Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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Tag Archives: Jesus

Heresies in The Shack, Part 5 – Conclusion

The Shack proclaims a particularly insidious form of false doctrine, because in many respects it comes so near to true doctrine.  But the Devil can also quote Scripture (cf. Matt. 4:1-11).  The values of love and forgiveness among neighbors are worthy, but when this is put into the mouth of God, it must be either Scripturally sound or rejected.  “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9).  I will not presume to judge the faith of the moviemakers or of William P. Young (who claims to be a Christian), but I will judge what they preach.  It is a gospel contrary to the one we have received.  It does not preach a Jesus who died to take our sins upon himself.  It does not preach that Jesus is the only way to life (John 14:6).  It gives strength to man himself to produce the faith that saves, to do the works of kindness and forgiveness.  The Shack is about our feelings, not about God.

That defense was given of the movie: “It’s only dangerous if you don’t know the Bible, because then you’ll think it’s real.”  If you know the Bible, however, you ought to know all those warnings given by Jesus, Peter, and Paul, such as: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).  While for some this movie may be feel-good, beware, for that is exactly what it seeks to do: by making you feel good, it preaches a doctrine of a God who wants only to make you feel good.  This movie is best avoided, as Paul said; and as Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).  Don’t be deceived by the fuzzy sheep’s wool that covers this film.  It is a wolf: “be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

Do not welcome this film into your life, into your home, into your heart.  That is all reserved by God for the truth.  He proclaims forgiveness, life, and salvation on account of Christ Jesus who took our place under his wrath, because God is both just (he must punish evil) and merciful (he is rich in steadfast love, forgiving us in Jesus’ name).  The God of The Shack is a sham, an idol, and a wimp.  The God of Scripture is almighty and merciful, who promises, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).  Believe in Jesus, as he is revealed in God’s true Word, not in this heretical trap.

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Heresies in The Shack, Part 3 – Justification, Forgiveness (and Jesus)

Jesus is a character in the movie, depicted as one member of the Trinity whom Mack meets at the titular shack.  Through their conversation he evasively explains that he is indeed human and also God, perpetuating the theme of God’s unknowableness.  He is presented as the one who created the stars, the face of God’s revelation, and the focus of man’s faith.  There is even reference to his death on the cross.  But the question that every moviegoer should ask is, “Why did Jesus die?”  Our Lutheran Confessions pronounce the Scriptural doctrine of justification in these terms:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, ‘was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification’ (Rom. 4:25).  He alone is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). ‘God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all’ (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, ‘all have sinned,’ and ‘they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood’ (Rom. 3:23-25).[i]

As opposed to this, The Shack never gives a direct answer to the question.  Whereas Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus’ death was vicarious (in our place), meaning that he took on himself the wrath that God, in his justice, must exact against sin—“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10); “Christ Jesus…gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 4:5-6)—Papa of The Shack responds to Mack’s mention of God’s wrath by saying, “You lost me there.”  The God of this film has no wrath over sin, but instead preaches, “Sin is its own punishment.”  This is demonstrated, too, in the way Papa brushes off Mack’s offense against the Second Commandment (when he proclaims “Oh, my God!” at the delicious food, then promptly apologizes).  Papa does not offer forgiveness, but instead implies that the outburst wasn’t a sin anyway.

Ultimately, according to the theology of The Shack, Jesus’ death is meaningless.  Whereas Scripture teaches that God took our “record of debt” and “set [it] aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14), Papa of The Shack seems helpless to do anything about sin, refuses to be a just God (which means that he would punish sin), and instead propounds the “I love you anyway” theology of Gospel Reductionism.

Papa states clearly that he is pained by the sin and evil in the world, but implies that it is not because it goes contrary to his will or goodness.  Instead the pain Papa feels over sin is at seeing his creation suffer.  The prophet Nahum proclaimed: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nah. 1:2-3).  Scripture is full of statements of God’s wrath against sin.  But here the God of The Shack is directly contradictory to the God of Scripture.

And if God’s wrath against sin is belittled, then the salvation Christ brought is also belittled.  Recall that occasion when Papa told Mack that he was suffering with Jesus on the cross, presenting scars on the Father that matched the scars on the Son.  Besides the heresy of Patripassianism, which teaches that the Father suffered and died as well as the Son (a heresy which has been condemned in the church since it arose in the 2nd century), this brief picture denies the Scriptural doctrine that God punished sin in Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).

This, in turn, belittles forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a major theme in the movie, as through Mack’s journey he learns to forgive his daughter’s murderer, his abusive and drunkard father, and himself.  But forgiveness from what?  Papa makes the statement that, when kind deeds are done, “the universe changes for the better.”  The narrator, Mack’s friend and neighbor, states near the end of the film, “The great sadness is gone.”  Likewise, when Papa hears a confession of Mack’s sin, her response is, “It’s okay.  It’s in the past.”  Mack echoes this sentiment to his guilt-stricken daughter later on, telling her that they shouldn’t think about the past anymore.  Forgiveness is always spoken in terms of overlooking sin, or forgetting sin.  Sin and guilt eat away at the protagonist and his family, and forgiveness, ultimately, is an emotional release.  Forgiveness is not a removal of our guilt and sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), but a removal of our bad feelings about sin.  Redemption, justification, and forgiveness in The Shack is all to do with this world and with our “Subjective Feelings.”

Take, for example, Jesus’ discussion in which he rejects “religion,” stating, “I don’t want slaves, but friends”: “I don’t care what you call them [my followers].  I just want to see people changed by knowing Papa, to know what it’s like to feel truly loved.”  The Jesus of The Shack doesn’t want to save people from sin, death, and hell.  He wants to save them from bad feelings.

[i] SA I.1-3, The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 292.

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 #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 #44 – Jesus Will Eat with Us

Feasting with God #44

Jesus Will Eat with Us

Text: Revelation 3:20

20Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Are you ready for the Advent of our Lord?  He is so near now, and could come at any moment, so that we should be constantly vigilant.

In St. John’s visions, Jesus speaks this statement as part of his letter to the church of Laodicea, which he had described as “neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).  This church needs warning because, while they are not opposed to Christ and his Word, they are not great promoters of him either.  Rather they say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (3:17).  They believe they are sufficient.  They believe that they have all the religion they need.

This is meant as a warning to us as well.  With any number of reasons (I don’t like the people; the seats are uncomfortable; the sermons are boring; etc.) many people think that church is unnecessary, and it’s justified in our minds by thinking, “I know I’m saved; I know God’s Word; I can worship on my own.”  While it’s true, solitary worship and prayer is heard by God, this does not mean “neglecting to meet together” is a healthy habit (Heb. 10:25).  Instead, the warning to the Laodiceans must be taken to heart, as well as the promise.

Jesus promises, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  The best way to be sure of hearing his voice is to sit awake by the door.  This is not a physical wakefulness; it is a spiritual one, a wakefulness of faith.

Driving down dark roads at night, when one has not been rested or nourished properly, is dangerous.  Sleep-deprived drivers, they say, are more dangerous than drunk drivers.  Partially that’s because it’s so difficult to realize when you’re falling asleep at the wheel.  Sleep sneaks up and pounces from behind.  On your own, you may think that by sheer force of will you can keep yourself awake, but without proper preparation and readiness, sleep wins.

To keep faith from falling asleep, it’s not a matter of keeping yourself awake by force of will.  Sleep wins over will all the time; it just waits for the will to get tired.  No, to keep faith awake, it needs the proper nutrients, it needs the occasional splash of cold water or pinch, it needs someone close by who can notice when sleep starts to slip in and keep your faith awake.

All this comes from being, not lukewarm or thinking, “I’ve got this,” but dependent upon the Word of God, which with its Law wakes us up to the fact that we are falling asleep on our own, and with its Gospel keeps our eyes focused on the prize at the end.

That prize is eternal fellowship with Jesus, when he comes in and sits at our table, sharing a feast with us.  He is already with us, because he knocked at the door and was given entrance by the Holy Spirit when his Word brought us to faith.  He will come again at the Last Day—when no one knows it will come—and if we are awake in faith and ready by the door, then we feast with him in heaven for eternity.

Lord Jesus, keep our faiths awake by close attendance to your Word and by fellowship with our fellow Christians when we gather together around that Word.  Let us never become lukewarm or proud, believing ourselves self-sufficient, but show us how we must depend on you entirely.  In your 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.

Feasting with God #43 – Eating and Drinking, Marrying and Giving in Marriage

Feasting with God #43

Eating and Drinking, Marrying and Giving in Marriage

Field of Lilies – Tiffany Studios, c. 1910, from Wikipedia

Text: Matthew 24:37-42

37“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

“Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  That’s what the heathen and proudly ignorant were up to before the Flood.  And, Jesus says, that’s what those same heathen and proudly ignorant will be doing in our own times, before the End.  But that’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?  Eating and drinking is how we are nourished, how we survive.  Marriage was instituted by God himself in the Garden of Eden.

It would be absurd to think that what Jesus is saying here is that eating, drinking, and marriage are evil and sinful.  Instead, the sin of these people (both before the Flood and before the End) is that they live for these things, and blind themselves to everything else.  Here is what that wicked ignorance means:

Even as men in that day lived in unthinking security, buried themselves in worldly cares, and failed to heed the signs of the times, so it shall be among the masses even now; moral laxity and gross materialism will spread like wildfire.  The sin of the people at the time of the Flood was not that they ate and drank and that they entered into wedlock.  This was God’s own order for the preservation and the propagation of the race.  But they lost themselves in these pursuits; they cared for nothing except the affairs of this life, for that which pertained to the flesh.  They closed their eyes to the signs of the times and their ears to the voice that spoke to them from God through Him whom Scripture calls the ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Pet. 2:5).  A condition of profound spiritual apathy had descended upon them.  ‘So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.’[1]

These people were missing the great truth Jesus had spoken previously: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).  Likewise, as Jesus’ sermon continued, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…?  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

It is so tempting to pay close attention to what one has accomplished, the impression one leaves on the world.  But when this becomes the all-in-all, and there is no attention left to give to heavenly things, when the eyes are fixed on the objects of this earth rather than the truths of God’s salvation, then those things become our only treasures, our gods.  This is why “one will be taken and one left.”  The one who is left had his eyes fixed on the ground he worked, her eyes on the millstone she turned, and his life could be counted in the heads of grain he picked, her life could be measured in how far that stone rolled; and meanwhile the one who is taken worked right alongside with his friend in the field, ground right next to her coworker in the mill, but this was not the life of these two.  These two worked the earth below, but had their eyes fixed on heaven above.

No doubt, in the field he spoke with his friend about his heavenly treasure and the joy he had, but his friend had blinded and deafened himself, hardened his heart to anything except the work which was his god.  No doubt, in the mill she talked about the salvation she had been given, the “reason for the hope” that was in her (1 Pet. 3:15), but her friend had hardened her heart, harder than that mighty millstone.

Let not your hearts be burdened by the cares of this world: remember that the kingdom of God, and all things, are yours, because the ruler of all things, Jesus Christ, God himself, died on the cross to transfer them to you.  Therefore keep your eyes on heavenly things, and “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Dear Jesus, dwell in our hearts and keep our eyes firmly fixed on you and the heavenly treasures you won for us.  When we eat and drink and marry and work, let all these things serve the purpose of building up those in faith, and of spreading that faith to all nations, all men who need to hear the Word of their 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.

[1] Joh. Ylvisaker, The Gospels (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932), 618.

Feasting with God #41 – Feed Not the Earthly Belly

Feasting with God #41

Feed Not the Earthly Belly

Philippians 3:17-21

17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

There are two types of people in the world: those who are spiritual and religious, and those whose “god is their belly.”  The last might often repeat: “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Is that how you treat spiritual things?  In fact, only 2.5% of the world claimed to be atheist, completely disregarding spiritual things, in 2011.  The other 97.5% claimed to have some acknowledgment of spiritual things—but what do they really mean?

Paul in fact draws the line into much narrower focus when he says to the Philippians, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”  It’s not just the lack of spiritual things which constitutes the idolatry of the belly.  It’s the ignorance of this very objective—in fact, very material—thing: the cross of Christ.

That same survey revealed that 33% of the world claimed to be Christian in 2011.  Another study, a year later, in 2012, estimated that 31.5% of the world claimed to be Christian.  Yes, the numbers seem to be decreasing, but do those who claim Christianity as their religious affiliation really cling to the cross of Christ, or is it a meaningless label?  Are they Christian because they might upset their family if they left?  Are they Christian so they can get their kids into a good school?  Are they Christian out of convenience?

Thoughts like these are what led Paul to tears.  Many, even though they may not look it, are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” and for such as these, “Their end is destruction.”  A pitiful, sad end, and Paul weeps for them.  All such, whether they claim to be Christian or not, if they are Christian not in faith but in name only, worship their bellies—that is, their own earthly wants and needs.  The spiritual, even that cross of Christ, is out of sight and out of mind.  They are concerned with the here and now, with paychecks and food on the table and clothing and housing and luxuries and toys.  Some of these things are in fact necessary for this earthly life, but rather than see that the eyes of all look to God, and he alone gives food in due season, opening his hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing (Ps. 145:15-16), they focus on these things as an end in themselves.  The belly-worshipers may think of the spiritual as something to be concerned with years down the road, or when trouble strikes, but not right now.  Right now, I need to get that meal.  Right now, I need to work this job.  Necessary, but God also says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Here’s the comfort that the Gospel brings: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That objective man who lived perfectly, yet died the death of sinners, is our Savior: he paid for our sin and gave us the prize he earned.  Because of him, we have our free ticket to get to heaven, and as the hymn says, “I’m but a stranger here; / Heav’n is my home” (ELH 474).

But he has already come.  Why does Paul say “we await” this Savior?  It’s because we await him to “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”  We await his return.  When we die, our material bodies will lay in the ground, “for you are dust, / and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19), “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7).  If this material body dies and rots, then our hope must be in what lasts: the spiritual.  But even after this, there is hope for the material!  For when Jesus Christ returns in glory, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).  We will rise, our spirits will rejoin our bodies, and our bodies will be glorified.

This is ours because we are not belly-worshipers, we are not enemies of the cross of Christ, but by faith we cling to that cross, and that Christ raises us out of the dust of our sin and makes us able to live our lives in him.

Dear Christ, we were born in sin, but you were born immaculate and pure.  We live our lives in constant sin, but you have kept every law in perfect obedience.  For our wickedness we deserve to suffer the pains of hell separated from our God, but you took that suffering on your own head on the cross.  We would be lost in our graves, but you rose and shattered the power of death, so that we are enabled to share our heavenly citizenship with you.  For this we thank you, and we look forward eagerly to your return when we are delivered from this wicked earth and brought into glory.  In your name, we ask that you come, Lord Jesus.  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 #38 – Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?

Feasting with God #38

Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?

Text: Luke 10:1-3

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Trees are changing this year, as they did last year and every year before, into fiery and warm colors, while the air around them is growing cooler, and already frost has touched the ground in some places.  It’s this time of year that we can expect to see pumpkins, gourds, corn and other crops freshly plucked appearing on the market, and even decorating our houses.  The seeds that were planted last season have sprouted and grown and produced fruit, and now it’s time to harvest.

This is a picture that Jesus used to demonstrate what the work of the Kingdom of God is.  Seeds have been planted, according to this picture, but the harvest is coming, and the work requires workers.  This is the very work for which Jesus sent out these seventy-two.  They were the harvesters being sent out.

How do we interpret this picture?  Elsewhere in Jesus’ parables the harvest seems to be the picture of the Last Day, when the faithful are harvested to be gathered into barns (eternal life in heaven) while the wicked who have rejected the faith are bundled up as weeds and thrown into the fire (eternal death in hell) (Matt. 13:24-30).  But that’s not the picture here.  The laborers of the harvest Jesus speaks of now are not the angels, for there is a fixed number of angels, and yet Jesus encourages the disciples to pray for more laborers.  These laborers, instead, are the seventy-two themselves, and others who perform the same work of harvesting.  This is the harvesting of souls for salvation within this life.  This is the work of evangelism, of sharing the good news.

Think of what a comfort this picture means: the seed is already planted.  Nothing new needs to be spread out.  The work of evangelism is merely to reap what God has already sown.  This takes a great deal of weight off of the one who is a laborer in this harvest: our task is simple, for we only put into action what has been prepared before.  We only share the Word already written, as Jesus said to his people when he ascended: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The message that is proclaimed by the harvesters is not one that we invent.  It is one already spoken by our Lord, by Christ, and we merely teach that same Word.

And this is a necessary work.  Souls cannot be saved if the laborers of the harvest will not do their work.  And these laborers, Jesus says, are few.  So we do pray to the Lord that he will send out laborers into his harvest—but be careful what you wish for!  Those who have received the Word (that is, all Christians), are the ones who will be sent as laborers into the harvest.  If you believe in this Word, you must be prepared to be placed into a position by your God in which you may do the work of the harvest.  You will be placed into a position in which you will share this Word you believe.

And here is where Jesus gives his warning: the laborers of the harvest are also lambs, defenseless, innocent creatures, and the crop they are sent to harvest is also a pack of ravenous wolves who may fall onto these lambs at any moment to tear them apart.  Our harvest is not an easy task of plucking inanimate objects.  We bring the enlivening Word of God to souls which are hardened against it.  There are, in fact, only two types of people in the world: believers and unbelievers.  The believers are the lambs and the laborers of the harvest.  The unbelievers are the field of crop and the pack of wolves.  The work of the harvesters, the believers, is to go into dangerous territory and to seek to make lambs out of these wolves.  This is not only a dangerous task; it is humanly speaking an impossible one.

Praise the Lord that he doesn’t leave us alone to it: even as he sends us out he promises, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).  Paul understood the situation when he wrote, using a different image, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth….  For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9).  You see, the responsibility is not laid on our shoulders to actually cause a transformation in the heart.  That is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our work is to go into the field God prepares for us bearing the Word; that Word is our harvesting tool, our scythe with which we cut the stalks of the crop, so that souls may be brought into eternal life before God.  This is a blessed task, allowing us to share our joy at our salvation, so that God may bring others the same salvation.

Lord, send laborers into your harvest.  Equip each and every one of us to be such laborers.  Encourage us to know that this work, although dangerous, will never defeat us, for we are guided by you, and the work is actually accomplished by you through us.  Let us be your tools through which you win more souls for eternal life, that the harvest may indeed be plentiful.  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.

Feasting with God #36 – Salt of the Earth

Feasting with God #36

Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:13

13You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

By their way of life, the disciples of Jesus (that means you and me and anyone who would call himself “Christian”) will be as useful as salt is.  Think of your delicious dinner meals: pork or beef or potatoes or corn.  All delicious and juicy, but with just the right amount of salt, those dishes are improved, and may even reach perfection.

But if the salt in your shaker isn’t particularly salty, why would you dash it onto your food?  It’s completely useless.  You might as well throw it out.

In this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is instructing his followers in their way of life.  They are as salt to the world.  Humanity is the dinner dish which needs the salt.  So the followers of Jesus are to improve humanity.  Just what this meant Jesus said at the end of his earthly ministry: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 18:19-20).  If humanity is lead to “observe all that [Jesus] commanded,” certainly that’s an improvement.  Jesus “commanded”: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), and “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (7:12), and “Pray then like this…” (6:9ff.), and “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow” (6:34), and “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20), and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28).  Observing all these things (and countless more), can humanity not be improved?

It is the mission of Jesus’ followers to “Go,” to teach these things, and to “make disciples,” to make more followers, to spread the saltiness.  If they don’t perform this mission, can they possibly be called Jesus’ followers?  This question, asked another way, is, if salt isn’t salty, can it possibly be called salt?

“I’m not a missionary,” says one Christian.  “I’m not a pastor,” says another.  “I don’t teach Sunday School,” “I can’t speak in public.”  These objections are nothing but excuses that our sinful flesh makes to avoid doing what is in reality a difficult task.  For those who undertake the mission given them by Christ, he also warns, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves….  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings…” (Matt. 10:16-18).  So these excuses are legitimate, because by avoiding the mission, you avoid the suffering.  But if you avoid the suffering, avoid the mission, then you also avoid the blessing: Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

That’s the last of Jesus’ “Beatitudes,” where he describes the blessed ones who are members in his Church: Those who are in his church, therefore, can expect persecution, can expect opposition to the righteousness they proclaim, and beyond this they can expect the kingdom of heaven as their reward and inheritance, and they can be confident, because they are not alone, but “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  A veritable cloud of witnesses, martyrs, saints, prophets, and mighty Christian men and women go back in history as an example, as friends, as coworkers in the kingdom of righteousness—these great ones were also salt of the earth, just as we are.

And if we are still concerned about how to talk to people, Jesus promises as well, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19-20).  And don’t fret that you aren’t a pastor, or a missionary, or a Sunday School.  Each member of Christ’s Church is a salt that is specifically designated to be applied in a different way and in different circumstances, as we sing in the hymn:

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Off’ring life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your off’rings
You can do what God demands;
You can be like faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

(“Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying,” Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, #191)

Lord, guide us to fulfill the mission you have for us, in whatever station of life we find ourselves in.  If we are to preach, give us the words to preach.  If we are to teach, strengthen us with the knowledge of your Word and the ability to impart it to others.  If we are to serve your kingdom and be the salt of the earth in some other way, prepare us for that service, and encourage us through the Gospel of your Son who paid the price for our sins and enabled us to come into this service, in whose 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 #30 – What Living Things Need

Feasting with God # 30

What Living Things Need

Text: Mark 5:41-43

41Taking her by the hand [Jesus] said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”  42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.  43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Notice how Jesus has concern for the little things.  Jairus, a Jewish elder in the synagogue, had come to Jesus asking him to heal his sick daughter.  By the time Jesus arrived, however, it was too late; the daughter was dead, and the family was in mourning.  But Jesus surprised them by telling them that it wasn’t too late: “The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39).  They laughed at him, naturally—how could such a highly reputed healer not know the difference between sleep and death?  So Jesus sent the mourners away and, before his disciples and the girl’s parents he performed this miracle: raising her from the dead.

Shock and awe immediately overcame them.  They knew she was dead, and now she was alive!  Such a change, how could they help but to be amazed?  Jesus knew how their amazement would distract them from what was needed next, so he “told them to give her something to eat.”  He paid attention to the little things.

This girl’s eating after being raised to life accomplished two things: 1) It filled her stomach.  Doubtless she was hungry.  It had probably been hours since her last meal (and perhaps a great deal more, if her illness had kept her from eating anything substantial).  Jesus knew the parents would be excited about their daughter’s rising to life, and that this would probably distract them from doing anything practical about it.  Their natural reaction would be to parade her around town, show her off to all their friends, and forget totally about any sort of food, not out of negligence, but out of excitement.  So Jesus showed he was concerned for her well-being, because as a newly alive being, she needed the sustenance of food.  2) It proved that she was indeed alive.  Yes, she had started walking around, and this proved her coming to life, but the need for food, the act of eating, was the nail in the coffin of proof—so to speak—because all living things need to eat something.  Jesus himself would demonstrate this very proof at his resurrection (“And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ [Luke 24:41]).

All life must be nourished by food.  This is a fact of nature, and a given.  But it is sometimes forgotten that this applies to spiritual food as well.  When we are reborn in the waters of baptism and raised to new sanctified life in Christ, that New Man must be fed in order to remain alive, and that feeding must begin immediately.  The very Word of God which raised that New Man to life in the first place is his food.  We must return again and again to God’s Word to nourish our souls, so that we don’t go spiritually hungry and die spiritually.  But also such feeding proves that we are in fact alive to begin with.  An unbelieving heart does not seek nourishment from God’s Word.  An unbelieving heart may come to God’s Word in search of “teachers to suit [its] own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3), but not to be nourished.  It may come to God’s Word seeking to disprove God, to call God a liar, but not to be nourished.  In this way we can see a glimpse at the heart to find out whether it is alive or dead: only a living heart seeks spiritual food from God’s Word.

And this God provides, before we can even ask for it, just as Jesus provided food for Jairus’ daughter, before she could ask or her parents could think of it.  Just think: if God is so concerned for life to rise up in us, won’t he be equally concerned that that life be sustained?  He will sustain it.  He will give us all things necessary for this spiritual life; and he is even concerned about the little things, the daily bread we need for this physical life as well.

Give us this day our daily bread, heavenly Father, even as you have promised to do.  And above this, give us our daily spiritual bread, so that our souls may be ever nourished in faith toward you, and so that the spiritual life you have begun in us may be sustained by you until we come to our everlasting life with you.  In your Son’s 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.