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The Bible = God’s Word

14As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

As we reflect on these words of our Lord today through the sainted apostle, I would like to read some words from a document entitled, “Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod.” This document, written and adopted by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the year 1932, might seem a bit dated, and perhaps not well known, but succinctly states what we believe as members of congregations in fellowship with the church body called the LCMS. The document is “still on the books,” and at least deserves our attention and reflection, as well as our agreement.1

Inclusive in this document, often referred to as “The Brief Statement,” are summary statements of what we believe concerning Creation, Conversion, Church and State, and the Millennium, to name a few. But what draws our attention this morning is the first of the sections, “Of the Holy Scriptures.” This part reads:

1. We tebriefstatementofthedoctrinalpositionofthemissourisynodach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35; Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.

2. We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. – With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the “rule of faith” (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. (Apology. Trig lot p.441, § 60; Mueller, p.284). ‘The rule of faith is not the man-made so-called “totality of Scripture” (Ganzes der Schrift”).

3. We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might, contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, sets up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus over-throws the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.

Not all believe this truth, though, that Paul in his letter to Timothy writes what is right and true. As it was in Paul’s day, and the days, he says, which were to come, so also in ours.

For example, Paul warns Timothy that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

To Timothy, Paul also writes “that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, NKJ).

Additionally, in today’s epistle, Paul also writes that “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).

That time is now. In the 70’s, and in days leading up to that time, our own church body struggled with those in our fellowship, even seminary professors, who minimally cast doubt and at most, denied, that the accounts of the creation, Jonah being swallowed by a fish, and other accounts of both Testaments were historical truths and facts that literally happened.

Uncertainty concerning one account of Holy Scripture, however, puts into question other teachings of Scripture and does not lead to Christ and true, saving faith, but to a Jesus of one’s own making and damning faith.

This is where we find ourselves today. Many simply disbelieve what God’s Word actually says, stating the right to “personal interpretation” and refusing to accept the “interpretation” of others, even if that so-called interpretation is not an interpretation at all, but word for word from the Bible itself.

Unlike Timothy, many of our young and younger people know little about the Bible and its content, let alone what it means. Though olderbible-truth generations might be more familiar with what’s in the Bible, or not, because of the shallow teaching within many congregations and church bodies concerning Christ and His Word, fewer believe according to the true doctrine, picking and choosing what they want to accept and denying that which they don’t.

Such lack of knowledge of what the Bible actually says and teaches is not only the fault of church bodies, congregations, and pastors, however. The blame also falls on parents and heads of households who do not themselves read the Bible, read it with their family, and who ignore Dr. Luther’s instruction at the beginning of each section of his Small Catechism, “As the head of the household should teach his family in a simple way.”

Luther’s headings remain relevant. Though the congregation and pastor care for both young and old and younger and older in catechetical instruction and teaching the Bible, so should heads of households. Children learn both good and bad from their parents. They also learn from the model that their parents, single or together, provide concerning the importance of Holy Scripture and attending God’s house on the Lord’s Day. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why church attendance is all over on the decline and why the “religiously unaffiliated” (with any church) is on the rise.

Lament the current state of today’s church and speak of possible solutions that “we” could do is a temptation, and many are about just this. Statistic after statistic relay the endless problems of today’s church. Fingers could easily be pointed in all directions. There is plenty of fault to go all around.

Such talk will not solve our predicament, nor will it provide the antidote. Our Lord has not promised a life of peace – until the “Last Day.” Until then, we continue to struggle, and struggle we will, by God’s grace, God helping us, even in Word and Sacrament, that we daily take up our crosses, all of them, and follow Him.

Our Lord does not leave us alone, to either ourselves or to the mercy of world. Nor does the Lord leave us without hope in the midst of a dying world that seeks every other way of peace and salvation than the peace and salvation that God gives in His Son. Jesus Christ we proclaim, even if all turn their back and all close their ears.

This will be so because “There is no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

We learn of this One through the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible, called so on account of whose Word it truly is – God’s, and not man’s.

Such sublime truth is revealed throughout the Scared text of the writings, both Old and New, as well as by today’s epistle from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

The “sacred writing” referred to by Paul which Timothy knew from his grandmother Lois and from his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) is none other than the writing of Genesis through Malachi, the very same writings that testify of Christ our Lord, as Jesus Himself says in John 5, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39, NKJ).

The Word of Jesus we cannot deny nor omit concerning the Old Testament text, which speak of Christ to come, giving the promise of the Savior who “carried our sorrows,” “was wounded for our transgressions,” “by” whose “stripes we are healed,” and upon Whom “the Lord has laid…the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

The Words of our Lord, however, do not only recall the past words of God to His people through the prophets. Jesus also spoke of that which was to come, even the writings of the New Testament.

In what is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, of John 17, our Lord prays, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (Jn. 17:20, NKJ). The “these alone” for whom He prays are His disciples, soon to be apostles. “Those who” would “believe in” Him include also us, who believe on account of the Word which they spoke, the Word which they also wrote.

Of such words, our Lord also promised His disciples the Holy Spirit, to whom He said, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26, NKJ).

The Holy Spirit has done so, having inspired the Apostles, as also the Prophets, to write what He gave them to write, “for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NKJ).

St. Peter reminds us that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The soundness and validity of the Scriptural text is not the product of your belief or confidence in the text itself. This would make man the Bible’s foundation and not God, nor His Son.

bible-word-of-god1Instead of man’s conclusions, hypotheses, theories, or thoughts, we believe the Holy Bible to be God’s Word, not because man or the church says that this is so, but because God has, even through that very same Word which proclaims Christ, Christ to come, Christ having fulfilled, and Christ coming again.

Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (Jn. 8:47, NKJ).

God’s words are those found within the pages of Scripture. The two are the same. Holy Scripture is God’s Word. This we confess. But such confession doesn’t save.

Thus does John write in His first epistle, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJ).

At the conclusion of his Gospel, St. John also wrote, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31 NKJ)

The Holy Scriptures, the sacred writings of both Testaments, testify and point to Jesus Christ, their center, the Jesus whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension give life to sinners. They reveal the glory of God the Father in the crucified and risen Son, whose blood cleanses you from all sin and by whom you have life and salvation.

The Bible is more than just a book of do’s and don’ts. If this is all it is to you, you still don’t have faith in the One thing needful, which is Christ. He is your life and your standing before God, He, and He alone. The Bible does contain do’s and don’ts, but knowing what to do and what not to do doesn’t save.

Through these come the knowledge of sin, for “By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). bible-cross1

What shows us our Savior is the Gospel. And it is by the Gospel, the free forgiveness of sins by means of Christ’s death, that you live, by which God reveals this truth, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14, NKJ), not an excuse to sin, but reason to rejoice in the grace God freely bestows and to live by faith in that Word through which God makes your salvation known. Amen.

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The Importance of Distinguishing Law & Gospel

thelutherandifference

“For Luther, a proper distinction between Law and Gospel opened the door to a right understanding of God’s Word and, therefore, a right understanding of God’s will for humankind and our salvation.  Throughout its history, the Lutheran Church has continued to maintain that rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel is absolutely necessary in this regard.  The Law shows us God’s will and reveals our sin; the Gospel proclaims our salvation in Christ.  To confuse these two doctrines is to remain confused about ourselves and about our God.  To misunderstand them is to misunderstand the reason for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In short, Law and Gospel are the means by which we can rightly understand the whole of the Christian faith.” [Edward Engelbrecht (ed.), The Lutheran Difference (St. Louis: CPH, 2010), p40-41)]

Hold Fast…

 

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

How easy it is to be distracted from the things of God to the things of men, to neglect the One thing needful, and to take for granted God’s grace and favor!

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes the words above (2 Timothy 1:13), because, as he indicates in v15, “all those in Asia have turned away from me.”  In other words, “those in Asia” ceased listening to Paul and stopped following the words that Paul preached.

Though many do the same thing concerning the very Word of our Lord, and though many view such diversion from the truth as of little significance, for the Christian, the Word of God has more than importance.  The Word of God is life (John 6:63, 68; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), and directs towards Christ Jesus.  The Law shows us our sin.  The Gospel shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ.   Only Christ saves from sin and hell.  The believer believes this, and desires, seeks, and strives to remain in this faith.

The text from this past Sunday speaks about the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  “Holding fast” is such a challenge, for we, of ourselves, are not strong enough to do so.  We are sinners.  But “holding fast the pattern of sound words” is continuing to believe in the Jesus who saves and not in our strength that falters.

God gives strength to remain “in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” by means of His Word and Sacraments.  God has not forsaken you.  Rather, He continues to call you, preaching His Word of forgiveness and salvation through the death of His Son.  So hear, and hold fast to, Christ, who holds you even more strongly (Philippians 3:12).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, direct us ever to Your Holy Word which gives life, that we live and not doubt, nor reject Your forgiveness and mercy won for us on the cross.  Keep us fast to you, that we live confidently in and by Your grace alone.  Amen.

What is Lent?

“I have my faith”?

Therefore, having been justified by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

There is much talk about faith these days. Recently, I heard one numerous times in discussion say, “I have my faith.” Yet, such talk about faith is quite vague. It seems to emphasize the “me,” of faith, and doesn’t really get to the object of the Christian faith, which is Christ.

MyFaithChristian faith doesn’t exclusively speak in the way of “me” or “my” kind of faith. Rather, Christian faith confesses Christ, front and center.

Remember the words of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Remember the words of St. Paul, too. “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

These words also apply to Christian faith, even our own faith, which is neither self-derived or self-chosen, a personal decision or a choice. Rather, the Christian faith is the God-given faith.

The Bible teaches such truth, for as Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Speaking of the flesh, St. Paul writes, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

According to God’s Holy Word, which is what the Bible is, “those who are in the flesh” are not of faith. This applies to all people, as all people are born through the womb. Naturally, such people are in need of a Savior since the Fall of AdaBorn-of-God1m and Eve (Romans 5:12). Dead in sin, from conception to physical death, a spiritual birth is needed. One must be reborn.

Such rebirth cannot and does not happen by choice or personal decision. That which is dead cannot do anything of itself. It is God, through His Holy Word, which gives life, new life, abundant life (John 6:63, 10:10). Thus do we have Christ, who speaks life, that we be born anew, even through water and word (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

Similar to the account of Jesus calling dead Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38-44), so Jesus calls us from death to life by means of His Word, even His Word preached today (John 6:63). Where His Holy Word continues to be preached today, He continues to bring forth the hearers from death to life.

The preaching of Christ’s cross does not make Christians either lazy or unproductive (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 5:6). Instead, the preaching of Christ’s cross, of His death and resurrection, enlivens true faith. Evangelicalism here gets it wrong where they empty their preaching of the Gospel and instead preach only what you must do of yourself and how to live, yet apart from faith in Christ. They also get it wrong where they emphasis personal faith over and against objective faith, which is the faith given by God through the hearing of Christ and His holy Word (Romans 10:17).

This faith, and this faith alone, that which is of God and His Son Jesus Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is that faith which does not seek its own, but glories in Christ, clearly confessing Him to be Savior.

Rom01.16,4The Christian faith does just this, and unashamedly (Romans 1:16). This faith confesses Christ, giving Him and Him alone all the glory. So, more than speaking of “my faith” and taking comfort in what “I personally believe” (subjectively, as in “I have my faith”), the Christian faith speaks of Christ and what He has done for me, according to Holy Scripture. Instead of confessing, “I have my faith,” the Christian boastfully confesses in who that faith is—Christ.

My faith” does not save me. Christ does! Thanks be to God! Amen.

“For the faith that takes hold of Christ, the Son of God, and is adorned by Him is the faith that justifies, not a faith that includes love. For if faith is to be sure and firm, it must take hold of nothing but Christ alone; and in the agony and terror of conscience it has nothing else to lean on than this pearl of great value (Matt. 13:45–46). Therefore whoever takes hold of Christ by faith, no matter how terrified by the Law and oppressed by the burden of his sins he may be, has the right to boast that he is righteous. How has he this right? By that jewel, Christ, whom he possesses by faith. Our opponents fail to understand this. Therefore they reject Christ, this jewel; and in His place they put their love, which they say is a jewel. But if they do not know what faith is, it is impossible for them to have faith, much less to teach it to others. And as for what they claim to have, this is nothing but a dream, an opinion, and natural reason, but not faith.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p88-89)

Prayer: Father in heaven, give us faith which takes hold of Christ and no other. Preserve us in this faith by the means which You freely give and deliver, and keep us from despising Your free gifts of Baptism, Word, and Supper, that we remain yours, and, denying ourselves, follow you. Amen.

Salvation–Possible with God!

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Mark 10:27

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Such words of our Lord as the words above have a specific context which Jesus speaks them. Here, Jesus is not talking about overcoming every obstacle, climbing every mountain, or prospering in life. The context in which our Lord speaks is quite different.

EyeOfNeedleJesus had just relayed to the disciples how difficult it is for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23-25), to which the disciples responded, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). It is at this point that Jesus then says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Note the it that Jesus references. That it references the salvation that the disciples ask of. This means that salvation is impossible with men, but not with God. Thus, the all things that Jesus speaks here, contextually, is that of salvation.

I know of only one other place in the New Testament where similar words are spoken. However, these words are given in a very different context than that of salvation. The context is that of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that Elizabeth, who is beyond the age of child bearing, had conceived a son (Luke 1:36). The angel then concludes the announcement, “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

ContextThe pair of phrases addressed here each has its own context in which it is spoken. However, each is often used apart from its context, and often for personal, self-help, motivational encouragement. Doing this, however, is a misuse use of the text, applying it in ways not intended, and doing so also demonstrates a use of the text according to one’s own circumstances and inclinations rather than that of the Holy Scripture.

Divorced from context, the content of the passage becomes divorced from its biblical meaning. And though this not be the concern of many a people, it is a concern for all who seek to be faithful to the Biblical text itself and its intended meaning.

Confining oneself to the words, context, and meaning of the sacred text of the Holy Bible is not only faithful practice, but is the very means by which the Lord draws us to Himself, even to Jesus, through whom salvation is certain (i.e. John 20:31). The Lord doesn’t give us His Word that we determine its application. Rather, He gives us His Word that we might believe it, and believing it, that we abide by it, and so live through faith in Him who died and rose again.

Slippery slope2It’s a “slippery slope” to use the Bible in ways not given. Remaining with the context, however, leads us to rightly believe, and firmly to trust, in Jesus.

Additionally, if one passage, like Mark 10:27 (or Luke 1:37), doesn’t do for us what we would like it to do, that’s okay, because the Lord directs us with His Word where He wants us to be and where He wants us to go, that is, in and to His Kingdom. Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to deny ourselves and to entrust ourselves into your keeping, that we not misuse Your Hold Word or try to make it say what we want it to say for our own ends. Move us to believe what you say, that we grow in grace and true knowledge of You. Amen.

National Day of Prayer–Some thoughts

“The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Proverbs 15:29

 

In the Holy Name of the risen Christ. Amen.

NationalDayOfPrayer2According to the National Day of Prayer task force, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.”

This encouragement to pray is a good thing. In fact, God commands prayer (the Second Commandment).   Not praying, therefore, is a sin. Praying for the nation in which we live is also a good thing (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Prayer for ourselves and for others, as well as for our nation, is indeed “good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” God promises to hear prayer, as revealed through the Psalmist, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15).

Thus, not only does God command prayer. He also promises to hear prayer (Read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Large Catechism). The command and the promise of prayer move the Christian to pray, and so His people do pray, even “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Yet, the National Day of Prayer task force and the annual observance do not make the distinctions that God does. They lump people of all faiths together, as if all prayer of all people are acceptable to God, and therefore, heard by Ps1bHim.

Nevertheless, God does not hear the prayers of all people, as recorded in the Proverb text above. The Psalmist, too, exalts this truth by saying, “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).

The righteous are they who look to God for mercy in Christ, who repent of their sin, who seek salvation from Christ alone, recognizing their dependency on the Lord for help and deliverance from sin and death. These are they who have faith, and only these have the certainty of God’s hearing and help (Hebrews 11:6; Luke 17:5-10; 1 John 5:14-15).

The wicked, however, are they who reject God’s salvation in Christ and have a different confession of faith than the faith revealed in Holy Scripture (John 8:31-32, 47; 14:23-24; 1 John 5:9-13; 2 John 1:9) . God does not hear the prayers of the unbeliever because they do not pray in faith (Romans 14:3; James 1:6).

We make such distinctions because God Himself makes such distinctions. Thus, instead of lumping all people together as having the same God, and praying to Him, we believe God’s Word and therefore, seek to speak the truth of that Word which alone converts souls from death to life.  We also humbly pray that the Lord would keep us from arrogance and pride, even as we pray for all people, our nation and ourselves, even concerning the more significant and eternal matters of God’s mercy and forgiveness through His Son, in whose Name God’s people with confidence pray.

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