Monday, April 29, 2013

Good Friday by the Numbers

One word in the Greek language that sums it all up, tetelestai.  It means, "it is finished."  It is the word Jesus spoke on the cross announcing to the world, to His people, and to His devilish enemies that His mission was accomplished.  It means everything to us weary souls.  It is finished.  It is paid for.  It is over.  Sins are paid for.  Heaven is secure.  Now hope can reign.  One word, tetelestai.

Two natures of Christ are in this one person Jesus: human and divine.  What a strange mixture that isn't a mixture!  What a strange combination that isn't a combination!  He is 100 percent truly divine and 100 percent truly human all at once.  It is mysterious.  It is mysteriously gracious.  He had to be true man to actually live and die in this flesh.  He had to be true God to live and die perfectly for our salvation.  Think about that: God died for you!  Two natures of Christ.

Three persons of the Trinity groan at this event.  The Father, oh, can you imagine the Father, watching His one and only suffer so much?  Can you imagine the groans?  The Son going uncomplaining forth as a lamb to the slaughter.  Innocent, but not naïve.  He knows what is coming.  He knows He has to do it, and He groans.  The Spirit groaning groans that words cannot express.  The Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son to teach you all these things about the cross so that you never forget.  Three persons of the Trinity groaning.

Four legs are broken that day, two each from the thieves who flank the God-man.  Four bones cracking in the absolute horror that is mankind's evil.  How jaded do you have to be to break the bones of a dying man just to make your job end quicker?  Four legs showing us that we really are a rotten human race.

Five wounds on the body of Christ.  Two hands, two feet, and one side.  Five places where foreign metal was inserted into the body, not to help but to harm.  Five wounds that we will never forget.  Five spots wounded in our place and for our salvation.  Five wounds.

Six hours did He hang there.  Six hours of excruciating pain.  Six hours of agony for us.  Six long hours, in which He still found the kindness to save a dying thief and to take care of His mother.  Six hours, six long hours.

Seven words did our Savior speak from the cross.  He asked for a drink, and He got vinegar—more bitterness for a suffering man.  He spoke compassion to His mother and to John, "Her is your son, and here is your mother."  He pleaded for grace for His captors, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they do."  He spoke grace to the thief, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."  And He spoke grace to us, "It is finished, tetelestai."  He spoke agony, "Why have You forsaken me?"  He spoke relief, "Father, into your hands I commit My spirit."  Seven words did our Savior speak.

Six days we labor on this earth before our heavenly Sabbath rest.  Six long days.  But our burden is light because our Savior suffered for six hours, six long hours.  Your burden is light because you have His grace.  You can suffer through it, you can.  He will never give you more than you can handle.  They are six long days but they are ultimately days of joy and peace because of Christ.  Six days, six good days.

Five wounds still haunt us and still lift us up.  Five wounds of Christ remind us of our sin but also of how precious we are in His sight.  How far He was willing to go so that we could have life!  Five wounds, five wounds we carry around in our hearts.

Four corners of the earth, that's where this message goes.  Almost everybody knows this; everybody needs to know this.  This is the most important event in the history of the world.  God died this day, and He did it for His creation.  And everybody is included.  He died for all.  And they need to know, they need to know this sacrificial love.  All four corners of the earth.

Three Marys stood by the cross.  Three women acting bravely while most of the manly disciples hid.  Three women, humbly pillars of a church.  Not unlike our women quietly holding up families and churches.  Three women who would be eyewitnesses to this horrifying death and eventually eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, too.  Three Marys who proceed into the world with His humble attitude of forgiveness and cross.  Three Marys who are role models.

Two thieves were there that day.  One penitently pleaded, "Forgive me."  One stubbornly said, "I do not need this grace.  I do not need it."  A cautionary tale to us all.  There is no difference between us and the worst of sinners.  We all stand condemned By grace alone are we on the side of the repentant thief.  By grace alone.  Two thieves so much like us.

On God speaking one word which sums it all up: Tetelestai.  It is finished.  One word from one God says it all to our tired hearts.  One God who was always there in the Old Testament, working in the New, preparing this sacrifice for each and every individual.  One God who was forgotten and spoken against and taken advantage of and disgraced.  On God who had the patience and mercy.  One God speaking one word.  One simple, eloquent, earthshaking, life-changing, eternity-securing word.  One beautiful word.  Tetelestai.  It is finished.  Amen.

Michael Berg, Gottesdienst 21.1, p. 6-7

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Eating from the Right Tree

So it was necessary that the Word became flesh and lived among us, that He might overcome Satan by the tree of the cross as Satan once overcame man by a tree.  This Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, has dressed us in His righteousness by calling us through the word of the Gospel.…  That Gospel word proclaims Christ as the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.…  The fruit of this Tree removes the curse from the sons of Adam.  The Holy Spirit has called us into faith by that blessed Gospel of the crucified Lord, that believing in this Word we may eat from the Tree of Life and never die.

Karl Fabrizius, Gottesdienst, 20.4, p. 20

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Gender Wars

There has a been a long-fought war to dabble in social experiments and redefine gender roles.  It did not start in my generation nor in the previous but has been waged for centuries, even millenia.  We are not enlightened, civilized, or progressive in pursuing this as a society.  Those who are spiritual recognize and call it what it is—sin and degradation.

Woman was not made for this, O man, to be prostituted as common.  O you subverters of all decency, who use men, as if they were women, and lead out women to war, as if they were men!  This is the work of the devil, to subvert and confound all things, to leap over the boundaries that have been appointed from the beginning, and remove those which God has set to nature.  For God assigned to woman the care of the house only, to man the conduct of public affairs.  But you reduce the head to the feet, and raise the feet to the head.  You suffer women to bear arms, and are not ashamed.  But why do I mention these things?  They introduce on the stage a woman that murders her own children, nor are they ashamed to stuff the ears of men with such abominable stories.

John Chrysostom, Homily V on Titus (2:11-14)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

As Though It Were Actually True, Matthew Cochran – Book Review

Back in December, I was checking the website of a Lutheran church where a coworker of my wife was to be married. I noticed that one class under Christian Education was on the subject of apologetics using the pictured book and taught by the author.  This piqued my interest on more than one level: (1) this church was even teaching apologetics because the subject is usually perceived as boring or difficult; (2) the author was teaching the course using his own work; and (3) the author lives in the same metropolitan area as I.

Matthew Cochran is a software engineer and a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary – Fort Wayne, IN.  These combined influences have been put to good use resulting in this introduction to Christian apologetics.

The book is organized into three sections.  The first establishes a foundation by examining the philosophy underlying Christian epistemology—reason and its relation to faith, the reality and denial of truth, sin and its evidence through the use of natural law, and God's existence.  The discussion allows the author to help the reader build a foundation of possible argumentation of those things that are evident in the world before opening the Bible itself.  This is a worthwhile goal, as many Christians lack basic skills of logic and reasoning, especially when confronted with an opposing view.

After demonstrating the reasonableness of Christianity, the second section interacts with its historicity.  The author begins with a critical view of the text, its nature and veracity, as well as the reliability of the authors, before examining the claims of Jesus concerning himself and scripture, then finishing with a comparison between genuine and false gospels.  As an aside comment, I appreciated the helpful explanation of accuracy and precision as it relates to inerrancy.

The third section of this book takes up practical matters with which Christians interact almost daily through the media, workplace, or various acquaintances: sciences, life issues, sexuality, feminism, and tolerance.  Worldly opinions in each are becoming increasingly antagonistic to the Christian worldview, and the author does a good job of demonstrating how the believer can demonstrate the fallacy of the world's arguments while demonstrating genuine concern for those making their claims.

As I said at the beginning, this is a good introductory text.  The content is well-written and accessible for any of teenage years or older.  I would encourage the purchase and use of this book for personal or group study.  It is published through Wipf and Stock and also available through retail book outlets.

To learn more of Matthew Cochran, visit his website or blog.

Listening for Something New or Something True?

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Psalm 119:103

The pious listener learns then not so much to try to learn something new about God in the sermon, but to see himself as the object of the Law’s accusations and of the Gospel’s forgiving grace.  He is not so interested in hearing new information or so many facts as he is in being cut open and stitched back up again, or, even more pointedly, slain and raised.  He wants to interact with God, to be the object of God’s scrutiny according to the Law and then of God’s doting affection in the Gospel.  God enters into the hearer and bestows faith through the ear.  His Word has its way with the hearer and loves the hearer.  It never changes and yet is ever new.  Thus what the hearer hears he has always known, believed, and hoped.… Still it is ever new, for this Word of God is ever opening, revealing Himself and His grace to men, and making those blessed to hear His Word new.

David Petersen, "How to Listen to a Sermon," Around the Word 1.1, p. 15-16.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Baptism: Symbol of Death, Resurrection, and the Life to Come

Because it was necessary that we who were born later should receive faith concerning the above future good things and that we should believe that our Savior, our head and the cause of all of them for us, was Christ our Lord, it was imperative that He should also arrange as much as possible our mode of life in this world according to the hope of the future.  It is with justice, therefore, that in this also He became our head.  He was baptized so that He might give a symbol to our own baptism.  In it He was freed from all the obligations of the law.  He performed also all the economy of the Gospel: He chose disciples to Himself, established the teaching of a new law and a new doctrine, promulgated ways of acting congruous to His teaching and different from the teaching of the Law, and taught that the ways of acting of us who believe should be in harmony with those.*

We also when we are baptized show the symbol of that world to come; we die with Him in baptism, and we rise symbolically with Him, and we endeavor to live according to His law in the hope of the future good things which we expect to share with Him at the resurrection from the dead.  If Christ our Lord had immediately after His rising from the dead, raised also all men who had previously died, and had bestowed upon them new life fully and immediately, we should have been in no need of doing anything; as, however, He actually performed only on Himself the renewal which is to come and through which He rose from the dead and His body became immortal and His soul immutable, it became necessary that this decrepit and mortal world should last further in order that mankind might believe in Him and receive the hope of communion and future life.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Nicene Creed, 6

Monday, April 8, 2013

All for One, and One for All?

We were reminded in the sermon this past Sunday morning that one thing Christians are called to do is encourage one another to continue in unity.  On one hand this sounds easy: all we need do is believe God's Word.  In reality Satan opposes this at every turn by setting his schemes (Eph 6:11) and raising up fierce wolves (Acts 20:29) who will destroy the flock.

But not only must we guard against things which are open and manifest but also against those which deceive with the subtlety of clever fraud.  Now what is more clever, or what more subtle than that the enemy [Satan], detected and cast down by the coming of Christ, after light had come to the Gentiles, and the saving splendor had shone forth for the preservation of man,… devise a new fraud, under the very title of Christian name to deceive the incautious?  He invented heresies and schisms with which to overthrow the faith, to corrupt the truth, to divide unity.  Those whom he cannot hold in the blindness of the old way, he circumvents and deceives by the error of a new way.  He snatches men from the Church itself, and, while they seem to themselves to have already approached the light and to have escaped the night of the world, he again pours forth other shadows upon the unsuspecting, so that, although they do not stand with the Gospel of Christ and with the observation of Him and with the law, they call themselves Christians, and, although they walk in darkness, they think that they have light, while the adversary cajoles and deceives, who, as the Apostle says, transforms himself into an angel of light, and adorns his ministers as those of justice who offer night for day, death for salvation, despair under the offer of hope, perfidy* under the pretext of faith, antichrist under the name of Christ, so that while they tell plausible lies, they frustrate the truth by their subtlety. This happens, most beloved brethren, because there is no return to the source of truth, and the Head is not sought, and the doctrine of the heavenly Master is not kept.

* Latin perfidia, here translated 'perfidy,' is in Cyprian always the opposite of fides, 'faith'; hence, lack of faith.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Our Assurance Lies in God's Ability to Save and Keep

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  (Romans 8:29-30)

Thus this doctrine affords also the excellent, glorious consolation that God was so greatly concerned about the conversion, righteousness, and salvation of every Christian, and so faithfully purposed it that before the foundation of the world was laid, He deliberated concerning it, and in His purpose ordained how He would bring me to salvation, and preserve me.  Also, that He wished to secure my salvation so well and certainly that, since through the weakness and wickedness of our flesh it could easily be lost from our hands, or through craft and might of the devil and the world be snatched and taken from us, He ordained it in His eternal purpose, which cannot fail or be overthrown, and placed it for preservation in the almighty hand of our Savior Jesus Christ, from which no one can pluck us (John 10:28).  Hence Paul also says: Because we have been called according to the purpose of God, who will separate us from the love of God in Christ? (Rom. 8:28, 39.)

Moreover, this doctrine provides glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations, namely, that God in His counsel, before the time of the world, determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses, grant patience, give consolation, excite hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation.  Also, as Paul in a very consolatory way treats this, that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son, and that to every one His cross shall and must work together for good, because they are called according to the purpose.  Therefore, Paul has concluded that it is certain and indubitable that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  (See Romans 8:28, 29, 35, 38, 39.)

Formula of Concord, XI.45-49