Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Heresies in The Shack, Part 2 – The Source of Religious Knowledge (and the Nature of God)

A great deal of the movie’s themes are wrapped up in the idea that man cannot know the mind of God.  This is truly Scriptural, as St. Paul writes, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).  So in the film, Papa (the nickname for God) declares, “You have no idea how much I’m doing right now,” while appearing to the main character, Mack, to be sunbathing.  Likewise, the personification of Wisdom convinces Mack of this moral: God’s job is very, very difficult, so don’t act like you can do what he does.

In the midst of all this unknowability of God’s mind and thoughts, Papa directs Mack (and the audience) to a faith-understanding, or trust, based on feelings.  When Mack asks questions, frequently he is directed to look inside himself and investigate how he feels about it.  Never is Mack directed to the Word of God to understand God’s will.  Instead, the Word is often dismissed and belittled.  For example, when Papa appears to Mack as a large, comforting woman, he asks her name.  Her response is, “I am known by many names.  One of my favorites is Elousia.”  Then, when “I AM” is brought up, Papa jokingly says, “I AM that I AM,” dismissing the Scripturally revealed name of God. The name God reveals of himself in Scripture is therefore dismissed in favor of a man-made name that Papa presumably cherishes because one of his children invented it for him (depicting God as a glorified loving parent who frames up the terrible mac-and-cheese art made by his children, not because it’s good, but because he loves them).

On another occasion, Mack interrogates Papa on why he abandoned his Son Jesus on the cross.  Mack even quotes Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  Papa brushes this quotation off and says, “You don’t understand the mystery.”  She then shows Mack the nail scars that she has on her hands, seeking to prove that she (God the Father) was with Jesus in his death. (More on this specific event later.)

If this isn’t enough evidence to demonstrate that The Shack directs the audience away from Scripture for God’s revelation, Mack receives his communication from God via an unmarked envelope in his mailbox, not from God’s Word.  St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: “[C]ontinue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The Shack at least implies that something else is needed to supplement Scripture – and if you’d like to put a name to what that other thing is, it’s “Subjective Feelings.”

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Ash Wednesday 2017

ash-wednesday-2017-redeemer

 

Why place ashes on our foreheads?  It’s an old, old Church tradition that carries with it an important symbolism.  By placing ashes on our foreheads, we enter a visible state of repentance, knowing what God said after the Fall into sin: “for your are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The ashes signify our complete inability to save ourselves, and our faith that the death of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought us the life we had lost.  Join us Wednesday, March 1st at 2 PM for the imposition of ashes.

The evening of March 1st, our regular schedule of Wednesday night Lenten Vespers begins with our service at 6:30.  We begin by looking back at that Garden where mankind fell, but always in light of the promise of One who would restore life in the fruit of his blood.

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Text: Psalm 42:3-6a

“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Life is hard.  Bills to pay; money to earn to pay the bills; hours to work to earn the money to pay the bills.  And that’s just the difficulty of material things.  What about the difficulties of emotional distress?  What about depression, anxiety, and everything in-between?  And what about the difficulties of interpersonal relationships?  What about friends who are distant and unable to help, and enemies who are near and seeking actively to harm?  Or what about those oblivious people who are even nearer that aren’t actively seeking to harm you, but by their ignorance do more damage than enemies?

Amid this life of pain and tears, of dullness and apparent meaninglessness, the question is asked, not just by your enemies, but by your own soul, “Where is your God?”  Where is God during trial and hardship?  Why does God allow suffering?  These questions have tormented people for millennia.

This song of Psalm 42 sings of a memory amid suffering:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

The memory of the singer is a sweet one, when he would dance in front of the mass of thousands of worshipers coming into God’s house, singing songs of praise to God, all eager and excited to come and worship, to receive the spiritual blessings of God.  The memory’s sweetness serves to make the current situation—he is away from the festivals of praise, he is suffering, he is surrounded by enemies and tormented by them—all the more bitter.  But the memory also serves to encourage him:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Remembering the worship, the hymns he sang, the singer who suffers now encourages himself that he “shall again praise” God.  He recognizes that the situation of suffering in which he finds himself now is temporary, fleeting.  He had a foretaste of the eternal joy and glory he would experience when he worshiped.  The hymns he had sung told his soul that he would sing hymns of praise to God in heavenly bliss.  “Even in this life, we as Christians will travel showing that our citizenship is in heaven, that we’re bound for the promised land.  The Bible pictures our earthly life like a camping trip.  We are just tenting here as Israel did for forty years.  We are waiting to be free from the vanity of this prison house.  Therefore our hope and confidence are not based on how large our tents are here but on the fact that heavenly mansions are waiting for us.”[1]

Remember your worship when you go home.  Remember the hymns we sing, and the joyful message of salvation that they sing to you, melodiously providing the hope of your eternal life when you will sing to your Lord in heavenly bliss.  Let the notes of song lift you above this terrible existence, this foul campground, and provide you a glimpse of heavenly bliss.  Your God has become your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, taking all our bitter tears into himself, and rose into life amid the joyous song of angels just as we will rise into eternal life to join that angel song.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee. Amen. (ELH 262)

[1] Gaylin Schmeling, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven,” From Wilderness to Promised Land (Mankato, MN: Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary Press, 2012), 114.

Feasting with God #49 – An Exceedingly Good Land

Feasting with God #49

“An Exceedingly Good Land”

Text: Numbers 14:6-11, 21-23

6And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy out, is an exceedingly good land.  8If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  9Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  10Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.  But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.  11And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them…?  21But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.  And none of those who despised me shall see it.”

“Well, that was dumb.”  I remember thinking that when, as a student in Sunday School, I first learned about Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  40 years of suffering and yearning and hungering could have been avoided, if only they had trusted in God.  They made a really dumb mistake.  Joshua and Caleb even tried pointing out how little they  had to worry about: “And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  St. Paul repeats this concept in the New Testament: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Joshua and Caleb tried to tell the Israelites, “God has promised this land to us: with him on our side, we’ll eat our enemies alive!

But their message of hope was met with intense hostility: “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”  Human nature was taking over.  Rather than trust God, believe his promises, and stop relying on themselves, these men preferred to fear, and, blinded by that fear, wanted escape.  They thought that Joshua and Caleb were leading them into certain death.

But it really was dumb.  As God himself said, “And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  These people had seen the miracles Moses performed; they had witnessed the ten plagues firsthand; they had been given water from a rock and received miraculous quail and manna from heaven.  Nevertheless, even after all these things, they thought, “Sure, God did that, but he can’t do this.”  Because of their unbelief, they were cursed to wander through the wilderness for 40 years, while the rebellious generation died out and a new, believing generation rose up in their place.

Think again of Paul’s encouragement to rely on the Lord: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and as proof, he goes on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will ne not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).  Like the Israelites, we have witnessed the providence of God already: to them he gave deliverance, nourishment, grace; to us he gave his Son the Deliverer, the Nourishment of his Word and Sacraments, and the Grace of Salvation and Eternal Life.  For the Israelites, what they had already received should have assured them that they would receive what was promised.  For us, what we have already received should assure us of what is promised.

Israel’s 40-year sojourn through the wilderness is one inspiration for the season of Lent—a 40-day sojourn through repentance.  At the end of Israel’s journey, they came to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.  At the end of our Lenten journey, we come to Easter, the Resurrection, a time of joy for God’s eternal gifts overflowing from the empty tomb.  As Israel’s voyage brought about the death of the old, sinful generation and the rising of the new, faithful generation, our voyage of repentance puts to death the Old sinful Adam of our flesh and gives rise to the new man made in the image of Christ.  Lent should be a spiritual exercise in letting go of our selves and our doubts and our fears, placing our trust wholly into the arms of God.  Humble yourselves this season, and be like the father of the child with an unclean spirit, falling before Jesus and crying out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Our God is faithful to forgive and to give us promised salvation.

Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!  Keep us from being overcome with the weight of the world, and instead help us to cast all our cares on you, and be assured that you have borne all our burdens and will give us every good thing.  Lead us to daily repentance and sorrow over sin, so that daily we might receive your forgiveness, all on the basis of the passionate death of your dear Son, and his glorious resurrection from the dead.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #47 – The Secret Elixir for Eternal Life

Feasting with God #47

The Secret Elixir for Eternal Life

“Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)

Text: John 6:53-58

53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread that the fathers ate and died.  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The Fountain of Youth.  The Holy Grail.  The Tree of Life.  Legends abound in our human cultures about that secret magical fluid that, when drunk, grants the drinker immortality, eternal life.  An immortal soul, a life that never ends—it’s natural for life to desire to continue.  So to find the way to continue endlessly, that is the keenest desire of the living being.

But an earthly elixir does not exist.  Yes, the Tree of Life was a real tree in the Garden of Eden, but since man’s expulsion from that Garden its location has been lost, and it will never again be found (perhaps it was even destroyed in the Deluge).  Likewise the Holy Grail was a literal cup used by Jesus, but its holiness was not its own, rather the holiness of the blood of God that it contained.

Just notice, looking at these legends, how deeply connected they are to Christian tradition.  Even the Fountain of Youth is frequently considered to be a pool at the base of the Tree of Life, drawing its powers from there.  So-called Christians for centuries searched for the mythical granters of immortality.  But where did we go so wrong?

The Jews of Jesus’ day were likewise misled by their personal blindness and preference.  When Jesus was talking about giving his flesh and blood, they were astonished and “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52).  Even the disciples, the followers of Jesus, “they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’  But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’” (6:60-61).  The Jews and the disciples certainly wanted the ability to live forever (for they said, “Sir, give us this bread always” [6:34], before Jesus revealed that he was talking about his flesh).  But their minds were fixed on worldly things.  They thought that Jesus meant an earthly immortality, the same way these Christians seeking the Fountain of Youth seek an earthly immortality.  Having in mind carnal things, when Jesus tells them that the answer is “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” only disgust can follow.

But Jesus speaks in spiritual terms.  At this time in the Gospels he isn’t even talking yet about the Lord’s Supper.  He is talking entirely about faith.  The true food that gives life to all who eat it, the true drink that sustains eternally those who drink it, is Jesus himself.  If we abide in him by faith, he abides in us, and we are upheld by his life.

He draws the parallel: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”  We confess the Triune God, in which relationship we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds” (Nicene Creed).  In the mystery of their relationship, we see the Son drawing life from the Father, in a similar way to how we who believe in Jesus draw life from him.

And in this it is essential to understand Jesus as true God and true Man—Man because he has flesh and blood, in which he died and paid the price for sins.  This is what Jesus means by “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.”  Believe in his flesh, and receive in faith the benefits he bought with his blood.  And God, because through that flesh and blood he delivers to us divine life.  It is because Jesus is true God that he can deliver what he promises to those who believe in him: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day….  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Dear Lord, you who sent your only-begotten Son, very God of very God, into the flesh in order to bear our sins upon his own body and to ransom our souls from hell with his blood, sustain us by that heavenly food, by your Holy Spirit instilling faith and your grace in our hearts, so that the eternal life that you have promised may indeed be ours, through the same, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #33 – Thirsting for God

Feasting with God #33

Thirsting for God

Text: Psalm 42:1-3

1As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

In a world which seems hell-bent on destroying anything to do with our Christian faith, the imagery of this psalm is particularly relatable.  The despair we feel at the seeming victory of the godless, of this world’s prince, even of sin over our own bodies can make us fall into this deep, physical thirsting.  As a deer, who runs in the chase away from its predators, wants only to stop and take a drink from a stream, we in our lives just want to rest, just want to have sanctuary before our God and to be nourished by him.

But instead, why does it so often seem that the only thing we’re able to drink is our own tears?  Our own predators chase us mercilessly.  They never grow tired.  They never stop.  We hide from them behind locked doors, only to find that they’ve already gotten inside.  We run back outside, trying to find protection among friends, only to find that our predators are hidden even among those friends.  Exactly how these predators attack us is said by this psalm: “They say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

These predators don’t attack our bodies.  They attack our faith.  They try to create doubt in our hearts.  They mock us before others so that when we can’t answer their tough questions, we become fools in the eyes of others, and suddenly it seems that it’s our fault that the faith of others starts to fail.  Then we start to ask, “Where is God at these times?”  We’re dying of thirst, because the nourishment of God seems absent.

But this psalm goes on:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God….
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me. (Ps. 42:5, 7)

Hope is what this psalm encourages.  St. Paul has this to say about hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).  No, we don’t see God’s salvation at these moments.  We don’t see God standing on our side.  But we hope for him.  This psalm talks about remembrance, how the speaker remembers how God came through for him in the past: if God helped him before, he will certainly do so again.

And with hope, even before the deliverance is seen, our thirst is quenched: even beyond what we could have imagined: the psalm speaks of God’s “waterfalls” and “breakers” and “waves.”  We are not given any mere stream of water, but even simply by the hope of what God will give us, we have roaring waterfalls which echo so loudly that “deep calls to deep.”

Jesus told his followers, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).  This is the essence of hope.  When we seek for God’s kingdom and righteousness, we have a sure hope that he will give them to us.  This hope is sure because these things were won for us, and are freely given to us, by Jesus Christ himself who died on the cross for our unrighteousness, and rose from the dead to share with us his righteousness, and to open the gates of God’s kingdom for us.  We can look back, remember that historic event, remember how God gave up his own Son for our salvation, and have that as foundation for our hope in what God will give us further on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

So yes, we do thirst for God, but not in despair: we thirst for him in hope.

Heavenly Father, who was gracious enough to give up your Son for our salvation, we hope, we thirst, we yearn desperately for all your blessings.  Deliver us from evil in this world, as you have promised.  Forgive us all our sins, as you have promised.  Refresh us continually with your Word, as you have promised.  Bring us to our heavenly home and eternal refreshment, as you have promised.  We ask it for the sake of your Son, who sacrificed all so that these things might be ours.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #22 – A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Feasting with God #22

A Table in the Presence of My Enemies

Text: Psalm 23:5-6

5You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows.
6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
     forever.

This psalm is in our culture today among the most beloved, because of the great comfort it gives.  It begins with the personal care and comfort we claim from God, stating, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).  The very sick or the dying have found comfort in the passage, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (23:4).  God is present to the one who speaks this psalm, very close and providing comfort and care and guidance, and it moves us to let go of any reliance on ourselves and to yield to God’s caring arms, like a tired child in the arms of his parent.

The verses cited above are no different from the rest of the psalm; they speak of the same great comfort, but there’s something new: our comfort comes “in the presence of my enemies.”  It seems as though we mean to gloat: that we’re showing off to our enemies, proving the riches we have and letting them starve or eat dirt.  If we take that picture too far, it seems like we’re turning ourselves into the rich man who denied help to poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

This devotional series is called Feasting with God for a reason.  We are moved by these passages of Scripture to see the great blessings God provides for us, often spoken of metaphorically as a great banquet or feast.  God feeds his people, so that we never go hungry.  And the blessings of this food are explained in the passage above: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  The blessings that God feeds us with are goodness and mercy in this life, and dwelling in God’s house in eternal life.  We have two sorts of blessings: blessings now, and blessings hereafter.  These blessings are so great, and move us to such wonderful appreciation and thanksgiving to God, that we want to show them off, we want to share them.

Perhaps this means we share them with our friends, showing them what great blessings we have, as Peter writes encourages Christians to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Notice, they are the ones asking us.  So they have to see the evidence of our hope.  We hope in the blessings which we receive now, and which we will receive hereafter.  That ought to be visible.

But the text speaks specifically of enemies.  Christians have plenty of enemies.  The whole world is full of sin, and sometimes it is our own sin which is our enemy.  Sometimes it is the author of evil, the devil himself, seeking to tear us down.  Sometimes it is other people, who see the things we teach and believe that we are close-minded, old-fashioned, bigoted.  We can have courage in the face of all these troubles, however, because God provides a table of blessings before us, even before them.  Even when these enemies are gnashing their teeth at us the worst, we have God’s blessings.  And sometimes that means that those enemies will see our blessings as well.  Sometimes those enemies will notice that our spirit is not broken despite their best efforts.  Perhaps that will make those enemies lose heart, or perhaps it will cause those enemies to become jealous of our hope and blessings, and perhaps they’ll want to have some of those same blessings.

It’s always a good thing for our blessings to show.  No, these blessings aren’t physical things—perhaps we’re blessed with a good job, a happy family, a nice house, fine toys and things—the real blessings that we show, though, are the spiritual blessings we have received: faith in the one true God, in his Son Jesus Christ who died to win us eternal life.  Let the joy of that show on our faces.  Trust the Holy Spirit to keep us safe and secure in that faith.  And notice, it’s not up to us to try really hard to show it off.  It’s God who prepares this table before us.  Our faith rests fully and securely in him.

Dear Lord, our Good Shepherd, guide us as you have promised in green pastures and beside still waters.  Restore our souls and lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.  When we face death or deep darkness, help us to fear no evil, knowing that you are with us, comforting us with your Word.  Prepare before us a table of sweet blessings that all our enemies may see.  Confirm your election of us by keeping us in faith, making us sure of the goodness and mercy that follow us in this life, and of the hope of our eternal life, dwelling in your house forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #20 – See My Hands and My Feet

Feasting with God #20

See My Hands and My Feet

Text: Luke 24:36-43

36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”  37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter Sunday we Christians rejoice in our risen Savior, because he not only died to take the punishment that our sins deserved, but he rose to life to prove that God had set his seal of approval on Jesus’ sacrifice.  Therefore we know that we, too, will rise again to new life through our faith in him.

Of course, that fact means little if we never heard about it.  It could have easily been left as a mystery in the ages what happened to Christ’s body.  He could easily have become just one more idealist who died for his beliefs.  But the plain fact is that he didn’t stay dead.  And we know this because he appeared to his disciples alive again, proving to them that their sins were paid for.

Think of the progression: Jesus rose from the dead, then he appeared to a few on Easter Sunday.  Those few told others, and Jesus himself appeared to others in the days that followed.  Then the message spread from those who saw him to others, who told others, who told others, until, 2,000 years later, you and I heard about it.  Hearing this message should bring us such joy!  Hearing that our Savior rose from the dead should give us confidence to go through life, because we know that only joy and blessing await on the other side.

At Jesus’ resurrection we commonly talk about the beginning of his “exaltation.”  While he lived on earth, from his conception until his death and burial, we speak of his “humiliation.”  That was the time that Jesus humbled himself, brought himself down to our level, was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:5).  But at his resurrection he returned fully to his Godly power.  Now that the work of redemption and salvation was complete, he could come into his power once again to attend to the work of preserving the world, of exercising God’s power and authority in heaven.  And yet, even after his humiliation was complete, Jesus demonstrated some of that humiliation again.

The almighty God needs no food.  The Creator of the universe doesn’t need something cooked up by men in order to survive.  And yet, Jesus asked, “Have you anything here to eat?”  He ate not for his own nourishment, but for the benefit of his disciples.  He showed a little bit of humility once again, stooping down to do something as simple and base as eating.  By this he proved two things: 1) He wasn’t a ghost, but real, flesh-and-blood, alive; and 2) He is still a human being.  This is comforting to us on two accounts.  First of all, we see the proof that our Savior has really risen from the dead!  He has come back to life so we know that the price he paid has been accepted, and there’s nothing more we need to add.  Second, that Savior, our God, who sits in heaven, shares still in our human nature.  He still eats and drinks with us, and he understands the weaknesses, frailties, sorrows, and even joys of our humanity.  We have a God and a mediator who knows all we go through in life, and he promises to hear us and care for us through it all.

As the season of Easter progresses, rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord, and see what it means for our comfort and our salvation!

Dear Jesus, who suffered even the torments of hell in our place, we rejoice today in your resurrection.  Help us to rejoice in that event ever after.  Keep us from growing bored or tired of hearing the message of your resurrection, and lead us to acknowledge its truth.  Each time we sit to eat, remind us that you are there as well, as a human being the same as we are, and that you are also true God who hears our prayers and works for our benefit.  In your name and on account of the pure merits of your life, give us those blessings you have promised us of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #19 – Communing with a Betrayer

Feasting with God #19

Communing with a Betrayer

 

Text: Luke 22:19-23

19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

The Lord’s Supper is often called simply “Communion.” We refer to it in this way because in this meal, as we eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood we find ourselves in communion or fellowship with him. This meal brings us so close to Jesus, it is as though we are sitting down to an intimate dinner with family and close friends.  And not only are we in such close communion and fellowship with Christ, but we are with our fellow communing Christians – those who stand or kneel next to us at the altar rail, those in all other churches around the world, and even those who have died, the saints in heaven.  This sacrament is a sacrament of community, by which we confess that we share in the beliefs and mission of those we commune with.

But the first communion hosted an intruder.  It should have been the most intimate of suppers: Jesus and his closest followers, his twelve disciples.  But among them was the one who would betray their master.

Paul warns other Christians against the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).  The Lord’s Supper brings us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  These are brought to those who are in true communion with their Savior and with one another, but anyone who eats and drinks as though he is part of this communion and yet is not “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:29).  This difference we see between Judas and the other disciples, when we examine their ends.  Judas, who betrayed him, hanged himself in sorrow, unwilling to accept any forgiveness that would be offered to him.  The other disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, were sent into the mission of their Lord, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and to teach them Jesus’ doctrines and truths.  This they did joyfully, because the forgiveness that was offered to them on account of Jesus’ death – the forgiveness tangibly fed to them in this communion, inspired this new life in them.

Let us be aware of the forgiveness we receive in this communion, and of the closeness of our relationship with our Lord and one another.  Judas sought silver to replace all that, but what could be a greater treasure than forgiveness, life, salvation, and communion with God and our fellow Christians?  All that is possible because of the sacrifice Jesus made and the Supper he instituted.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the great gift you have given us in the Sacrament of Communion.  Guide us to see the wonder of the forgiveness, life, and salvation we receive there, and move us into ever closer fellowship with you and one another.  Make our faith and new life sincere, and strengthen it by this Supper.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #16 – Eating Abominations

Feasting with God #16

Eating Abominations

Text: Deuteronomy 14:3

3You shall not eat any abomination.

Has it ever struck you how strict the diet was for the Israelites?  Sure, today we see things labeled “Kosher,” and we know that Jewish people don’t eat pork.  But I suspect that unless we’re a part of that demographic, the restrictions of their meal plans don’t really stand out.

This verse today from the book of Deuteronomy serves as the overarching theme of what the nation of Israel was not to eat: no “abomination.”  The meaning of this word depends exclusively on the perspective of the person who speaks it, so as God is the one speaking it, what he means is that the Israelites were forbidden to eat anything that God would deem offensive.  Maybe his rules on their food were a little bit arbitrary, but he was grooming this nation to be one that was exclusively his, one to be separate from all the pagan nations of the earth.  The nation of Israel would have the true God, while all these other nations would have false gods.  One way this distinction was to be outwardly shown was through diet.  In worshiping the true God, the Israelites would obey God’s commands for what they were and were not to eat.

Now why don’t Christians follow these dietary laws?  It’s fairly common for Christians to eat things like pork and shellfish, but since we believe and follow the whole Bible, including the Old Testament, it seems we ought to make ourselves aware of these laws and do our best to follow them, so that we can be God’s pious people just as ancient Israel was.  But the answer comes in Acts 10:13-15.  Peter was given a vision of animals, all kinds of animals that would be called unclean or abominations.  “And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’  But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.’  And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’”

This new church of which Peter was now a part was no longer restricted to the nation of Israel.  The Gospel message was to be taken to all nations, and disciples made of all the people throughout the world.  There was no need for a diet to distinguish the people of God’s nation from all the heathen nations, because all nations were to be God’s.  And more than this, these laws of diet were given as a requirement to enhance the holiness of God’s people.  But because of what Jesus had done – keeping all the law perfectly, and dying for the sake of all uncleanness and abomination – there is no need for us to try to save ourselves by any law.  We are saved by grace and faith.  This is given to us freely, and that sets us free.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Paul writes (Gal. 5:1).  No laws can burden us, no special diets are required.  Instead, now, we are free to live and act in love – free to “eat or drink, or whatever you do,” but in every case, whatever we do, to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Yes, there are still things that will distinguish the Christian Church from the rest of the unbelieving world, but it’s not obedience to any law.  Instead, what set Christians apart are the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).  We live free from all laws, so we live in love toward God and one another, and that – not what foods we eat or don’t eat – marks us as God’s people.

Lord, guide us to a greater understanding of our Christian freedom, and to an appreciation for what a great gift it is you have given us.  Although we are no longer bound by any laws, O Lord, lead us to submit ourselves to the law of love, in which we can share the Gospel message of your Son who set us free, that others might also rejoice in this freedom.  In your Son’s name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.