Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

Jesus

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (CJB)

 “With the hand of the LORD upon me, The LORD carried me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley, and it was full of bones. He had me pass by all around them—there were so many bones lying in the valley, and they were so dry! He asked me, “Human being, can these bones live?” I answered, “LORD GOD! Only you know that!” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones! Say to them, ‘Dry bones! Hear what the LORD has to say! To these bones the LORD GOD says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will live. I will attach ligaments to you, make flesh grow on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you. You will live, and you will know that I am the LORD.” “So I prophesied as ordered; and while I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound; it was the bones coming together, each bone in its proper place. As I watched, ligaments grew on them, flesh appeared, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Next He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath! Prophesy, human being! Say to the breath that the LORD GOD says, ‘Come from the four winds, breath; and breathe on these slain, so that they can live.’ ” So I prophesied as ordered, and the breath came into them, and they were alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army! Then He said to me, “Human being! These bones are the whole house of Israel; and they are saying, ‘Our bones have dried up, our hope is gone, and we are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy; say to them that the LORD GOD says, ‘My people! I will open your graves and make you get up out of your graves, and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD—when I have opened your graves and made you get up out of your graves, my people! I will put my Spirit in you; and you will be alive. Then I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and that I have done it,’ says the LORD.”

How can this story be true for us? Ezekiel was a prophet to God’s people, Israel, who had been taken into exile by Babylonians after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This is a story about Israel’s despair at their captivity. What is despair? Despair is a state in which all hope is lost or absent. Depression leads to despair. Have you ever felt that way? I have. I can truly say, we are all hopeless without God. What despair means, is that a person is willing to be absorbed with themselves and at the same time have a defiant attitude toward God. Sometimes, even resent God!

Sometimes, we get to the point where our own self-perception is one of total hopelessness. We do not look outside of ourselves to God. Sometimes, we cannot understand the consequences of our own behavior and wonder why we suffer from those consequences. We become despairing of our own weaknesses. That is how the people of Israel felt.

Three years ago a funeral director told me that within several months he dealt with a handful of funerals that were related to suicide. Suicide is the result of total despair. Is that any way to live? Sometimes we ask, “what is life, anyway?” It is not simply a physical life; but, it is a life that God gives us, it is an emotional and spiritual life, which includes love, joy, peace, hurt, pain, suffering, sickness, and even death.

It’s interesting that God would call a man to preach God’s Word, and then ask him to speak over lifeless dry bones. It seemed pointless. However, what the preacher discovers is the promise from God, that He will perform the impossible—and bring the dry bones back to life.

In Germany, I was trained as a lifeguard for our community pool at 5th General Hospital. I was certified as an American Red Cross lifesaver. I had the skills to resuscitate those who stop breathing. However, with the breath of God, resuscitation comes quickly and gives life powerfully.

Ezekiel’s vision alludes to God’s creative work in Genesis; how God creates, and how God re-creates. There is a very important and fundamental lesson to be taken from Ezekiel’s vision: when the Spirit is present, God’s people are enabled to live. This is the only basis for the hope given to a despairing person, community, church, or people like the nation of Israel.

How do you know the Holy Spirit is in your life? How do you know the Holy Spirit is present in our church? We get the answer from this passage in Ezekiel.

It is God’s promise to give the dry bones (His people) new hearts and a new spirit. It is the magnitude of a miracle; it is how God is mighty to save! When God saves us, it is indeed a miracle, a miracle of His mercy and grace.

The bones Ezekiel sees are “very dry,” emphasizing the fact that there is no life in them whatsoever. The chance that they will ever live again on their own is zero. Then, God asks the preacher, “will these bones live?” The preacher says to himself, “looking at their current state, um, no.” However, the preacher has learned never to presume on God’s power and intentions. So, he answers, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

God wanted the preacher and the people to know that it is His Word alone that brings life. God wants us to know, that in the most hopeless of situations—even in a valley full of death—God’s Word is powerful to bring resurrection life.

What is the resurrection? What is new life? It is the same as when God spoke the creation into existence, the same as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb with only a word, the same as Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones, God’s Word always gives life. God promises to give us life! It is that our confidence is in God alone, in any situation, even in our darkest struggles.

The supreme Word from God, the Gospel message itself, tells us not what we must do to earn life, but what God has done, in Jesus Christ, to give us life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, until it overflows]. John 10:10

There is always hope that God will bring restoration and renewal to our lives. Whether it is a long struggle with sin, or broken relationships, hard affliction, trials, temptations, or even illness, life’s circumstances can often blind us to God’s life-giving power.

The vision of the dry bones, however, is a promise to us and should remind us that our God will truly give life and purpose to everything that seems hopelessly dead. Remember John’s Gospel, where Jesus declares to Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25-26.

Beloved, do you believe this?

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

noahs-ark

Noah’s family and animals saved in the Ark.

In Genesis 6:14-22 it says, Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.

But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.”

In Genesis 7:1-24, the story continues, “Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male, and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah.

And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark— they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

Now the flood was on the earth forty days. The waters increased and lifted up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days.”

Exodus in Genesis

Did you know that the story of Abram and Sarai’s journey into Egypt (Gen. 12:10–13:2), is not only about Abram and Sarah: it foreshadowed the Exodus of Israel that would happen 400 years later. In both accounts, we find a descent into Egypt as a result of “heavy famine,” plagues upon the Egyptians, and fleeing Egypt because of the plagues; and the departure from Egypt with great riches.

Moses, Israel’s Redeemer in an Ark

Our Bibles say that Noah and his family were saved in the Ark, the word is tevah in Hebrew. Surprisingly, we find the same word, tevah, in the story of Moses: however, most modern English translations say that Moses was put into a basket. The truth is baby Moses was put into an ark. Why would the Torah use the word “ark” here, instead of the common Hebrew word for basket? The answer is clear: to make an intentional link between the two stories—Noah prefigures Moses’ role as Israel’s redeemer.

Baptism as an Ark

In 1 Peter 3:18-22 we read, “Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit. In it, He went and preached to the spirits in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to Him.”

Noah and his family came through the water, in other words, “by means of water” in the ark, and so were saved by the water in spite of the floodwaters around them. So, baptism is our own spiritual resurrection. Because our regeneration is made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Listen to what Peter says earlier in 1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This leads me to what I want to encourage you with today. Just as Noah and his family were saved in the Ark, and Moses was saved in an Ark, and we are saved in the Ark of baptism, we are being saved in the “Ark” of sheltering in place. God is protecting us by our government advising us to remain in the safety of our own homes. Ensuring us to make every effort of cleanliness like washing our hands, covering our coughs and sneezes, and disinfecting things around us, we are under God’s protection.

The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 7:1, “I come to you for protection, O LORD my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!” Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The LORD protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.” Another example is from Psalm 31: 1-5, “I come to you, LORD, for protection; never let me be defeated. You are a righteous God; save me, I pray! Hear me! Save me now! Be my refuge to protect me; my defense to save me. You are my refuge and defense; guide me and lead me as you have promised. Keep me safe from the trap that has been set for me; shelter me from danger. I place myself in your care. You will save me, LORD; you are a faithful God.”

So, remember you are sheltering in place in the hands of God, held in His everlasting arms, underneath His mighty wings, guarded by His massive pinions, protecting you from this pestilence. You are being saved in the Ark of sheltering in place!

May God bless you all with His mercy and grace!  Amen!

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

 

ObJust

Posted on The Brothers of John the Steadfast webpage

What is justification?

For Lutherans, the central teaching of the Bible is justification by faith apart from the works of the law. The classic expression of this doctrine is found in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession, “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for  Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins.  This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.” Lutheran theologians often speak of justification as having two aspects, objective and subjective. Objective justification is “God’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ upon the world for the sake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.” Subjective justification means that the benefits of God’s verdict of ‘not guilty’ become yours through faith.

What is the basis of Objective Justification?

Jesus has redeemed all people. John the Baptist declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) This statement, which we sing in the “Agnus Dei,” declares Jesus to be “objective justification personified.” 1  Paul also wrote to Timothy, that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:6).

Where is Objective Justification taught in the Bible?

  • 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. “The only possible antecedent of ‘their’ in that sentence is ‘the world,’ and the world certainly includes all men.”2
  • Romans 4:25: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. “To refer to the words: Who was raised again for our justification,” to the so-called subjective justification, which takes place by faith, not only weakens the force of the words, but also violates the context.”3
  • Romans 3:22-24: There is no difference, for, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. The key word here is “all.” All have sinned and all those sinners are justified- there is no difference. “All have sinned. The verb ‘justified’ has the same subject, ‘all.”4
  • Romans 5:18: Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. “By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved Him from our sins which had been imputed to Him, and therefore He also absolved us in Him, that Christ’s resurrection might thus be the case and the proof and the completion of our justification.”5  “Because in Christ’s resurrection we are acquitted of our sins, so that they can no longer condemn us before the judgment of God.” 6

Do the Lutheran Confessions teach Objective Justification?

While the term “objective justification” does not appear in the Lutheran Confessions, the teaching of objective justification may be found there. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession teaches that a refusal to believe that our sins are forgiven by God is to call God a liar. “And what else is the refusal to assent to absolution but charging God with falsehood? If the heart doubts, it regards those things which God promises as uncertain and of no account. Accordingly, in 1 John 5, 10 it is written: He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.” (Apology XII:62) “Therefore, if any one be not confident that he is forgiven, he denies that God has sworn what is true, than which a more horrible blasphemy cannot be imagined.” (Apology XII: 94) The Large Catechism teaches us that our sins are forgiven prior to our acceptance of such forgiveness. “Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and to pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness.” (LC III:88) The Formula of Concord declares, “That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.” (FC SD XI: 15).

How are Objective and Subjective Justification connected?

Objective justification is the basis for subjective justification. “An essential prerequisite of justification by faith, or of subjective justification, is the objective justification (the reconciliation) of all mankind.” 7  “If God had not in His heart justified the whole world because of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, and if this justification were not offered , there could not be a justification by faith.” 8 “The relationship of objective justification to the other so-called justification can expressed in this way, that in the latter the appropriation of the former occurs.” 9 “Only those who believe the gospel are justified subjectively. But faith always has an object and that object is Christ Jesus and the objective justification He achieved.” 10

ELS Pastor Ron Pederson warns, “Both objective and subjective justification need to be taught together. If you leave one or the other out no one will be saved.” 11  His warning echoes that of former WELS President Carl Mischke, “A word of caution may, however, be in place. It may be well to remind ourselves not to divide ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ justification as if they were two totally different things which can be treated in isolation from one another. They are rather two sides of the same coin, and there can be no ‘saints’ or salvation without faith. To teach otherwise would indeed be universalism.” 12

What are the dangers of denying Objective Justification?

Denying objective justification may lead to falling into the error of limited atonement, that Jesus paid only for the sins of believers. “Not all men, indeed believe this glorious fact, wherefore, they do not become partakers of the righteousness which Christ earned for them and which God gives them in the gospel. But it is nothing else than Calvinism to deny, as so many still do, that God has in Christ ‘reconciled the world unto himself’ (2 Cor 5:19), atoned ‘for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2) and thus justified all men.” 13

Denying objective justification can turn faith into a human work. “All those who deny the objective justification (the objective reconciliation) will, if they be consistent, also deny that subjective justification is brought about by faith; they will have to regard faith as a complement of Christ’s merit- a human achievement.” 14

Denying objective justification makes faith a cause of justification. “It is not strange that those who emphasize man’s faith at the expense of the objective validity of Christ’s Gospel and His work of justification should go astray in the doctrines of Conversion and Election, so as to give man’s faith there also an entirely unscriptural importance.” 15

Denying objective justification diminishes the glory of the Gospel: “the ‘objective justification’ of all men is denied by many within the Lutheran churches and neglected by still more, so that the full light of the Gospel does not shine forth in their teaching and preaching.”16

1 Ronald Pederson, “Objective Justification,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 52, Nos. 2-3 (June-September 2012), p. 163.
2 Siegbert Becker, “Objective Justification,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Winter 1986:4.
3 Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, II:321
4 Richard D. Balge, “Justification- a Brief Study.” Essay delivered at the Wisconsin Association of Lutheran Educators, Wisconsin Lutheran college, Oct. 26, 1984, 1.
5 Johann Gerhard, Annotations in epist. Ad romanos, Jena ed. 1666, p. 156
6 Johann Gerhard, Disputationes theologicae, Jena, 1655, XX, p. 1450
7 Pieper II: 508.
8 Ibid.
9 Ph. D. Burk, Rechtfertigung und Versicherung, p. 41
10 Pederson 166
11 Ibid.
12 C.H. Mischke, The President’s Newsletter WELS, June 1982.
13 George Lillegard, “Doctrinal Controversies of the Norwegian Synod,” Grace for Grace, Lutheran Synod Book Company, 1943, p. 149.
14 Pieper II: 508
15 Lillegard, Grace for Grace, p. 151.
16 Ibid.

 

~ thank you Shawn!

Pastor Gary DeSha

Transform

Christ Lutheran Church is in the process of a modern transformation! By the time this newsletter reaches you, we will have celebrated and re-dedicated Christ Lutheran Church to worship, the ministry of the Gospel, missions, the discipleship of believers, and the correct administration of the Sacraments – all to the glory of God. God has blessed this congregation with many blessings. What I hear God telling us is that we must submit ourselves to the transformation of the Holy Spirit. How are we transformed?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

“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 within a large family.” Romans 8:29

Our transformation enables us to be of service to God in bringing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to a lost and dying world. A recent Pew Research Center study has identified some interesting facts:

  1. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons score higher in religious knowledge and outperform Protestant Christians on questions about the core teachings and history of Christianity.
  2. Those identifying themselves as “Christian” shrunk from 78% to 70% – a drop of 8% points in just seven years. Meanwhile, those calling themselves atheist, non-religious, or simply unaffiliated rose from 16% to almost 23%.
  3. Almost 60% of our youth leave their churches as young adults – many joining the growing number of the so-called “nones,” those who profess no adherence to any faith whatsoever.

What can we at Christ Lutheran Church do? We must do what we believe, teach and confess!

  1. To preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  2. To preach and teach the Law of God, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  3. To preach and teach repentance from sin and faith toward God through Jesus Christ alone.
  4. To preach and teach belief in the inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority of God’s Word (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) – the Bible.
  5. To teach her followers of Jesus Christ, their family and children what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and why it matters.
  6. To teach followers of Jesus Christ what the Christian faith is and that it is important to know and understand what they believe, and why.
  7. To preach and teach about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, i.e., being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the continuation of the gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit; the gifts God gives for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ.
  8. To preach and teach how God has arranged the Body of Christ (the local church); how He has defined its leadership; and how the Body of Christ (the local church) should function in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  9. To support her members by assembling together for worship, ministry, and fellowship. We are exhorted in God’s Word to always assemble for worship, because it is the evidence that we care, love, and work for one another and our community.

“And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. And let us do this all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

At Christ Lutheran Church we must seek to do just that. Let us make the necessary commitment to transformation. It is time to take a sound biblical stand for God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and His Church. Let us come together, from ashes to renewal. Join us, help us, fellowship with us, support us. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Gary

NT

Since in the Lord’s Supper we receive our Lord Jesus’ very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins it is a great gift to us and is central to the Divine Service. The holy Christian church throughout the ages has identified the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with the Lord’s Supper. As such the Lord’s Supper was never viewed as an occasional extra or as somehow not as important as the other means of grace (Word, Absolution, Holy Baptism). In the Supper, the Church, the Bride of Christ, sees herself clearly as the Body of Christ, being “one flesh” with Christ Jesus — a great mystery indeed (Ephesians 5). The Supper is our Lord’s last will and testament where we receive His life-giving mercy.

Also, since each day and each week we need the Lord’s forgiveness and strength, we are therefore in need of the Lord’s Supper much in every way. Today, our increasingly less and less Christianly influenced culture threatens our faith daily, along with the help of Satan and our own sinful desires (old Adam).

In the Small Catechism, Luther, under “The Christian Questions and Answers,” writes the following, admonishing us to frequently receive the gift of the Lord’s Supper:

  1. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?

“First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.”

  1. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?

“To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”

The opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day was a reality cherished by Luther and set forth clearly with high esteem by our Lutheran Confessions (Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession and of the Apology); and Luther’s Catechism. All of them remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,23), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra.

This does not mean that every communicant must receive the Sacrament every Sunday. This is about the availability of the Lord’s Supper, not setting a rule about how often someone should receive it. So, while the Augsburg Confession and its Apology (Defense) make it clear that Lutheran Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day and on festival days, the preface to the Small Catechism also makes it clear that the church make no laws about how often someone should receive this gift personally.  As Lutherans, we take our vows of subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions very seriously on both aspects of the frequency of the Lord’s Supper.  We must recover lost treasures.

The offering of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday does not and should not imply that we must attend it every time.  We must take the time to prepare regularly.   We do not want the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to become mechanical.   However, when it is offered every Sunday we can regain a more “organic” rather than “mechanical” view between how often we commune vs. how often it is offered.

There is a tremendous opportunity to grow in our faith and understanding when we can have it available every Sunday service and yet in freedom prepare.   We should not act on any real or perceived social pressure in this regard.  We must resist that temptation. The Gospel is forced on no one, however, it is always preached and offered.  With this sacramental form of the saving Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, it is offered but forced on no one.

The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper will indicate and confess our high esteem and desire for the gift of our Lord’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins which is received in this gift. The Lord’s Supper is a central way our faith is sustained in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is no less important than the other gospel gifts by which our faith is sustained. We have weekly sermons, pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly, confess the Creed, and so forth. The meaning of the Lord’s Supper does not come from us, but from Jesus Christ and His Word. Contrite sinners cannot have too much of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Supper acknowledges the Lord’s holy presence with us and that gathered around Him, in heaven and on earth, are “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.”  That’s something to rejoice in.  Saying, “I love you” more often in a marriage doesn’t cause it to mean less.  This is about feeding faith and building up the Body of Christ.  Consider what our Lutheran Confessions say about the “Mass” (Worship Service with Holy Communion).  In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, we subscribe to the following:

“At the outset, we must again make the preliminary statement that we (Lutherans) do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.” (The Book of Concord)

Therefore, I propose that we should gladly and frequently come to the Lord’s Supper as it is made available every week. There are three reasons that are given in order of importance:

First, Jesus earnestly invites us to do so.  In the words of institution, Jesus commands, “This do in remembrance of Me.”  Jesus tenderly invites us to Himself for refreshment in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Secondly, we need the great blessing that He there gives us, namely, the forgiveness of our sins and the strength for a new and holy life.  These blessings are promised and offered in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus urges us to come often because by Lord’s Supper He wants to strengthen our weak faith. He says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Thirdly, by gladly and frequently coming to the Lord’s Supper, we openly confess our faith in Jesus’ atoning death. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). As we proclaim our unity of faith in our Lord’s death, we also encourage each other in our Christian faith and lives.

 

LuthersCatechisms

Galatians 6:6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow “all good things” upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul’s admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.

As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of those who deceive them.

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts.

Paul’s admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1Cr 9:11) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel. You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.

Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be punished for it.

The words “in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and give them enough to live well.

~ Martin Luther

FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.