summer into the midst of winter.
All people do not feel the need to have their sins forgiven by God. They think they can get along without forgiveness. God's Word places them under the Law. It demands that they obtain eternal life for themselves by keeping the Commandments. "He who practices them shall live by them" (Gal. 3:12). A good and respectable life in the eyes of society is not sufficient. The heart must be filled with pure love toward God and one's neighbor. This is impossible for everyone. Thus everyone who rejects God's grace is condemned by the Law. The condemnation of the Law is death. "The letter killeth," says Paul, referring to the Law's purpose (2 Cor. 3:6). For this reason, to those under the Law, God's Word has an aroma of death. They accuse Christians of condemning them and do not understand that they condemn themselves by rejecting God's pardon.
Paul had many different types of experiences while proclaiming the Gospel. He was privileged to observe how pagans, while listening to the preaching of the Gospel, "began rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord, and as many as had been appointed to eternal life, believed" (Acts 13:48). But he also observed that others hardened their hearts and blasphemed. This, however, did not cause him to lose heart, for he realized that this was part of his calling. He marveled and thanked God: "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16).
Why don't you too, friend, join Christ's triumphant victory parade? Breathe the refreshing aroma of life and enjoy the bliss that God's children enjoy in Christ in all its fullness.
The Bible compares the acceptance of salvation to tasting. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of those who "have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:4,5). The taste of food can be experienced only by those who actually taste it. Jesus says: "I am the living Bread that came down out of heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). Only he who has tasted can know Jesus as the good Bread of Life. In other words: only he, who believes that his sins have been forgiven because of Jesus' sacrifice, can understand that the Gospel is good news. Others are not competent to judge.
The Bible warns especially those, who have come to know that the Word of God is good, not to reject it intentionally. If someone, despite being convinced of the truth by the Holy Spirit, rejects salvation and blasphemes the Spirit of Grace, he can no longer be brought to a knowledge of the truth. The sin against the Holy Ghost is a sin to be feared. Often, however, those who have not committed it, fear that they have. If someone is troubled because he fears that he has committed this sin, he can be at peace and return to the Father in the manner of the prodigal son. Those who have committed this sin are not troubled because of it. They have once and for all driven away the Holy Spirit, so that He not longer convicts them of sin or convinces them that they need salvation.
If we have tasted the good Word of God, let us remain at God's table. "Like newborn babes,long for the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord" (1 Pet. 2:2,3). The devil would like to draw us away from God's table and have us join the celebrations of the unbelieving world. The devil offers fleeting pleasure and with it captivates short-sighted and ungrateful man. Such food is poison and it results in death. But of His own bread Jesus says: "If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever."
Esau sold his birthright for some lentil stew. Judas betrayed his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Many sell the salvation of their souls for money. The most unscrupulous use the cause of Christ to make money. To these self-indulgent people the Bible says: "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?" (Luke 12:20). Friend, do not measure the value of the Bread of Life with money, but rather taste and experience how good the Lord is.
God has given us ears so that we, among other things, would gladly and diligently listen to the preaching of His Word. Contrary to God's will many people listen to evil talk and close their ears to God's Word. Jesus says: "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God" (John 8:47). Many refuse to go hear the preaching of God's Word. But with these words Jesus does not mean merely listening to preaching. He means accepting and believing the Word. And thanks to God, there are those who hear His Word in faith.
The Holy Spirit regenerates a person through certain means. They are called the means of grace. These means are the Word of the Gospel and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The same faith-strengthening power is in Holy Communion, which is meant for those who already believe.
Our sense organs are the receptors of God's Word. They cannot, however, as if with a power of their own, give us the blessings of the Gospel. The power to regenerate is in God's Word. "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me", says Jesus (John 6:45). Conversion and the ability to hear in the right way are not human accomplishments, but God's accomplishments.
Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom.10:17).
In describing faith, God's Word uses illustrations related to perception through the senses, through hearing for instance. We would be mistaken, however, were we to say that God works only through the sense of hearing. When the Bible speaks of hearing God's Word, it does not only mean hearing vocally produced words.
When the rich man in hell asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers still living on earth, Abraham rejected the request saying: "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them." The rich man did not understand the matter, but kept on insisting: "No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." But Abraham replied: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead." In this account (Luke 16:22-31) hearing cannot mean hearing vocally produced words, for Moses and the Prophets were dead and Abraham rejected the request to send men from the dead to earth. Moses and the Prophets mean the written Word of God. The Holy Spirit works through this Word and we must hear it.
"These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). We may accept God's grace directly from the Bible by reading it. But we cannot use such reading as an excuse to reject the means of grace and fellowship in a Christian congregation.
"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).
"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
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).
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.
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.