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Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible

That'sYourInterpretationIt is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible

In referencing an understanding of the Bible at the time of the Reformation, Peters states, “As the confrontations between Lutheran the Church’s hierarchy ensued and tensions mounted, Luther accused the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths, and he more and more came to believe that the Bible, as interpreted by the individual believer, was the only true religious authority for a Christian.  He eventually rejected Tradition as well as the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (with the Pope at its head) as having legitimate religious authority.”[2]

Luther did, of course, accuse the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths.  Luther also did reject Tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (and Lutherans still do) as having legitimate religious authority (as such authority usurps the authority of God’s Word).  However, Peters is incorrect to say that Luther claimed the only true religious authority for a Christian is the Bible, “as interpreted by the individual believer.”

Luther did believe that God’s Word is the final authority (the formal principle) for faith and life, and that no church and no pope has authority over this authority.  Yet this claim that the Bible is the final authority did not derive from his own personal interpretation of Scripture.  Rather, this interpretation came from Scripture itself.[3]  In other words, Luther claimed that his preaching and teaching did not come from his own interpretation, but from what Scripture said itself.

For Luther, claiming a personal interpretation as authoritative was the same thing as placing oneself as the final authority over Scripture (the very same thing the Catholic Church, in fact, does).  Instead of placing himself as the master of the text (magisterial use of reason), Luther submitted himself to the text of Scripture (ministerial use of reason) as servant.  He himself was not the final say of what Scripture meant or did not mean.  The Bible itself was (and is) such a judge.[4]

For the Catholic Church to claim that tradition or the teaching authority of the Catholic Church has legitimate religious authority over Scripture, or is the only one who can rightly interpret it, really, is to apply the erroneous accusation against Luther to itself.  Whether it be an individual (i.e. the personal believer or the pope), the Catholic Church, or another church that claims exclusive rights to correctly interpreting Scripture, each of these places themselves above Scripture, and therefore, against Scripture.  To make the claim, “That’s your interpretation,” where the other simply states what Scripture states, is to do the same thing.


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Peters, 2-3.

[3] 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21.

[4] The hermeneutical principle here described is, “Scriptura Sacra Sui Ipsuis Interpres” (Scripture interprets itself).

 

 

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God’s Work in the Church and in the World

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his talk. 16And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15–22)

In the world, but not of the world (John 17:11; 14-16).  This is the reality of the Christian.  The Christian is both physical and spiritual in one person.  We are flesh and blood, but as flesh and blood we also have a soul.  God promises us, right now, eternal life through Jesus Christ.  But right now, we seem Him not except by faith.  His Word gives what it says, but the world says something different.

When the pastor baptizes with water, the naked eye would tell us that water is applied, and that’s it, added is nothing more and nothing less.  Reason would say that the one baptized adds to the meaning or the significance of Baptism by choosing it and that if not, it is meaningless and futile.  Just by ourselves watching and seeing what’s going on in a Baptism, everything would tell us that nothing extraordinary is going on.  But God here speaks differently.  He says that one is to be baptized into the Name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not any ordinary Name.  St. Paul the Apostle, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that, As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death (Romans 6:3).  Christ Himself says, Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God and Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).  St. Peter, one of the twelve disciples of our Lord, also writes, There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

It is true that because of what God does, because of what He works and gives through Baptism, all who are baptized and believe God’s promise of forgiveness in Baptism have a clear conscience before God.  God’s Word cannot here fail.  His promise is sure and true.  Where God forgives, sin is forgiven.  Where He promises, that promise will be fulfilled.  Our conscience might tell us, even after hearing the words of absolution from the pastor, that our sins remain, that we’re not sorry enough, or that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness.  But here, we are to heed the Lord’s Word and not our own.  Even the devil, though he continue to plant doubt within the mind, and though He try to condemn, he can judge us none.  God is the One who justifies us.  No one, not even Satan, can be against us if God is for us (Romans 8:33, 31).

God’s promises are as good as done, but heaven, where our true citizenship is, we do not fully enjoy at the present (Philippians 3:20).  In the world we have tribulation.  There is suffering, burden, and enmity, even within one’s household.  We are God’s people and eagerly await our Lord’s return, for He will come again, a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).  But the Lord, as long as He prolongs His coming, says, “Wait”, that is, believe in me. “While you are here, your flesh will be tried.  You will be tested. Troubles will come, but fear not, I have overcome the world.  Your sin troubles you, but from your sin you are forgiven.  Live not for yourselves, but believe in me and love one another, your neighbor, and help them in their need.

To our eyes, things look as they appear.  But truly the phrase, ‘there is more here than meets the eye,’ is surely valid.  This especially holds true for the church, for it is a man speaking that you hear, words you speak in the liturgies, bread and wine that you eat and drink in the sacrament.  But what does God say?  St. Paul writes, These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13).

In another place He says, And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In Church, a man does speak and a man does preach, pages from a book are read, and bread and wine are consumed.  But more is going on here than meets the eye.  Though man speak the Word of God, it is God’s Word, no ordinary Word.  Though bread and wine be consumed, given also is the body and the blood of Christ for the remission of sins.  These things then are no ordinary things, nor is church just an ordinary place where ordinary things happen.  God is here, giving life through His Word and Sacraments.  Here is where He forgives sinners and gives eternal life.  Here is where He strengthens and increases faith, that we live out our lives in the world as His Holy people.

In this place is where God works by means of His Word.  He forces none to believe.  His Word goes out and those who believe will hear and believe and those who don’t, don’t.  God in this Kingdom of His, this Right Hand Kingdom, the Church, rules by His Word alone.  Here we have Christ, forgiveness, grace, and mercy.  Faith is the means whereby we apprehend God’s goodness and His gifts as our very own.  The one who disbelieves does not have God’s promise of help and comfort, but God’s judgement and condemnation remain upon Him.  This too may not be seen in the now time, but in the hereafter, it will be his reality.

God rules His Right Hand Kingdom, the Church, according to the Word.  By His Word He forgives sin and by His Word, He retains sin.  But in the world that our Lord rules, He rules not only according to His Word in the Church.  He rules another way, too.  He rules by means of force and with the use of authorities for the keeping of peace and order.  This is called the Left Hand Kingdom.  The Lord works through governments to bring about justice, order, and civility among its citizens.

Evidence for this Biblical teaching is given in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where He writes, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (Romans 13:1-7).

St. Peter writes similarly where He says, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

So also in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians to the question of taxes do we have evidence for such a thing as paying taxes and giving honor to whom honor is due.  They had asked Jesus the question, Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? in order to trap Him with His own words, but it was they who were silenced, not Christ.  Jesus answered their question with neither a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’.  Instead, He said what is right and true, and also the very thing that they themselves were not able to deny, Give the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.

The taxes that Caesar demanded were Caesar’s due.  Taxes that the American government demands are also their due.  This is because the government is established according to God’s order.  This does not mean that every government will be good.  Nor does this truth mandate that every government will be godly.  What it does mean is that whether good or bad, that their goodness or badness is not the final answer as to how you are to view it.

Parents can be either good or bad.  But being one or the other doesn’t change what God commands in the Fourth Commandment where He says, Honor Father and Mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2).  Fathers and mothers bear the responsibility of care, love, and discipline.  That is their lot.  But the one who is in their charge has the command to honor them who have that responsibility, whether they carry it out or not.  God doesn’t judge you based on what another is supposed to do.  He judges you based on what you are to do.  And thus you have Christ, judged for you that you not be condemned eternally.

Concerning the government, you aren’t judged based on what the government does with its God given authority.  Nor are you condemned because of any misuse or abuse of that authority, unless you are the one’s bearing it.  What you are accountable for is what God gives you in His Word.  Is it lawful to pay taxes?  If the government is due taxes, yes.  Not doing so is in direct contrast to what the Lord says.  The only time when it is permissible to not do as the government demands is when the government demands to be done what God forbids to be done.  Should the government try to keep the church from proclaiming Jesus Christ, We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  Should the church suffer for being faithful to our Lord, then let it be, for as Christ suffered, so will His church in the world.  But Christ’s church is His blessed Bride.  Though she look unimpressive and ordinary before the world, she is the bride of Christ, washed in His blood, precious and holy, awaiting union with her Christ.

God’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  Your citizenship is in heaven.  But in the meantime, you live in the world.  Christians are not hermits, nor do you live in communes as if to separate ourselves from the world.  You live in the world as God’s people.  It is true that you abide by man’s rules, giving honor here where it is due.  But it is also true that God is the ruler of all things, that He rules in the one kingdom using even physical means to bring about order, working through the established authorities to serve justice and providing help and sustenance to all people.  This is why police officers carry guns, batons, and other means of protection, not only for themselves, but also for others.  This is also why parents discipline, teachers correct, and judges judge.  Through these, our Lord works in His Left Hand Kingdom.

But through the Right Hand Kingdom, God works and rules through different means than force.  He works through words, Words declaring forgiveness to penitent sinners, sinners who are sorry for their sin; and words declaring no forgiveness to impenitent sinners, sinners who are not sorry for their sin.  Here in this Kingdom, God works through preaching and proclamation, through absolution and Sacrament.  Those who deny these deny also our Lord.  But those who hear and believe, these are given the very things that the Lord declares: sins forgiven, eternal life, and peace with God.

Honor is given God through believing His Word and living in the world through your respective callings, your vocations given by God, serving one another in love, and giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, as well as giving to God the things of God, hearing His Word, believing His promises, and receiving His blessing in the Sacrament of the Altar.  God’s Word, His promises, and the Lord’s Supper point to Christ, who truly and fully gave to God His Father that which we could not.  Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient and completely kept God’s command to love God and love neighbor for you, not so that you don’t do what God says, but that you do, rightly, through faith in Him who did.  Jesus was obedient, not for the reason that He needed it, but for the reason that you did.  Christ fulfilled the law for your sake.  For your sake He died and rose again, that you live forever with Him, even now, in your bodies, in the world, but through faith in God’s Son.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Mt22.15-22, Pentecost 18, 2011A, Sermon Outline & Notes

The Bible and the Gospel

The following is a portion of a recent letter by Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, referencing the new book Begin:

“When I was a public school teacher in Australia, I remember a ministry group that cam and addressed a school assembly.  They handed every student a copy of the New Testament, plus the Psalms and Proverbs.

“In one sense, I was thrilled to see students receiving God’s Word—but in another sense, I sighed.

“You see, I had already experienced students challenging my Christian faith because of what they were taught about evolution and millions of years in their textbooks.  These teachings were an enormous stumbling block to students at the assembly from even listening to the gospel.  What they had been taught in school undermined biblical authority—to them, the Bible, and its gospel message, could no longer be trusted!

“I sighted when these students received the New Testament because they did not receive Genesis chapters 1-11 that are the foundational history to fully understanding the gospel.  In fact, this history is ultimately foundational to every biblical doctrine.

“Back then, I certainly understood why the New Testament was handed out: the gospel is clearly presented.  However, I also understood from my day-to-day experience that for students, God’s Word had been shown not to be true in the Old Testament (particularly Genesis)—so why should they even bother to read the New Testament?”

 

Question…How much emphasis do we place on the authority of the Bible in order to clearly testify of God’s grace in Christ?  In asking such a question, my intention is not at all, in any way, to cast doubt on God’s imprimatur on the Holy Bible.  The Bible is indeed God’s infallible Word, no question about it!  Yet, I cannot prove this to you or to anyone.

I can say that the Bible is authoritative, inspired, infallible, God’s Word, without error (inerrant), and nothing but the truth (so it is!, and I will), but I cannot prove this to you.  Nor can I convince you, or anyone for that matter, to believe it.  Only God can do that (John 3:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:14).  Emphasizing the authority of the Bible as God’s Word will not at all ‘change’ anyone from a nonbeliever to a believer.  Only Christ’s Word does this.

Making efforts to show how the Old Testament and the New Testaments are true are indeed helpful, but the nonbeliever will never believe as a result of ‘evidence.’  St. Paul says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Here is where Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis demonstrate a shortcoming.  Trying to proving the Bible to be true (though the Bible is true indeed) will not convince anyone of its truthfulness.  Nor will acknowledging the truth of Holy Scripture lead to salvation.

Apologetics indeed does have its place.  But believing biblical authority does not then mean forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  These are only through faith in Jesus.  Ham and Answers in Genesis seem to be coming close to recasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to believing Scriptural authority.

In other words, a real danger exists of changing the Gospel, the Good News, of sins forgiven through faith in Christ as the only means of salvation to believing in Biblical authority as the means of salvation.

Played out, then, it is not faith in Jesus alone that would save, but faith in the authority of the Bible.  Answers in Genesis, seems to be implying this.

I certainly agree that the teaching of “evolution and millions of years” is eroding the faith of Christians (young and old) everywhere.  And what many are taught in school undermines biblical authority.  Of these truths, I have no doubts.

But to say that a “getting back to Scriptural authority” will save the day, to this I cannot agree.  It will not “save the day.”  Nor will telling people that the Bible is true, though it is.

Rather than trying to convince people that the Bible is true according to experience or by showing evidence for the purpose of convincing them merely that the Bible is true, God’s way of “evangelism” is simply to proclaim His Word.  God’s way of turning hardened sinners from unbelief to belief is by speaking the “no holds barred” Law, convincing sinners of their sin, not by the manner of the preacher, but according to God’s Holy Word.  If this the hearer will not hear, then the Gospel they will not hear either.

In other words, instead of trying to convince unbelievers (or even weak Christians) that the Bible is true, how about just speaking according to the Lord’s Word and having that Word have its way with them.  If they hear, then they will seek mercy and kindness.  To them, then, we can immediately speak the word of forgiveness that they (and we) so desperately need to hear.  If they believe the Gospel, then salvation is theirs.  But believing in the authority of the Bible does not save anyone.  Only faith in Jesus does.

This demonstrates a main difference among Christians, a difference that cannot be ignored.  Though I certainly appreciate and rejoice in all the resources and work that Answers makes available and does, a cautionary word is in order.  It is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings about salvation.  God’s Holy Word does convince of this truth—not evidence, not reasonable arguments, and not “believing” that Genes 1-11 is the foundational history to understanding the Gospel.  According to the Bible, salvation does not depend on believing the latter to be true.  Salvation, however, does depend on what one believes concerning Jesus—who He is and what He did for you!

It is, I believe, a difference in starting point.  Answers seems to suggest that if one believes the authority of the Bible, one will believe in the Gospel.  However, should one believe the Gospel according to Scripture, then one cannot but believe the Bible, should such faith be consistent with that Scripture, for all who will truly acknowledge and believe in Christ will truly and acknowledge and believe His Word (Luke 16:29-31; John 5:24; 8:47).

Such faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it must be said, does not come from believing that the Bible is authoritative for faith and life.  Such faith in Jesus Christ comes from God working faith in the heart through the very Word of God that is proclaimed; God working by means of His Holy Law which speaks against sin and our disobedience, and God proclaiming the Good News of sins forgiven in Christ.

This does not all mean that all who hear the Gospel will believe, nor that all who hear the Law will repent.  We do not know who all will believe and all who will not.  That is not the question.  Rather, God gives His people, the church, the task of preaching against sin and preaching Christ.  Where she does this faithfully, God will bless.  Where she does not, there confusion will remain, and there, God’s people will seek other emphases than the Word alone for creating and sustaining the Christian faith.

The Authority of Jesus’ Word, even over death

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:1-53)

The words of Caiaphas, who was high priest at the time he said them, were prophetic.  When He said to the others, It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish, he was speaking the truth, even the truth of our salvation, though he knew it not.  Caiaphas was saying these words to the Sanhedrin in order to direct them on how to save themselves from the Romans coming in taking their place and their nation.  What He didn’t realize, though, was that he was also speaking of God’s love, not only for the Jews, but for all people, that Jesus die for the sins of all, though He Himself had none.

The background for all of this discussion of the Sanhedrin, the council, the chief priests and the Pharisees, concerning Christ Jesus was none other than what we heard in the Gospel account of St. John, even the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

The man Lazarus had been dead for four days, four days, when the Lord cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth (John 11:43).  Here was a man who had no breath and no life, but Jesus raised him who was dead from the grave.  Here, Jesus demonstrates His authority over death.  He shows His power over the tomb.  The stone did not prevent Lazarus from coming out and neither would death itself keep him from approaching at the Lord’s call.

The Lord’s call to Lazarus did not go unheeded.  Nor does the Lord’s call today go unheeded.

Jesus indeed had said, Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live (John 5:25).

Christ speaks to you the very Words of life.  He raises you up from the deadness of our sins to new life in Him.  Because His Words are spirit and are life, they give what they say and say what they give (John 6:63).  He speaks forgiveness.  You are forgiven.  He speaks life.  You live.

The power of God’s Word does this.  Jesus Christ is that Word incarnate, through whom life, even eternal life, is given.  In the deadness of your sins, there is nothing awaiting you but death, even eternal death, but because of Christ, eternal death is no more a threat.  Even temporary death, the last trial of life, does not defeat.  When the Lord returns in glory, you shall meet as He is in our resurrected bodies.

As Jesus had said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:25-26).  Of Himself Jesus speaks.  Right in front of her was THE resurrection and THE life.  Though He Himself would die, even as Caiaphas had said, It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish, so He would also rise again on the third day.  Death would not hold Him.  The grave would not keep Him.

And so it is for all who live and believe in Him.  Such is the promise of the Lord, He shall never die.  What is meant here is not the physical death of the body, where the heart stops beating and the lungs cease.  What is meant here is that one who lives and believes in the Lord will not die eternally.  God grants everlasting blessedness and joy to they who trust in the Lord’s salvation, even Christ Jesus, who died for the people that the whole nation, the whole world, would not perish but have everlasting life.

The fact that the dead man Lazarus was raised from the dead was a work of God that none could deny.  Even the Pharisees, upon hearing the news, could not denounce the testimony of so many witnesses.  They were not able to refute the evidence that Lazarus, the one who was dead, was now alive.  And they say as such when they said, This man Jesus does many signs; signs, by the way, which they themselves were not capable of doing, and signs, too, which they could not disprove nor speak against.

In speaking as they did, and as unbelieving as they were, the true colors of the Pharisees and chief priests showed through. Because they did not believe, they could not but act against the truth that they saw with their own eyes.  Their hearts were hardened and something was to be done.  Where hearts are hardened, the truth of God will not only not be accepted, but fought against.  This we see here.

In their deliberations, meetings, and planning, their disdain for the truth, Christ Himself, and the love that they had for themselves appeared through the words of Caiaphas, words that they all agreed upon.  Jesus must die.  It would be better Him, the scapegoat, than us and our positions of honor and our nation.

The council of the Pharisees and the chief priests agreed to bring about the death of another in order to protect themselves.  They were not concerned about the people nor about peace.  They were concerned about what would come of them.  Their thoughts and motives were turned inward on their own well-being rather than on that of their neighbors.

What a distinction we see between the motives of the self-righteous Sanhedrin to protect their own selfish interests at the expense of another and the motives of the other on whom the Sanhedrin would dish out their death wish.  The Sanhedrin were completely self-centered.  Christ Jesus was completely other centered.  They meant it for their own good, without the thought of any others.  Jesus meant only for the good of all people and not for Himself.

Though the wicked do not believe, and though the wicked act completely for themselves, even if giving the impression of doing things for others, as the Pharisees and chief priests in our text, God works selflessly for the good of others.  This we see going on in Christ.

Jesus had authority to lay down His life down that He take it again (John 10:17).  Jesus Himself says, No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This command I have received from My Father (John 10:18).

The Sanhedrin could take no action against our Lord except it be permitted them to do so.  Here foreshadow the words of the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, where Pilate asks Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:9-11).

Pilate had been given authority from above to carry out the death of Jesus.  So had the Sanhedrin been permitted to arrest Jesus in the garden by the hand of Judas Iscariot.  But the truth remains that they did not have the last word.  Though the wicked have their way, God even works through what we cannot comprehend.  He saves through the death of Jesus that the whole nation and world not perish and to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

This is what Jesus did and does.  The Sanhedrin meant to do Jesus harm.  And they did.  But through that harm that they did to Jesus, even pushing for His death on the cross, Jesus would save the world and draw all men to Himself.

Through Christ’s death, God reconciled Himself to the world (2 Corinthians 5:18).  No longer are you at odds with God and He with you.  Your sin is no longer charged against you.  No longer are the children of God scattered abroad.  They come together in Christ.  He is your Head.  Christ and His truth truly unite.  The reason all are not united is because all do not accept the truth.  This is why there are so many denominations today.  But the Lord alone saves.  All people will not perish.  Christ our Savior has come.

Jesus has taken the full brunt of God’s wrath upon Himself, that wrath that you rightfully deserve because of your selfishness and your self-interests above the interests of others.  What Caiaphas the high priest said was true, more true than He ever knew.  Christ’s death was not only for them, sinners as they were, but for all sinners; and through Him forgiveness, life, and salvation is reality, reality for all who take a hold of His work and Word by faith, not doubting, but believing it as He says, and taking it as He gives.

All who believe in this Christ, this Jesus who died for all people, none excluded, who gave His life a ransom for all, that none perish but have everlasting life, these have the promises of God as their very own (1 Timothy 2:6; John 3:16).  Though some meant Christ’s death for His harm, God meant it for our good.

This is the truth that surpasses understanding.  Even through what isn’t right and what shouldn’t be, God works out the good pleasure of His will.  This in no way excuses what isn’t right or what shouldn’t be.  God’s good pleasure can and does work through these, but this doesn’t mean the stamp of approval is ever on what is not right.  God’s Word stands against wickedness and evil.  But even through these, God brings about good for His beloved, even us.

Though we don’t always see how these things are so, we don’t need to.  It’s not our concern.  What is our concern is what God has done and what He gives for our salvation.  By means of His Word, and Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar, He assures you and gives you His grace and favor.  These are sufficient to give you that peace which the world cannot give, but only that which Christ can and does.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

What Luther Says (Plass)

Resurrection

In his interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:2 Luther points out that here especially one should not consult reason and the senses.

3875 An Article of Faith in the Word, p1215

If you want to judge according to what you see and feel and, when the Word of God is set before you, want to pit your feeling against it and say: You tell me much; but my heart speaks a different language, and if you felt what I feel, you, too, would speak differently – then you do not have the Word of God in the heart but have quenched and extinguished it by your own thoughts, reason, and brooding.  In short, if you will not let the Word mean more to you than all your feeling, eyes, senses, and heart, you must be lost, and there is no further help for you.  For we are concerned with an article of faith, not an article of your reason or wisdom or human power and ability.

Therefore you must judge solely according to the Word in this matter, irrespective of what you feel and see.  I, too, feel my sin and the Law and the devil on my neck.  I feel that I lie under these as under a heavy burden.  But what should I do?  Should I argue according to such feeling and my own ability?  In that case I and all men would have to despair and perish.  If, however, I want to be helped, I must assuredly turn about, look to the Word, and say: I do indeed feel God’s wrath, the devil, death, and hell; but the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I have a gracious God through Christ, who is my Lord over the devil and all creatures.  If feel and see plainly enough that I and all men must sink into the grave and there decay.  But the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I shall rise in great glory and live forever. (W 36, 494f – E 51, 89f – SL 8, 1103)

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