Monday, June 26, 2017

Justification [The Presentation of Augsburg; St. John 8:31-36]


Jesus says,

CANON 9:  "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."

CANON 12:  "If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified...let him be accursed"

Canon 14: "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema."

Canon 24:  "If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."

Canon 30:  "If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema."

Canon 33:  "If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

What you have been reading, thus far, is the Roman church’s condemnation of Lutheran doctrine, especially that of Justification, and still in force today. By the way, “anathema” means cursed of God. But it’s not just Lutheran doctrine. The Augsburg Confession was presented as the universal creed of Christianity on par with the Creeds.

And everyone agreed, for a few years, at least. However, the fight remains over Justification and our reaction to Jesus’ words, “everyone enacting sin is a slave to sin.” Here, Jesus leaves no middle ground. If you sin, no matter how small, you are a slave to that sin, even if you were saved yesterday.

If you misunderstand justification; meaning, if you misunderstand how Jesus is working in you to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), then you will miss salvation. Because you will either think that you are naturally powerful enough to prepare for free grace from God, that you just need a little help along the way, or that you think the Holy Spirit does not work through means.

We believe “…that in spiritual and divine things the intellect, heart, and will of the unregenerate man are utterly unable, by their own natural powers, to understand, believe, accept, think, will, begin, effect, do, work, or concur in working anything, but they are entirely dead to what is good, and corrupt, so that in man's nature since the Fall, before regeneration, there is not the least spark of spiritual power remaining, nor present, by which, of himself, he can prepare himself for God's grace, or accept the offered grace, nor be capable of it for and of himself, or apply or accommodate himself thereto, or by his own powers be able of himself, as of himself, to aid, do, work, or concur in working anything towards his conversion, either wholly, or half, or in any, even the least or most inconsiderable part; but that he is the servant [and slave] of sin, John 8:34, and a captive of the devil, by whom he is moved, Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:26. Hence the natural free will according to its perverted disposition and nature is strong and active only with respect to what is displeasing and contrary to God.” (SD.II:7)

As far as salvation, faith, grace, and forgiveness is concerned, we obtain this not because of our own merits, meaning ANY work we do, but freely for the benefit of Christ; through faith alone in Christ.

“Therefore there is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized men. For since, according to the doctrine of St. Paul, (Gal. 3:27), all who have been baptized have put on Christ, and thus are truly regenerate, they have now a liberated will, that is, as Christ says, they have been made free again, (John 8:36); whence they are able not only to hear the Word, but also to assent to it and accept it, although in great weakness.” (SD.II:67)

For when we talk about being justified by Christ, being turned into a free man, we are NOT talking about believers, after they have by faith, having accepted the remission of sins for Christ’s sake should also be renewed in the spirit of their mind. Neither is the issue whether or not the renewal belongs to the benefits of Christ.

Neither is the issue whether or not repentance, contrition, good intentions, love, or good works should follow such faith.

The chief issue is this: what is it that makes God receive sinful man in to grace? What must and can be set over against the judgment of God that we may not be condemned according to the strict sentence of the Law? What must faith apprehend and bring forward, on what must it rely in order to deal with God, and what intervenes between the sinner and eternal damnation?

Is it the satisfaction, obedience, and merit of the Son of God, the Mediator? Or is it the renewal which had been begun in you all, the love, and other virtues in you?

Justification is therefore not a process, but a promise, a promise that creates and gives in reality what God says. A promise that says, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. God is not a liar and God is not mocked.

Jesus is what makes God receive sinful man into grace. Jesus is what is set over and against the judgment of God that we may not be condemned. Jesus is what faith apprehends and brings forward and relies on to deal with God. Jesus is our intermediary and interventionist between us and eternal death.

Hopefully you see the importance of justification and the fight that the church of the Augsburg confession wages against the devil and this world. It is not hate-filled-labels, or moldy history, nor is it “my church is better than your church”.

What we are interested in is the Truth. So, what we follow is that truth. Since we find truth in the Augsburg confession, we expect everyone to find that same truth. If we are seeking like-minded believers, we ask what they think about the Augsburg Confession. If they’ve never read it, we give them a copy.

For we want them to hear and believe what we hear and believe: that Justification is a free gift from God, a promise, not a process, that stands no matter what we do to it, because we did not make the promise, neither would we, but God did by His Son. And if this Crucified and risen Jesus Christ sets you free, then you are free indubitably.

Today marks the 487th anniversary of the presentation of that Augsburg Confession, and the birth of the Lutheran Church, not on Reformation Day as most suppose. This was the first of the Reformation Confessions defining just what was being reformed. In fact, as we have been studying the Formula of Concord, which was written later, we find that everyone agreed with the Augsburg Confession, until they started splitting off.

“On Saturday, June 25, 1530, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Dr. Christian Beyer stood, walked toward the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and began reading the Augsburg Confession in a loud and distinct voice.  Through the open windows a hushed crowd outside in the courtyard hung on his every word, as did the two hundred or so people gathered in the hall.  Beside Dr. Beyer stood Dr. Gregory Brück, holding a copy of the Augsburg Confession in Latin.  The German princes around them stood up to indicate their support for the Confession.  The emperor motioned for them to sit down.
When Dr. Beyer finished reading, Dr. Brück took the German copy of the Confession from him, handed both copies to the emperor, and said, ‘Most gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God.’  Thus was the Augsburg Confession presented as a unique Confession of the truth of God’s holy Word, distinct from Romanism on the one hand, and Reformed, Anabaptists, and radicals on the other.

"... [in this way the] courageous Lutheran laymen confessed their faith and told the emperor and the Roman Church what they believed, taught, and confessed.  They relied on the promise of God’s Word, as contained in Psalm 119:46, ‘I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.’  The Augsburg Confession was presented as a statement of biblical truth and a proposal for true unity in the Christian faith.  It has never been withdrawn. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

All about Jesus [Trinity 1; St. Luke 16:19-31]


Jesus says,

Jesus is the rich man.
Listen to verse 22 and 23 again and tell me if it sounds familiar: “…he died, and was buried. He descended into hell.” Jesus is God, so naturally, He is the rich man. He has no needs and no wants. He is life itself. All that He has is from Him and to Him. Beginning and ending, He is the perfect Triune God.

And He is rich. Rich with wisdom, rich with knowledge, and rich with life. He has no lack. He is a King and there is perpetual celebrating in His Kingdom forever and ever. He is clothed with clothes that are not found on earth and eats food produced in the heights of heaven.

He is the one Who has it all and needs not one thing from us or anyone, or anything, else.
It is “The Lord [who] makes poor and makes rich;” (1 Samuel 2:7).

King David is preaching and he says, “Both riches and honor come from [The Lord], and [He] rule[s] over all” (1 Chronicles 29:12). Thus, Jesus is the rich man who has shut up His riches in heaven, away from all prying hands and eyes. He is rich, we are poor. And the gate to heaven is shut.

Jesus is Lazarus.
He has been cast aside by the very people he has come to help. He is burdened with the heavy yoke of sin and violence of His own people. His is alone to fend for Himself and to carry on His impossible cause. There is none to help.

He is tossed in front of the gate to heaven and is rejected to death. Carrying the weight of all sin, all death, and the devil, He is brought to the locked entrance and the only path left for Him is death and a decent to hell.

All this goes on despite how you feel about things. If every rich man truly cared and believed, there would be no rich men in the world, because they would be giving away their wealth as it came. If every poor man truly cared and believed, they would not hold the rich in contempt and begrudge him his riches.

Jesus is both the holier-than-thou man that no one likes and wants to be around and He is also the poor, weak God that no one wants to care about, Who allows Himself to be man-handled and die and no one wants such a one-sided relationship with such an unbending person.

But, Jesus is also the rich-poor God Who does all this for someone else’s sake: yours. “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches”( Jeremiah 9:23)

Jesus has nothing to boast about if His wisdom does not create salvation by His words. Jesus has nothing to boast about if He can not take on flesh, suffer, and die and still be mighty God. Jesus has nothing to boast about if His treasury does not include the redemption of every single person that has or will exist.

Repent. One of the grievous evils King Solomon witnessed in the world was that “…riches were kept by their owner to his hurt…” (Ecclesiastes 5:13). We keep our riches, God does not. We leave the poor in the streets, God does not. We condemn to hell, but Jesus preaches to those in prison.

Really, Jesus is neither the rich man nor Lazarus, but better than both. Jesus is the rich man Who also opens the gate, not just to one poor Lazarus, but to the entire human race of all time. Jesus is the poor, fatally ill man Who suffers and dies, but rises again, because death can’t hold Him.

And it is in death, that roles are reversed. The rich man, blessed in life, turns out to be destined for hell. Lazarus, rejected completely, turns out to be favored completely.

Jesus, Who is rich beyond measure and will not share; Who suffers and dies an abandoned, criminal’s death, turns out to be the loving, compassionate, long-suffering Creator of the universe; Who also happens to point out that the way of heaven was not shut, but has always been open to the true Son of God.

Heaven’s riches belong to the rightful heir. No one else will inherit them or even handle them. Likewise, heaven’s greatest work, the redemption of mankind through suffering and death on a cross, will be accomplished solely by heaven’s greatest champion. The Man Who can be poor, yet rich. The Man Who can be dead, yet alive.

This is the exclusionary, one-sided relationship God has with you. This is the way holy Scripture reads with Jesus at its center and focus. This is what it means when people say: it’s all about Jesus. It is all about Jesus, not about you.

You must be able to find yourself in Christ, if you want to read any part of the Scriptures and it have something to do with you. If you want to participate; if you want communion with any of these heavenly treasures, then you must become a part of Christ, otherwise the door remains shut.

This power, to grant communion with the one, true God, is given to Christ’s Church on earth. This power to call and enlighten with the Gospel is given to the Holy Ghost Who only works through means; tools that God has foretold.

The primary tool is the Word, preached in its purity, and that purity is Christ on the cross. That work that Jesus alone can accomplish, to the exclusion of you, includes you by His declaration of fellowship.

The poor are included with the rich, and vice versa, much to both party’s chagrin. Much more to the point, you are included. From a single Word from Jesus, you are declared adopted sons. And from His sacraments, He continues to work that in you, giving you confidence and comfort in that promise, that now in Him, you are rich, you are poor, and you are redeemed as a son of God.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trinity in unity [Holy Trinity Sunday; St. John 3:1-15]


Who speaks to you all today saying,

The Trinity is a unique being. No other god in the history of gods lives up to Him nor can compare to Him, not just because they are made up, either.

You see, if you want to make up a god or a religion, you simply make one god. That is simplest. If you only have to deal with one god, then that makes life easy, especially when you have to deal with him, for even if he is temperamental, at least he is not always changing.

It is in this way that you also consolidate authority. If there is only one god then he must have a representative and you are it; on top of the world, giving orders, raking in the cash profits.

If you want to be truthful about the world you live in, you go in for multiple gods, not just one. Multiple gods may be harder to deal with, but it explains the world much better than just one. With multi-god religion, you have a god hiding in just about everything you can imagine. If you want something you just need to go to that god and deal with it once.

If you need water, you go to the water god. If you need luck, the luck god. Mercy, the mercy god and so on. The only drawback is, no god is more true than another. So you may serve the god of the mountains, but the water god could be angry with you and erode you away. Or fire/water, etc.

If you want the easy life and a short trip to the top of the religious-leader ladder, the one thing you don’t do is create a god too complex to understand and/or follow, such as the Trinity. If you want gobs of servants and boatloads of cash, what you don’t do is say people have to believe in the Trinity.

Likewise, as said God, if you want followers, you make it easy. You don’t create humans and then talk to yourself in the third-person plural saying, “Let US make man in OUR image” (Gen. 1:26). Then, when things go south, don’t double-down and say, “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of US in knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22).

You also do not cause certain things to be written regarding an incomprehensible plurality saying things like, “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre…as three men…” (Gen. 18:1-2) and “The Lord rained fire down from the Lord” (Gen. 19:24) and “My Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand” (Ps. 110:1).

And we, Christian believers, having had the fullness of God revealed to us, still think this way. Though we would not admit it, we want God doing certain things at certain times and not doing things at other times. We want Him close, but not that close; we want Him far away, but not that far away.

Repent. You don’t understand God. You can’t make sense of the depth of His riches, wisdom, or knowledge. You can’t make heads or tails of His judgments or His ways. What is He thinking? How can I make Him see my perspective? What sort of offering can I bribe Him with?

Our problem is that God has revealed Himself. Our problem is that God has answered all these questions for us, in His Son. Our problem is we do not want to hear what God has to say about it all.

Our problem is our greatest asset.

Let me explain.

God has revealed Himself. We see this as a problem because it means that our entire view of the world is wrong. It means that God is Who He says He is and not what we care about or think of. Now, we must see the universe as ruled by one, true God Who is also three persons and that is impossible for us.

We think we can be the first to create neat things, but God did it first. We think we can be the first to create perfect laws to order and unite, but God did it first. We think we can be the first to make the perfect deal with local deities and have all the best for ourselves, but God made the perfect offering first.

Jesus says, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.”

“We speak”: Jesus is double-speaking here. He is talking about us and He is talking about Himself, for when He speaks it is “we”: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “We speak” and all things are created. “We speak” and our words come into being and create what they say.

This “we” is a Trinity word, thus when Jesus speaks of what “we know” and what “we have seen”, He is talking about all things, but most especially His depths of His riches, wisdom, and knowledge which is Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

Our problem is our greatest asset, because our problem is sin and Christ has come for sinners. Not just to forgive them, but to reveal all things to them: His plan, His purpose, and His Will. Nothing is hidden from those who walk by faith.

This means our sins are forgiven His way. This means that there is a Way, a Truth, and a Life. This means that salvation is not dependent on me nor is it worked out with my cooperation or completed with my understanding. I would never die for an enemy.

We do not revel in our problem of sin, neither do we celebrate it. With the Spirit of the Triune God dwelling in us, we are ashamed of it and horrified by it. For, even though we still think that there are local gods/spirits and that one god is easier to understand than a triune one, God comes to dwell with us.

And He is unique. None other that has ever claimed the title of “god” has done what this Triune God has done. Thus, it is in specific ways that He does His work of salvation. He creates, redeems, and sanctifies all in how He describes and, conveniently enough, has caused it to be written down.

So that, when we open Scripture and wonder Who God is, the Athanasian Creed comes from that inquiry. When we open Scripture and wonder how to act, the holy 10 Commands appear. When we open Scripture and wonder how to contact/please/appease/bribe or any other form of communication with God, the Church is created before our eyes.

In the Creeds, God gives us lofty ideas and thoughts, transcending time and space, conquering all evil, and shining as light in the darkness. In His Church, all those ideas become reality. And just like Her Lord, the Church doesn’t change.

The same Gospel is preached. The same Sacraments administered. The same salvation offered. With a Triune God in charge of all things, you get a specific, narrow way to redemption. He excludes what He has not done and since Jesus is a part of this Trinity, the Word He says, the Work He does, and the Person He offers is the one, true way.

What we know, speak of, and bear witness to is only, always our own sin, failing at each step of the path of righteousness. What Jesus knows, speaks of, and bears witness to is that in spite of us, while we were yet sinners, He, the Triune God, making all things and remaking all things, renewing men in the true image and icon of God, suffered and was crucified.

Before we called, He answered. Before we thought, He created. Before we acted, He saved. Before we understood, He was Himself and created all things for our good, even when we don’t understand; ESPECIALLY when we don’t understand.

Baptism means Christ Crucified [Pentecost; St. John 14:23-31]


Jesus speaks to us today, saying,

The word “baptism” occurs 23 times in Acts which has 28 chapters. And, according to one count, only 15 sermons.

But St. Peter does not tell them to get baptized every time. He simply presents God’s Word and work and tells them to repent. However, when Faith hears that Word, it can’t help but feel like it needs a good washing.

Here is the proof from the Book itself:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

The point of doing this is to show you what is really happening in Scripture, in the book of Acts, after Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles. They weren’t just doing things and stuff and whatever they wanted.

There was a plan. There was a purpose. There was a definite goal and, more importantly,  the means to get there. The point of reading all that about baptism was to show that, even in the very beginning, the Apostles were building the Divine Service.

The future may not be set in stone for events to take place between us and our neighbors, but the future is definitely rock solid when it comes to salvation and the Church of Jesus. When we seek the Church or wonder where the Church should go next, there is never a question. The Church goes into the future, unchanged.

So, the Holy Spirit is causing the Apostles to remember, teach, and keep the Word of Jesus in this book of the Acts of the Apostles. What is it that they are remembering, teaching, and keeping?

Is it “believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”? Is it “bless Israel and I will bless you”? Is it “be the hearts and hands of Jesus”?

No. What they are remembering, and now us today, is what it means to be a Christian. We are remembering, with the Apostles, what it means to have our life “hid in Christ”. With the Holy Ghost, we hang on every word of Jesus, but most especially we circle the wagons around the places where He promises forgiveness and salvation.

For the Apostles were not just preaching baptism neither were they simply doing what they could to build the Church. They were preaching Christ Crucified for sinners and when that preaching of that unrestricted Gospel sounds upon the ears, faith awakens and is immediately desirous of God’s Holy Spirit.

Found only in Christ, the forgiven sinner seeks to become a part of Jesus and so gain the eternal favor and blessing that only the Son of God has. This of course, being only found in baptism.

Thus, forgiveness and salvation, according to the preaching of the Apostles, is not just found in Jesus, but in the Crucified Jesus. And there is a grave difference. If we just have an Easter and Ascension Jesus, we can forget about that nasty suffering and crucifixion bit and move on to “better” things.

But there is no forgiveness, no salvation with that sort of Jesus. The world needs an Easter-Jesus with scars. Sinners need an Ascended Jesus with tattoos on His wrists, feet, head, and side. The Law demands suffering and death for transgressors and a suffering Jesus went to the cross.

Your dear heavenly Father has given you His Son to take your place. He has given you His Spirit, Who keeps His created Church in unity. He has given to His Church the Means of the Spirit whereby you receive life, light, and forgiveness, as you are united into the Body of Jesus.

This is what the Holy Spirit is doing, even today. This is what we are remembering and believing, thanks to Him, today, expressed in this poem:

[For] Today the Spirit of God who brooded over the waters of a lightless creation
Swoops down with tongues of fire to kindle faith in the re-creating work of Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who made the tower-builders into foolish babblers
Unites believers in the univocal language of the church-building grace of Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who came mightily upon the deliverers of Israel
Falls upon the apostles to proclaim the deliverance from sin we enjoy in Christ.

Today the Spirit of God who endowed with wisdom the builders of the tabernacle
Imparts the saving wisdom of the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us.

Today the Spirit who gave the law to Israel on two tablets of stone
Gives hearts of flesh for hearts of stone in the proclamation of the Good News.

Today the Spirit whom unfaithful David prayed the Lord would not take from him
Pours himself into sinners that they might sing of the faithful love of their Husband.

Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover resurrection of our Lord
When we are made holy by the holy-ing Spirit of the Christ who gives us the Father.

Today is Pentecost.

Let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Chad Bird