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Recording of “The Student Union – Ethics, Social Responsibility and Christian Witness” on KFUO

 

Mosser-Ethics&SocialResponsibility.jpg

Here is a link to a recent program I was on, discussing ethics and social responsibility (a course which I teach) in relation to the Bible and the Christian worldview.

 

 

 

 

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Martin Luther: Civil Libertarian?

 

Presenters:

Rev. Jeff Pederson, Lutheran Church of Peace (ELCA)-Platteville

Mike Trinklein, Writer and Producer of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World

 

Overview

Rev. Pederson offered a chronological summary of Luther’s life, from birth to death, his education, writings, and interest in finding peace with God, mentioning also Romans 1:16-17, “The just will live by faith” and how these words changed Luther.  The reason for the Reformation, stated Pederson, was the timing, as the times were that of change.

Trinklein, referencing the previous summary of Luther’s life and activity, presented on what I would call the worldly/secular results of Luther and the Reformation. The presentation itself was engaging and drew attention to what Trinklein considered the reasons for a number of the freedoms we have today in the U.S., including especially freedom of speech, free press, minority rights, right to education, separation of church and state (noting, however, that this is not identical with the teaching concerning the “two kingdoms”), and individualism (i.e. of religion).

 

Evaluation of the content

luther1Pederson, in his chronological overview of Luther, noted key events of the Reformation and that which led up to it, including Luther’s vow to become a monk, studies, “tower experience,” 95 theses (referencing their posting, but not stating any, 1517), debates (i.e. Erfurt), Diets of Worms (1521), Marburg (1529) and Augsburg (1530).  Pederson also spoke briefly about the circumstances of that time period, which were that of change.  It is that “time of change,” stated Pederson, that was the reason for the Reformation.

Such a time, I would argue, was not the reason for the Reformation.  The reason for the Reformation was God’s doing, not Luther’s or merely the timing itself.  Luther and time had something to do with it, to be sure, but only on account of God’s working through these for His purposes.

Such a statement is that of faith, recognizing God’s work in the world through the work of man and time for the clear preaching of the Gospel.  Why that time and that place?  God knows. A closer look at Luther’s writings reveal that it was not Luther’s reformation, but God’s, as God’s Word was clearly articulated and made known, in contrast to the corrupted teaching of the Roman church and others (i.e. Zwingli, radical reformers).

The second presenter, Trinklein, had mentioned Luther’s focus as an interest in ‘right relationship with God’ (historically not a Lutheran statement), but he took much greater pains to emphasize, not Luther’s theological endeavor, but the secular results/effects (i.e. changes), even going so far to (immediately/directly?) link Luther and his personality to the freedoms experienced today as we have them in our American context.

Thinking about this, the statement could be made that Luther’s example of how he “stood up” to the ecclesiastical and ruling authorities, his emphasis on education, his use oLuther-God speak.jpgf the media (i.e. printing press), and his forthright speaking to the issues of the day were precursors of our freedoms today, though such freedoms were not in place in Luther’s day as they are ours.

Considering Luther as a precedent for American Freedoms, however, apart from the historical connections, seems a bit presumptuous.  Trinklein offered little or no direct line of historical continuum between Luther and the Reformation to our day (i.e. historical legislation noting that our freedoms were a direct result of Luther).  He had mentioned, though, that the father of Mike King, having learned of Martin Luther while in Germany, changed his son’s name from Mike to Martin Luther as a result of his work in the Reformation.

Such a connection, if used to link Luther to current civil rights issues, is misplaced, as the father of Mike King, as presented, took to Luther on account of the freedoms derived from the movement rather than on account of what Luther was actually preaching, teaching, and writing according to the Word.

This was the grand omission of Trinklein’s presentation and to a large degree, the deficiency of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World.”

Minimizing the very words that Luther spoke and wrote in order to draw attention to the “bigger picture” of societal change, or to see Luther primarily as the catalyst and example for change, is to misunderstood Luther and to present a caricature of Luther that is not accurate. Though Trinklein (and others) see Luther primarily as one who “set in motion societal change” and some current American civil liberties, such a limited view not only distorts the contribution of the Reformer, but gives precedent to the worldly while giving lip service to the heavenly.

LutherPreachingLuther’s interest was that of the Gospel.  What was opposed to it in the church, Luther wanted reformed.  Luther hadn’t set out to “change the world.”  His interests were theological.  His oral and written words derived from this interest, and such was the foundation for what he wrote and spoke.

To relegate Luther and His interest in God’s Word and the very Gospel itself to mention, while at the same time emphasizing the possible results of such work, societally and secularly, but not theologically, is to use Luther as a means to one’s desired end.

Rather than champion Luther as a “civil libertarian,” read his writings.  The freedom that the Gospel speaks of is not temporal liberty from worldly oppression and peace in the world.  More significantly, and eternally, the Gospel revealed in the Bible, and that which Luther proclaimed, frees the conscience and declares peace with God and freedom from sin’s penalty, which is eternal death, through the death of Jesus Christ.

Whether freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to education, etc. exist or not, the Gospel cannot and will not be silenced.  American Christians do not rejoice for primarily the freedoms of this world.  They rejoiromans 1-16ce in sins forgiven through Christ and the certainty of their eternal inheritance.

Emphasizing the freedoms of this world and downplaying the true freedom of and in the Gospel (before God and man) is the way of the world.  It is not the way of the Lord Christ. Nor was it the concern of Luther.

 

Link to presentation on the campus of UW-Platteville

“Surety in Christ according to His Word”

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  For what can a man give in return for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

bible-cross1It is not of the Gospel to be unsure or uncertain of God’s grace and favor in Jesus Christ.  The grace of God in Christ, without a doubt, is of faith, according to the Lord’s Word.  In this, such faith is sure and will die a thousand deaths.

In a 1992 interview of Diane Sawyer with Billy Graham, speaking about his death, Graham had commented, “I don’t want them (people) to say big things about me because I don’t deserve them.”

He’s right, and such humility is encouraging, and true.

Graham continued and said, “I want to hear one person say something nice about me, and that’s the Lord. When I face Him, I want Him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

These latter words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” are words from Holy Scripture (Matthew 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17), and in Christ, because of Christ, the Christian has the certainty that these words will certainly be said of him.

Yet, keeping this in mind, Graham continued by saying, “But I’m not sure I’m going to hear it, but that’s what I would like to hear.”(http://newsvideo.su/video/8349827)

I pray that his answer had changed since that 1992 interview.

Graham’s statement, “I’m not sure I’m going to hear” those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” convey, not sure faith in the Lord’s promiseGraham,  Billy.jpgs, but rather, wavering confidence and doubt, which is not of faith.

 

Certainty of faith does not come from what “we” think or what we “want,” but alone from God’s grace in Christ according to God’s revealed Word.  By this, Christians know God’s love in Christ, are sure of heaven, and are certain of God’s favor.

In the Formula of Concord, it is stated, “6. We believe, teach, and confess that many weaknesses and defects cling to the true believers and truly regenerate, even up to the day they are buried [1 John 1:8]. Still, they must not on that account doubt either their righteousness, which has been credited to them through faith, or the salvation of their souls. They must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, according to the promise and ‹immovable› Word of the Holy Gospel, they have a gracious God. (McCain, The Lutheran Confessions, Formula of Concord, Epitome, III. The Righteousness of Faith, 481).

Why had Graham voiced uncertainty with regard to what God would say of him in that interview when such a promise of God is made in Christ?

Graham seemed to be sure of being unsure.

A theology like this centers on something other than Christ and His Word, despite their uses and references.  Because of this, the conclusion is not the hope that the Bible gives, but whatever the person engenders, which can and will not be assertive before God of God’s undeserved forgiveness and His unmerited kindness.

Yet, God gives certainty.  This is the fruit of God-given faith.

It is therefore necessary to make distinctions between that which is, and that which is not, of God.

Not all get Jesus right and have full confidence in Him, because not all abide by the Word alone concerning Christ the Savior and His salvation.

When Peter said of Jesus, “You are the Christ,” he was of course stating the truth, the truth that he hadn’t come up with himself, but the truth that had been revealed to Him by the heavenly Father.  Not one of disciples could come to this confession of the Christ on his own.  And no one can come to faith in Christ on his own.

It is for this reason that Jesus had said in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Flesh and blood cannot make out who Jesus is on its own, for “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Man, by himself, cannot know God as He is.  He knows that there is a God, but he does not know, nor can he know, who that God is unless God reveal Himself.

This is why St. Paul can say in another place that “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

It was by means of Jesus’ Word that Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, because the Word of Jesus is the Word of the Father in Heaven.  To hear Jesus is to hear the Father.

To dismiss Jesus’ Word is to reject God’s Word.

To want a Christ apart from the Word is to have a different Jesus.  That’s where Peter went wrong in our text.

Peter wanted a Savior who wouldn’t suffer, who wouldn’t be rejected, who wouldn’t be killed.

Apart from God’s revelation, we, like Peter, want our own kind of god and savior.

first-commandmentApart from the Bible, man makes his own god.  As a result, he makes his own Jesus, not one who suffers and dies, but one who abides by the will of sinful man and follows the dictates of own heart.

The Jesus of one’s own making does not save.  He is an extension of man’s own wickedness.

The Jesus of Scripture is not this way.  The Jesus of the Bible is not He who would be rebuked by Peter for telling the truth.  The Jesus of the Bible is He who would rebuke Peter and who rebukes all who would have their own Jesus and their own god and not the one of the Bible.

There is no other Jesus than the one who was bloodied by the scourging, who wore the crown of thorns, who suffered miserably, and who died so ingloriously.

There is no other Jesus who conquered sin and death by means of His own death.  There is no other Jesus who humbled Himself as man in flesh and blood, though He Himself is One with Father (Philippians 2:8; John 10:30).

There is no other Jesus than He who was sent of God, who was rejected by men and still is rejected by men who don’t want to hear, because they refuse to believe what He says that they may have life and peace with God.

Just as there is no other Jesus than He who gave Himself for you and even He who gives Himself to you by means of His Word and body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for thejesuswomen4 forgiveness of your sins, so there is no other life of the Christian than coming after Jesus, denying self, taking up the cross, and following Him.

All who would go their own way bear the name of Christian in name only.

This is the easier way, for “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14 NKJ).

The way of the Christian is different.

With Paul, the Christian also confesses, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

The way of the Christian is the life of the cross.  It is the way of death, not only of Christ’s death, but of one’s own—dying to sin, crucifying the sinful flesh and desires and lusts which war against the soul, and seeking help and salvation in Christ alone, casting aside lady reason and man pride; having nothing to give but only everything to be given on account of the real Jesus who suffered and died; the real Jesus then, and the real Jesus now, whose Gospel word is life, lasting life.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, aid me in putting to death my sinful flesh, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus according to His Word. Amen.

Hope in Temptation

“He (Jesus) was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan”

(Mark 1:13)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Words from Luther on temptation…

107] To feel temptation is therefore a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. luther1We must all feel it, although not all in the same manner, but some in a greater degree and more severely than others; as, the young suffer especially from the flesh, afterwards, they that attain to middle life and old age, from the world, but others who are occupied with spiritual matters, that is, strong Christians, from the devil. 108] But such feeling, as long as it is against our will and we would rather be rid of it, can harm no one. For if we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent thereto is when we give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it. ” (Large Catechism, 6th Petition, 107-108)

Temptations are out there and they are bound to come, but this doesn’t mean you have to give in to them.

Yet, though the spirit be willing, the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38).

With the apostle Paul, we too say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me fromdavid-repents this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).  On your own, you do fail.  And on your own, should you pass the test, you are then tempted to think highly of yourself.

Humility flies out the window, save for the means God uses to once again humble you that you look to Him and boast in Him and not in your own accomplishments and victories.

There is but one hope for sinners who are swayed by temptation and seduced to give in due to the weakness of the flesh.  It is Jesus.  His being tempted in the wilderness gives confidence – not because He is your example, though He is, but more than that – because He is your Savior.

Jesus is Your Savior, who conquered Satan by means of His own death on the cross.  In times of temptation, and at all times, look to Him.  Trust and use His Word and promise, for thjesus-with-word-and-sacramentey are yours, and they are not without power against the attacks of the evil one.

Commend yourselves into the Lord’s hands and keeping.  Entrust yourself to the Lord Jesus, for in Him, God does and God will, deliver you.  He doesn’t lead you into temptation, but He does lead you to Himself, your true and lasting refuge. Amen.

Prayer: Father, lead me not into temptation.  Help me to resist, not by my own strength, but alone in the strength You give me in my weakness. Amen.

“Many Called, Few Chosen”

1Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

      11“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Cross-ringsThe joining together of one man and one woman in holy matrimony and the accompanying festivities are a fitting picture of Christ the bridegroom uniting with His holy Bride, the Church, on the last day.  That the groom wear black and the bride wear white on their wedding day is a fitting depiction of Christ and His Church, fitting because Christ takes upon Himself our sins and gives us His righteousness.  He becomes our sin, symbolized by the black, and we, the church, are declared holy, symbolized by the white.

St. Paul describes the relationship between husband and wife a similar way.  In His letter to the Ephesians he writes, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The Church does not sanctify or clean herself, nor is she sanctified or cleaned of herself.  She is sanctified and cleansed by another, by her betrothed.  Thus does she not have spot or wrinkle, but is holy and without blemish on account of the bridegroom, Christ Jesus.

This is what Christ does for you.  Joined together with him through faith, He sanctifies and cleanses you of your sin.  You still struggle and bear your burdens while in the flesh, but before God, you are holy and without blemish.  He does not your sins count against you.  Though you see the dirt, the shortcomings, the failings, the spots, and the blemishes, God does not.  His love for you is greater than your sin.  His compassion for you is more abundant than your iniquity.  His mercy far exceeds your transgression.

Christ calls you His beloved.  As He chose Israel, not “because they were more in number than any other people, for they were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loved them, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to their fathers,” so God calls you His very own people, that you know the Lord God to be also your God, the faithful God who keeps His Word and fulfills His promises (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Through the prophet Hosea, God declares to His people Israel, “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20).

Though they were rebellious, God would take action.  Because of His love for His people, He would not leave them alone.  Though He would discipline them, such was His love for them, that they come to see Him as the God who forgives and bestows mercy.

That same love, forgiveness, and mercy your Lord gives to you.  God does not leWord-Baptism-Communionave you alone.  You He will not abandon.  He gives You His Word, that you be certain that He is with you, even present with you in His Word and in His sacrament.   By these does our Lord assure you of His kindness and strengthen you in the true faith that you continue in Him.

He calls you, not because of what you might be able to do for Him, nor because of how good you are, but because He loves you and desires you to be His.  He baptized you with water and His Word, there washing away your sins and calling you His very own.

Therefore do we say with King Solomon, “I am my beloved’s, And my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).  I am Christ’s and He is mine.

“For to me live is Christ and if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Philippians 1:21; Romans 14:8).

He gives you every kind of confidence and assurance of His grace and favor for Christ’s sake.  These our Lord plentifully reveals through His Word.  These He abundantly provides, through His Holy Word of absolution and blessing, preaching and proclaiming.

It is just these things that the servants in our Gospel text were doing, preaching and proclaiming that the wedding feast for the king’s Son was all ready.  Everything was prepared.  All that was left was the arrival of the guests.  All was ready.  Preparations were complete.

The first group of servants went out to invite the welcomed guests.  They did just as they were given to do.  They were sent to call those who had been invited.  These received the announcement, but replied in the negative.  They would not come.  They were not willing to come (NKJ).

This group, and the next, those that refused the invitation and mistreated those whom the king had sent, refer specifically to the Jews, but also to all who continue to reject the Lord’s call and invitation.

The refusal to attend the wedding feast was a refusal of the king Himself.  But this was not the only thing that these refusers did.  Our text says that they not only ‘paid no attention and went off’, but others seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.  This is exactly what happened to the servants sent by God to His people Israel.

The rejection of the messenger is also the rejection of the One who sent Him.  One cannot say that they believe in the Sender and yet reject the one whom He sends.  The reception of the one is the reception of the other, and vice versa.

From this, it’s clear as to why the king in the parable acted the way He did.  His gracious invitation went out.  Everything was prepared and ready. He invited the guests, and what do the guests do?  They reject, harm, injure, and kill the servants that the king sent.

GodPulpit’s gracious invitation of forgiveness, life, and salvation continues to go forth today, just as it did when Jesus’ proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

There remain those who continue to reject God’s grace and His Son today.  They refuse to believe.

But today is the day of salvation.  Today, Christ forgives you of all of your sins and calls you His own.  Today is the invitation to hear and keep hearing His Word, to take heart His goodness which is yours in Christ, and “to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

There is another table that is prepared, another feast that is offered: the foretaste of THE feast to come, Christ’s body and Christ’s blood, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins.  Through bread and the wine, God strengthens you in the faith, and preserves you steadfast in the true faith.

Do not despise or take for granted this gracious meal.  God calls you to receive it , not for your harm, but for your good.  Because He desires to give you eternal life, He also gives the Supper of our Lord, that you may know God to be a good and gracious God who does not forsake His people, but is really and truly with you throughout your days.

Through faith in Christ, believing the body and the blood of Christ to be truly present, you receive what He offers.  And confessing the faith of this altar, we together proclaim the death of Christ in the unity of faith before the world.

The third group of servants sent out by the king in St. Matthew’s parable were sent out, not to those who were originally invited, but to those who were on the main roads.  These are the Gentiles, and us.  God sent and sends His servants throughout the world, to call all people to believe in Christ as Savior of the world.

Because the Jews rejected, and still reject Christ, God has seen fit to go elsewhere, to those who will believe.

Where Christ’s Word is preached and rejected, that Word will move on, and those who continually reject it will themselves be rejected.

Those who refuse to hear God’s Word and call upon Him may eventually have what they JesusLamentsJerusalemwant–the Lord’s rejection of them.  This is the worst thing that can happen, that God take His Word away and leave you to yourself, in your own sin.

But because God is Love incarnate in Christ, He bears and is longsuffering.  He continues to send out the call to repent, that those who hear believe the Gospel.  He sends servant after servant after servant to preach His Word and faith, calling hearers to come to the wedding feast, that is, to believe in Christ and so be saved.  And all who hear the Lord’s blessed invitation and believe in Christ, receiving what God freely offers, these are given to wear the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.

You don’t go to heaven in your own attire.  You stand before God naked in your sin.  He sees all that you do.  He knows all that you think and all that you desire.  He hears all of your thoughts and all of your words, both good and ill.

But for Christ’s sake alone, God does not condemn.  The thoughts, desires, and actions of Jesus are righteous and holy thoughts, desires, and actions.  On account of Christ, God judges you, not as sinners, but as having no sin, not because you don’t have any, but because Christ didn’t.

At the wedding feast on the last day of Christ and His bride, the consummation of the ages, you will wear the clothes with which He clothes you.  Your clothes of sin and transgression are filthy and unclean.  His are pure and white as snow, without spot and without blemish.

Wearing your own clothes, that is, bringing your own righteousness and not believing Christ to be your perfection, your holiness, and your goodness, is to be bound hand and foot and to be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is another way of saying hell.  It does exist.  This is the destination of all who try to get to heaven by what they do or who they are, and all who try to be good and do better apart from believing in Christ as their only Savior.

You don’t save yourself.  It is another who saves you.  And in His salvation, there is no doubt or uncertainty of His goodness and kindness,  There is no questioning of your own worthiness, because your worthiness is not your own.  It is Christ who is your worthiness.  Because of Him, heaven is yours, and called to heaven you are.

Throw away the old clothes of your sin and your self-righteousness, that you be clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  Put on Christ, and “be found in Him, cross.gifnot having your own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).   Amen.

Jesus, Remember Me

27There followed [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:27-43)

Introduction

Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke seems far removed from ‘The Last Day of the Church Year’. Where we would expect to hear of God’s Coming Judgment, of signs in heaven and growing tribulation on earth, and of Christ’s return in the clouds (Acts 1:9-11), instead we hear jesus-remembermeof Christ on Calvary’s cross, of women weeping after Him, of people mocking Him as He’s dying, and one of the two criminals crucified with Him saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

An account such as Jesus’ crucifixion does not seem to ‘fit in’ to this time of the church year. It seems like it would be better suited for Lent and Good Friday than today. However, taking a closer look at the text, we find that it is indeed fitting: first, with regard to Jesus’ words to the women who were mourning and lamenting after Him as He is on His way to the cross and death. Second, concerning the proper way to be prepared for our Lord’s return. And third, with reference to Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, to whom He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

First: Jesus’ words to the women

First, Jesus’ Words to the women who had followed Jesus. They were mourning and lamenting because of what was happening. Jesus was going to His crucifixion and death. But to them He says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for jesuswomen4your children” (Luke 23:28). Then He proceeds to tell them what is to come, “29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:29-31).

Here our Lord is not talking specifically about the Day when He will return. Rather, He is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, of which Jesus spoke of earlier when He wept over it and said,If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

The destruction of Jerusalem was in 70 A.D.. It was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the world to come.

The words of Jesus, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” are words also for our years.

We comfort in the ways of the world than in the ways of God. We seek help and remedy from men and not exclusively from God. We look to the here and now and neglect that which is to come according to the very promises of God in Christ. We sorrow over what could be and rejoice little in what is. Yes—indeed—we are sinners.

On these words of our Lord, Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” Luther writes…

confession-cross1Such admonition we should accept as addressed to us. For we must all confess that we, on account of sin, are like an unfruitful, dry tree, in which there is nothing good, nor can any good come out therefrom. What will it, then, behoove us to do? Nothing but to weep and to cry to God for forgiveness, and to resist the evil, sinful nature earnestly, and not to give it free reign. For there the sentence stands: Since the fruitful tree is thus treated and God permits such severe sufferings to come upon His dear Son, we should certainly not feel secure, but acknowledge our sin, fear the wrath of God, and pray for forgiveness.1

When it comes to Christ’s death on the cross, many pity the Lord and His suffering, but go no further. They only hear of a man in pain and dying a slow death. But if that’s all that Christ is, Jesus is not Savior.

To pity and to be sorry for Jesus on the cross is not yet to recognize the why of His suffering and of His dying. Jesus willingly chose to go to death on Calvary for you…to pay the penalty for your sins…to suffer in your stead…and to die your death. You deserved all that He received. Willingly He suffered His passion and death, in order to save you from you sins.

Second, The Cross

Second, the cross. St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Later, he wrote, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It is through Christ and Him crucified by which your sin is no more held against you, Jesus having put to death that which is rightfully yours, that is, death and hell. Because of Christ, you no longer bear the curse of the Law. Christ did that for you.

3crossesThe curse of the law is that curse which says that unless you keep the law’s demands entirely and perfectly, you are judged a sinner and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.

Paul says again, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10).

On account of God’s law, you all fall short, for “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None is righteous, perfect, or holy (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

This none, the all who have sinned, includes you. You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not righteous. You are not perfect. You are not holy.

Jesus went to the cross that you not die in your sin, but that you live, no longer bearing the curse of the Law because of Adam’s sin and your own. On the cross, Christ took that curse upon Himself, and there, He did away with it.

Jesus died as a criminal—as a sinner—yet He had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Indeed, Jesus “Was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12)

As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:19-21).

Christ crucified means that your sins are no more held against you, nor can they remain to be. They cannot condemn you before the Holy God because they were already put to death when Christ died. “By the blood of His cross” you have peace with God (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:1).

Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal

Lastly, in today’s Gospel text, is conversation between the two criminals and Jesus while on the cross. The one mocks and blasphemes our Lord. The other defends Him, and says to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then, Jesus says to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

By those words, “Remember me,” that one criminal wasn’t asking Jesus to simply not forget him. He was placing himself into the mercy of the Lord Jesus, whom he had come to recognize as One Who did not deserve to be lifted up on a tree, but Who did have the honor of God’s very Son. The man was confessing His faith in the Lord Jesus, and his desire to be with Him. And to him, Jesus promised eternal life.

kingdom-of-god2As you, too, call upon the Lord to remember you, placing yourselves into the Lord’s hands, trusting in Him for deliverance from this body of death, so too does He promise you paradise. When He comes again, this is where all who believe in His Name will be. This is the certain hope that all Christians possess, because God is faithful in all that He declares through His Son.

This is a present hope, but a future reality. It is not a question of “if” you have eternal life. The question is when. And that question is answered even for you, as it was for that thief on the cross, TODAY.

Kretzmann writes, “For all sinners in the whole world the Lord has opened the doors of paradise by His life, suffering, and death, and whosever believeth on Him has complete salvation as soon as he dies. That is the glorious fruit of the Passion of Christ: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”2

Said another way, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain. Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1, 2).

Conclusion

Though at first, a Lenten text having to do with Christ’s crucifixion might not seem to ‘fit’ very well as a reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, there is plenty there for us to consider with reference to the Lord’s Second Coming.

With His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”, Jesus “purchased and won you from all sins, death, and the power of the devil” (Explanation to 2nd Article). Rather than weep and sorrow for He who through suffering and death delivered you from hell, sorrow over your own sin. Find comfort in Christ, who died in your stead. Take Jesus’ words of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life to heart, for in and through Him, these are yours. Amen.

1 Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, New Testament, Vol 1, (St. Louis: CPH), 393.

2 Ibid., 395.

 

Observations/Reflections on a recent pastor’s conference, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

 

swd-logoA recent pastor’s conference (Oct 2016) of the South Wisconsin District (a district of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, LCMS) offered participants the opportunity to hear from Dr. Horvath (of Athanatos Christian Ministries) and Dr. Peter Scaer (an Exegetical Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, IN).  Both presenters, in my opinion, offered insightful reflection on numerous challenges currently faced within in our society and by the church.

Dr. Horvath founded Athanatos Christian Ministries (AMC, Inc.) a group “to equip Christians to defend the Christian faith through the arts and literature, in addition to using evidence and argument.”  Much of his presentation consisted of “connecting the dots” for what is currently going in Christendom, with reflection on the rise of the “religiously unaffiliated.”

For example, Dr. Horvath noted that in the early 1990s, the religiously unaffiliated (i.e. those having left the church and not returning) were in the 5% range of the U.S. Population.  Yet, in 2016, that percentage jumped to 25%.  In the span of around 20 years, the number of religiously unaffiliated jumped 20%.  Commenting on a reason for the rise in the number, Dr. Horvath observed a connection between the effects of the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s and the growing divorce rate that followed.  The increasing number of religiously unaffiliated from the early 1990s to 2016 reflect the consequences of acm_1120x198parental divorce and the effects of such divorce on the children, including growing disbelief and disconnection (even atheism) in relation to the Christian faith.

Divorce has consequences.  Sin has consequences.  Horvath suggests that challenges the society and church are now facing have been influenced by actions of the past.

Another insightful connection concerning the direction of our culture is that of information gathered about communications related to the need for population control (i.e. in affiliation with the Center for Family Planning Program Development, 1969 [The Technical Assistance Division of Planned Parenthood-World Population, Frederick S. Jaffe]; Too Many Americans, L. & A. Day; and Public Health & Population Change, Sheps & Ridley, 1967).

Though “dated,” the following (partial list of) “proposed measures to reduce fertility, by universality or selectivity of impact in the U.S.” are eerily being fulfilled, with many, also within the church, oblivious to such an agenda, which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood:

Restructuring of family: a) Postpone or avoid marriage b) alter image of ideal family size (i.e. from greater to lesser)

Compulsory education of children

Encourage increased homosexuality

Encourage women to work

Payments to encourage contraception

Abortion and sterilization on demand

Allow harmless contraceptives to be distributed nonmedically

Make contraceptives truly available and accessible

Improve maternal health care, with family planning a core element

Though many migsin12ht view such occurrences, not as fulfilling an agenda, but simply as our “progression” as a society, recognizing the influences of the past upon our own day can help us in the church to better understand and respond to our current, and continual, challenges, moving us to repentance, also for our silence, and to steadfast faith in our Lord, who is the Head of His Church and faithful, even though we be faithless (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:13).

God calls His people to wariness and to preparedness (Luke 21:36; 1 Timothy 6:12; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), as well as to boldly confess His Name.

On an information table for Athanatos Christian Ministries at the pastor’s conference was a brief information sheet entitled, “Know thy Enemy,” which consisted of quotes from Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and reference to her book, The Pivot of Civilization and a Plan for Peace (1923). Compare the following quotations:

“The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately.  Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period.  Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives.”

Margaret Sanger, in The Pivot of Civilization, 1923

“…the state must act as the guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit.  It must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge.  It must declare unfit for propagation all who are in any way visibly sick or who have inherited a disease and can therefore pass it on. And put this into actual practice.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925

The above quotes of Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler indicate that both wanted to either segregate or limit certain “types” ofsanger_and_hitler people.  What’s amazing is that Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, included blacks as those who were “feeble-minded” and “of the moron class.”  Where is the outcry today against such racist and prejudicial comments, even by African Americans, who also make use of and advocate for a group such as Planned Parenthood whose founder sought to limit the population of certain people and groups in order to establish a society based upon her own ideology?

The second presenter, Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary also offered insightful reflection of challenges that we face as Christians and encouragement for the body of Christ.  Similar to Dr. Horvath’s presentation, Dr. Scaer spent some time reminding us of earlier generations and their influences upon us in our day.  He mentioned, for example, Lawrence Lader, who was influenced by Margaret Sanger, who spoke of the need for limiting the size of the family.  Dr. Scaer also mentioned H.G. Wells, whom he referred to as an “eugenicist.”

Additionally, Dr. Scaer also spent time informing us about the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, whose idolatrous agenda was rebellion against men and against God, who divorced her first husband, was involved in numerous affairs, and ironically, said that women don’t need men.  Dr. Scaer had also observed that Sanger had used (coined) the phrase, “Every child a wanted child” (emphasis mine).

Dr. Scaer’s presentation also included a critique of how the LCMS has responded in the past to Planned Parenthood and abortion, noting that Concordia Publishing House had published a book by Rehwinkel entitled, Planned Parenthood, which essentially “sold” Planned Parenthood to Lutherans.  What was quoted of this work, and others, would be disturbing to those concerned about life in general and about the Christian doctrine in particular, since a great emphasis was placed, not on what God says, and what He says about life (i.e. 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder”), but on the individual circumstances (i.e. of the pregnant woman) and the challenges that she would face if the child was born, or the “solutions” offered if the baby was not born.  In other words, Rehwinkel and others offered the counsel that the life of the baby was ultimately the woman’s choice and that she determined the continued existence or death of another human being.

In contrwhobrokethebaby-gartonast to Rehwinkel and others, Jean Garton, author of Who Broke the Baby, was a healthy critique to the genocide of the unborn, offering insight and commentary on the ideology and practice of abortion, which both run contrary to the Word of God and what God reveals about life and its gift.

Dr. Scaer offered more than commentary reflecting end-of-life issues like abortion.  He also asked the question whether we can talk about marriage (i.e. 4th & 6th Commandments) outside the church?  He answered, “We must!”  Same-sex “marriage” is the great challenge for today’s church, Scaer commented.  As this practice is more greatly accepted, society and the church more greatly suffer.  And, as Dr. Horvath had earlier noted, sin has consequences.  The effects of homosexuality (rebellion against God) destroy society.  This is something that “the left” know, but don’t want to admit.  “Where (natural/traditional) marriage works, society works,” said Scaer.

Rather than retreat to the shadows, claiming that little can be done, Dr. Scaer offers encouragement.  Politically, laws can change, and even little laws can help.  In contrast to the thought, “Laws can’t change,” Scaer responds, “Laws can be changed” and that “Man’s law is changeable.”  “They change all the time.”  In other words, in the secular world, there is still something that concerned citizens can do.

james1-12God calls the church to be faithful to the Lord who bought her, the same Lord Who Himself was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5, NKJ).  God is God, and Christ is Head of His Church.

This Lord is the same Christ who is the “bridegroom,” (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29) who “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27, NKJ).

Though a “weeding out” take place, the faithful will become more visible.  The Church confesses Christ.  In Him, she lives.

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