Thursday, October 8, 2015

In Him Who Raised from the Dead Jesus our Lord

That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:22-25 (ESV)
Who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.  Again, faith in him, not in us. He was delivered up for our trespasses. He was raised for our justification.

The temptation that comes with anfechtung, with moral failure, is to despair that you are no longer worthy of the love of God. The temptation is to try then to prove yourself to God in some other way, to earn his favor back again. And that is precisely why it is a temptation. The temptation isn’t so much the adultery, the murder, the theft and other things showing lack of moral character. Those are just the surface temptations. The real temptation is apostasy that follows from fear and despair. “Lead us not into temptation.” Luther says that we pray here that we would not be led to believe falsely (legalism, and the desire to earn righteousness), despair, (which rightly ought to fall on the heels of any such legalism) and other great shame and vice, (which are often a reaction to despair and legalism). The one leads to the other and leads to the other. At the bottom of it all is not great shame and vice, by which we tend not to think of false belief and despair as being either, but actually false belief. And it lingers in the Old Adam of us all. It lingers especially hard where we think that “a Christian would never do that.” The devil knows how convincing our Old Adam can be in this. So he tempts us to do what we don’t think is forgivable, and when we fall he wants us to run to flee from God. But God knows our Old Adam too, and that is why he doesn’t rest our salvation on anything we manage to do before or after conversion, but in Christ himself, and it is why Christ gives us his body and blood every Sunday that we may know the promise is true, and receive his life. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Faith Not Weakened

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21 (ESV)
I once met a man who had no love for Abraham. That was a strange pastoral visit. I was visiting an older couple that had been in my church on Sunday morning. Let’s just say he did not see Abraham as a pillar of faith. I’m not sure this man had much room to judge, but if you have any human conception of faith, then this passage by Paul begins to make little sense.
We want our pillars of faith to be role models of virtue. We want the Bible to be Aesop’s fables. We want Sunday School to be about fabricating moral fortitude. In short we are silly. And the Bible just won’t let us do it, no matter how hard we try to cut out the scandal. I don’t know why we should do that anyway. Abraham our pillar of faith. Lets see. The first coming to mind, he tries to move along God’s promise by taking Hagar as a second wife, tries to have the promised heir by her, at least in this way it would still be Sarah’s gift to him, as she belonged to her. Not really faithful.  Then he divorces Hagar. To be fair though, he only does so at the command of God. May have been more faith in that action even by human understanding then one can comprehend. Yet, that is one that is hard to get a person’s mind around, and as common as divorce is today, it still tends not to speak to character. Believe me, I know. It testifies to an all too sinful world in which we live, where high school lovers rarely grow old together, and that brings about a fear that many would keep at bay. Of course, then you have him pimping out Sarah twice, out of fear for his own life. Where was the faith there? How can Paul say he did not weaken in faith?
But faith is a fighting faith in this sinful world. In this world of trials and temptations it falters from time to time. That his faith does not weaken, is not to say that he always managed to do the right thing as we often imagine it to mean. It shouldn’t be associated with worldly success and strength. People can be quite virtuous without God, at least in a humanly speaking manner. The world’s standards are after all the world’s standards and not Gods, children of the world will naturally try live up to the standards of their father, and will often even confuse them with God’s standards. But then the trials and tribulations in this world have a way of stripping a person of faith in themselves. That is really where Abraham’s failings fall. We all have a lot of faith in ourselves from time to time, and pride cometh before the fall, God destroys the haughty, he upholds the humble. And that is often the way for the Christian life. We fail, and constantly find ourselves humbled, but at the bottom of moral failure God redeems. We lose faith in ourselves as our sin and weakness is exposed, but our faith in God is not weakened by such experience but rather grows stronger as his grace is bestowed upon us more and more.
This is what Luther gets at with his idea that the three things that make a theologian are Prayer, Meditation, and Torture (anfechtung). Not that we should be searching for the tentatio, the torture, or anfechtung. Plenty enough will find us on its own. And there will be plenty of mornings in which our shame will be well enough deserved, but we ought not for these reasons fear to turn to God, to plead his grace. No, all the more we should remember that it was to save sinners for which God came.  It is for this reason, that he knew the weakness of our flesh that he gave us baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the forgiveness of sins.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Who Gives Life to the Dead

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Romans 4:16-17 (ESV)
“Who gives life to the dead.” What a wonderful description of God. The life he gives is the faith on which the promise depends, it is through the gospel of the resurrected Jesus who died for you that he calls into existence things that do not exist, calls into existence your faith, calls into existence the children of Abraham who share the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all, for it was his descendant that died for you that rose for you.

Our faith. Believe harder, your faith isn’t strong enough. No it isn’t. My own faith fails me more often than not. Today we think of faith as something everyone has, and they get to choose what to place it in. They get to exercise it, make it grow stronger, and such growth we think we can monitor by how we live how well we do according to God’s law, by which we usually mean any law but that of God, pious quibbling over the length of a skirt, courage in a culture war, and a myriad of other things even non-Christians in this society will fight for, and which I as a Christian often don’t understand at all. I’m often wonder if it won’t finally be the gospel that wins when the religious right loses the culture war. For it is God that uses the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise. He finds victory in death, because it is to the dead he gives life. This life, this faith, it’s found in the weak who understand they aren’t strong enough, and it mocks the “strong” who are just to foolish to realize their weakness. This faith God calls into existence in the midst of death. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

What God has Joined Together

 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, [1] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:1-16 (ESV)
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
So is the kingdom of God received, by Christ taking you into his arms and blessing you, laying his hands upon you and forgiving you your sins. They couldn’t do anything, how much they knew was also doubtful, they couldn’t make a profession of faith. There is no guarantee that they are going to live a perfectly Christian life or witness to Christ with their life. There is only Christ gathering them to him, laying his hands on them, blessing them. This is how we are to receive the kingdom of God. So simple, and yet so easily messed up by our hard and jaded hearts.
The Kingdom of God, a restoration to that relationship that we had with God before the fall, before sin entered our world to cause our death, hardening out hearts to one another and to God until which time they just stopped working. We see how corrupted the world has become as the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce.
Is it lawful to divorce. “As Paul says in the 10th chapter of Corinthians, all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful but not all things build up.” Contrary to popular belief nothing Jesus says here changes a dot or tittle concerning the lawfulness of divorce. He knows what Moses has written. He knows that divorce is often necessary in this world. I do believe it cuts down on the murder rate. It’s not a light or easy thing, and it was never meant to be. Yet God tells Abraham to send Hagar away. He commands the Jews upon their return from Babylonian exile to put away their foreign wives, the wives that were teaching them to worship other gods, and in essence to divorce him. God allowed and still allows for divorce.  To this day it remains something necessary in this world, where husbands often beat wives, where sinners sin against sinners and cheat and steal and murder, abandon their responsibilities to others and commit adultery. All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.
So Jesus points to something else. Sure Moses allowed for divorce because the hardness of your heart. But why is your heart so hard? There was no question for the
 Pharisees as to whether or not divorce was lawful, it was rather a question of when it was justified. And in Jesus day it wasn’t hard to see the fall out of massive divorce. You had the problem of broken families. More than that you had daughters constantly returning home to live as burdens on their father’s incomes because there was nowhere else for them to go, and typically they would find it hard to marry again. And then women had limited means of employment outside the home in that age. If they weren’t housewives and mothers, if their fathers were no longer around to take care of them, they became the kind of women who would wash the feet of Jesus with their tears and dry them with their hair. The question wasn’t is it lawful, but when for the Pharisees, can you send her home if she isn’t a good cook? Perhaps when you are bored of her?
Jesus points us to the kingdom as it once was. Yes Moses allows for divorce. But was that the most decisive thing he wrote concerning marriage? Or was it this, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” God has a purpose with marriage and it isn’t to use, abuse and discard. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way husbands shall love their wives as their own bodies. As your own bodies. As your own self that is, your own flesh, your own being. Marriage is a gift from God, a one flesh union to be cherished, to help complete you, a relationship in which two people grow together evermore united in the face of hardship. And so it is that it even becomes a model for the relationship Jesus has with the church, with you and I, and this is why he can say let the little children come on to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Jesus knows the law of God inside and out. Jesus knows this law by which we think we stand or remain in the kingdom. A show of strength and pride. It is in the nature of man to think we stand in this by our own two feet. That we enter by making a commitment to live as Christ would have us to live. Perhaps by not divorcing etc. How could we commit our children to that? I mean that is often the objection to infant baptism, is “don’t you see how many of them leave the church? Who don’t remain Christian?” Though I have to say, the records on all that whatever they may be don’t show themselves better in this world for those who wait for some age of accountability.” No if it is up to us and how we live we’ll lose the kingdom every time. Lawful to divorce? We give Christ reason to give us the bill of divorce with almost every breath we take. But it was precisely that reason for which he gave up his life for you, for your spouse, for your ex-wife and your ex-husband, but also why he gave up his life for your children, because he knew if this relationship was going to work, he could not depend on us to make it right or keep it right, but would have to forgive us all our sins, and wash us clean, sanctify us to be his bride through the washing of the water with the word. And there in baptism he would join us with him, even as little children who don’t stand a chance in this world of sin, but there God would join us together and make us one flesh with Christ and what God has joined together he will not let man separate so that we would enjoy this restored relationship with him for all eternity.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Heir of the World

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:13-15 (ESV)
He would be heir of the world. It’s funny, the embroiled conflict in the Middle East today, and people arguing that God promised this land to Israel. The argument always sounds hollow to me. It doesn’t take the covenant with Abraham seriously enough, and for a Christian it doesn’t make sense because it fails to take into consideration the true Israel, and what it means to be a child of Abraham. That said, I’m all for modern day Israel, and their right to be right where they are. I actually tend to me more pro-Israeli than most when it comes to my thoughts on foreign policy. I just don’t justify my pro-Israeli leanings with scripture.

Part of the problem is to do so by way of the Abrahamic promise, the picture gets a bit more grand than that little sliver of land on the Mediterranean coast line. The Jews of the first century understood this. The whole world is encompassed in it, all nations. Perhaps it is all written cryptically enough that it can be somewhat disputed, but the oppressed people of first century Israel understood it well enough, and Paul accepts in unabashedly. For the Christian, there can be no disputing it, we have Romans 4. It is a question of the whole world. And it does not find it’s fulfilment in earthly kingdoms, but in the kingdom of God that comes through baptism, for there it is not many nations, but all nations that are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Children of Abraham

 “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

Circumcision, reading the scriptures today, well it’s funny. Today people can watch all sorts of sexually charged television, often with their children in the same room, they can crack bawdy jokes everywhere. It is as if they do not know how to blush. But then, then God starts talking about sex, the Bible talks about circumcision and everyone gets a bit uncomfortable. We can’t understand why religious people should be so concerned about the state of a man’s penis that talk of it should take up so much time, not only in the OT but in the NT as well. But for the Jews of the first century this was of paramount importance.  God had commanded circumcision, he had his reasons, and I’ve speculated on that elsewhere. It is true that God had justified Abraham before circumcision because Abraham believed, but we would not count it as faith if Abraham had refused to be circumcised. It’s the same with baptism. What sort of faith is it that refuses to be baptized when God has attached such great promises to baptism. People say they believe without baptism, but that seems to be a rather hollow belief. The Jews of the first century had the same questions when it came to circumcision and this new sect in their midst that said it was no longer necessary. The only thing that could do away with circumcision was Christ’s fulfilment of it, circumcision was literally the Old Testament, which is not pages in a book but an actual testament, a promise, a covenant if you will that was made between God and man, specifically between God and Abraham concerning his descendants according to the flesh. It found fulfilment in Christ. Until then it wasn’t old, it was just the testament, and if you wanted to be part of it, you had to sign on the blood dotted line, that is be circumcised. It was a pact made with blood, but a heck of a lot more important than that pact you made with a cut hand around a drunken campfire in your teen years. If one did not know that the testament had been fulfilled then one would not know that it was no longer necessary. But the blood itself showed in just which way the pact would be fulfilled, just what it was that the covenant would require and that was blood. One might argue that the area from which that blood flowed heightened the significance of that blood also. It was Jesus who fulfilled that covenant, who signed that dotted line with his own circumcision, perhaps the least celebrated and yet most important events of his youth and our salvation history, it gets overshadowed by New Years. That covenant cost him his entire life, it encompassed every last aspect of his manhood, now it redeems every last aspect of ours. But because it has been fulfilled it is no longer in play, but a new testament has taken its place, another testament of blood that cannot be ignored by one who professes to believe, because now the blood first shed for us by a rabbi’s razor cutting into the manhood of God himself, is the innocent blood poured out for us on the cross, and poured into the cup for the forgiveness of our sins, that it would make us who believe children of Abraham. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blessed are Those Whose Sins are Forgiven

Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:6-8 (ESV)
Paul quotes a couple Psalms to make his point that what he preaches is something that the OT already teaches. It isn’t anything new. God justifies the ungodly. God forgives sins. God does not hold our sins against us. Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven.

The question I suppose one has here is, who are “those?” You are those. It is your lawless deeds that God forgives. We automatically though, run into a catch 22. Our sinful natures want our lawless deeds to be forgiven, we want their lawless deeds to be punished. In this world lawless deeds are punished. Even your lawless deeds find punishment and earthly retribution more often than not. The old saying that what comes around goes around is for the most part true. Sometimes we escape direct retribution but then we find things happening to us for no apparent reason, and sometimes you wonder if it isn’t somehow retribution for whatever it was that you did and kept hidden since you were 12 or whatever. This isn’t talking about earthly consequences for our actions. It is talking about something far more severe, the eternal consequences of our actions. And what we deserve is what they deserve, and none of us would wish that on our worst enemy’s dog as the saying goes. God doesn’t wish it on you either. For this reason he sent his Son to die for you, that you would be blessed and being blessed be forgiven.