Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two Week Break

So I have a lot going on right now. And I'm trying to stay afloat. I'm going to take a break from the blog for  a couple weeks. Keep me in your prayers if you would.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Scoffers

40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:  “‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” (Acts 13:39-41 (ESV)
So Paul finishes, and he finishes with a warning, another prophecy, a prophecy fulfilled by  the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The scoffers won’t believe. They will be astounded and perish.
It’s all too true. They won’t believe even if one tells it to them. Their unbelief is their fault. It isn’t that God doesn’t want them to believe. He does. He wouldn’t give them this prophecy otherwise. But  the cross will be a stumbling block to the Jews, (the legalists of every culture who think they can earn salvation, that they should earn salvation) and it’s folly to the Greeks, the scoffers of every generation who think they know physics better than the creator of the world, the nature of biology better than he who molded us from clay. They see the death as the end. They refuse to believe. They scoff at the cross, they stand astounded that others would believe the resurrection. They can scoff all they want. And they will. But the tomb stands empty, defying all explanation but resurrection.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Freed from that which the Law of Moses could not free you.

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’  35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed [3] from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:34-39 (ESV)
 “Through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” It seems to occupy center stage in Paul’s sermons, the forgiveness of sins. This man frees you from all that you could not be freed by the law of Moses, Paul says.  This would be death, sin, the power of the devil, guilt, shame. This is what Christ came to do, and it ought to be the aim of any sermon preached in the name of Christ.
And that this was the point of Scripture from the very beginning Paul uses the Old Testament and shows how David was a type for the Christ, but failed to be the Christ. The promises offered through David are delivered through Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead. He is the one who has not seen corruption. And in doing this Jesus has shown his victory over death, now he can share that victory with you who believe, and through faith you are freed, from sin, death and the power of the devil, from guilt and shame. It is what Christ came to do. It is what Christ comes to do, wherever two or three are gathered in his name, to hear his word, to receive his baptism, to participate in his body and his blood.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Blessed are those who Hear the Word of God and Keep It.

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters
24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:14-28 (ESV)
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
This is Jesus responding to an exuberant woman, amazed at both the miracles that Christ performs and his teaching. She praises Mary for having brought Jesus into the world, and nourishing him, this man who has blessed the world with his miracles, with his teaching, with his salvation. The woman gets it. Jesus has cast out demons by the finger of God. With him, the kingdom of God has broken into this world. It has come upon you. It comes upon you in God’s word, through hearing as Paul says in Romans. This is the blessing, and it is a blessing that ought to be kept, guarded, and protected, and in those who do this, the demons never find refuge from their travels through the waterless places, never find a home for their seven friends to crash in, because the stronger man has taken residence, in them Jesus Christ dwells.
It isn’t something that can be ignored, keeping God’s word. I think we often have misconceptions about this. Our Old Adam, the sin that has taken over our lives, is a creature bent to interpret everything as law. It is natural for us to hear, keep God’s word, and without even giving it a second thought assume that what Jesus here means is to follow the Ten Commandments, and live our life as best we can according to God’s law, and generally speaking we then narrow that down to those by which our neighbors judge us, the second table. But keeping the word of God means so much more than that. It’s not really a question of his law. Mary didn’t have to give birth to God and let him nurse upon her breasts for that. This law was written upon our hearts of stone long before Moses ever etched them into tablets, or recorded them in scripture. We instinctively know right from wrong, instinctively know what we shouldn’t be doing even as we do it, or should be doing even as we neglect it. But that is our mind, our will, and it is so preoccupied with law, even God’s law that it often neglects to even think of God’s word, much less cherish it, safeguard it or keep it.
This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks of demons being thrown from a house, for the house to only be left empty. It’s self-improvement without repentance. People do this all the time. They clean up their act. They find that habits they have had are having adverse effects on family, on work, or just on them alone. Drunks get sober, thieves stop stealing, adulterers stop cheating, porn addicts quit. They clean up the house, but it remains empty because they neglect the word of God even as they try to follow the Ten Commandments better. Perhaps they even start to go to church for a while, but when they think they have whatever problem licked, Football becomes better, church was a crutch to get them over the hump. The house stands empty, unoccupied by the stronger man, the demons come back. The condition is worse. Oh from human perspective it might not seem so. They will be better off by worldly standards but the demons come back stronger anyway. The heart of stone hardens even more against the word of God, and all those “lesser” sins dig in deeper, dragging you to hell.
This is why Jesus says “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Because where the word of God is, there is Jesus. Where one keeps the word of God there is the kingdom of God, throwing back the demons one by one with his little finger. Here is repentance at work. An acknowledgement that it can’t be done on our own, but that God does it for us on the cross, and keeps us in the faith, keeps our house clean through the hearing of the word, and through the eating and drinking of the gospel, the body and blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. That perhaps we can and should rule over certain sins in our lives, but that sin, one way or another rules over all of our lives when we are without the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ the stronger man who has overcome Beelzebul in death and resurrection. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.
How do we keep it? We keep it by cherishing the Gospel the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ when we attend church and go to communion. We keep it when we baptize our children, even just after they are born. We keep it when we go to Bible study and teach Sunday school. We keep it when we donate to the church recognizing how important it is in our lives to have this place not only for ourselves but for the entire community in which we live. That all have opportunity to be blessed by the hearing of the word of God as we are. We keep it when we bless others with the word of God, through organizations like the LWML, who have been supporting missionary work for over a hundred years sending men to preach the gospel to every land, and even supporting the work of the church at home. Because here we have something the world won’t give, won’t hear, and won’t keep. Here we have Jesus Christ himself, born of the blessed virgin, God, who for us men and our salvation became man, was crucified died and buried for your sins, that after driving the demons out of you, your house wouldn’t stand empty, but would be occupied by grace, ruled with forgiveness and cared for with mercy.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Promise to the Fathers Fulfilled

26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” (Acts 13:26-33 (ESV)

“And we bring you the good news.” The gospel, that is what gospel means, good news. It isn’t something you obey or follow, it is something you believe, and causes rejoicing when you do. And the gospel is that God has fulfilled everything he promised to the fathers. Everything that was written in the scriptures which everyone, including Paul, failed to understand even though they were being read every Sabbath. And it all centers in Christ, not as a new law giver, but as a fulfiller of the law, as a promise delivered. Yet to this day, people read the Old Testament, and twist the New Testament into a book of laws. The gospel becomes a list of rules to follow, the understanding that it is good news is lost. I mean, how do you obey “Osama Bin Laden is Dead”? Remember this news? In my generation it was the best news ever delivered, it was good news.  It was celebrated in the streets with dancing and impromptu parties. And this the news of a man pronounced dead. Men die every day. But perhaps that is why we celebrated Christ’s resurrection, not every year at Easter, but every week on the first day of the week, every Sunday, marking the day of the week he rose. Now when reading scripture we read it the way Paul does here, looking for all the different ways in which Christ had been promised in the history and culture of Israel, and how all these promises are fulfilled now in the resurrection of Jesus, the only begotten son of God. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Paul Begins Preaching at Antioch

“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with [2] them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ (Acts 13:16-25 (ESV)
So they have made it to Antioch in Pisidia, John Mark has left them for reasons unexplained. But now they are in the synagogue and Paul begins  to preach to the Jews, proselytes and those who fear God. What we have here is an example, the general outline of the sermons Paul would give when he came to a new town and first began preaching in a synagogue.
When reading Acts there is always a question of applicability. It records events, but that something has happened one way at one time, doesn’t mean it will always happen that way. So when the Holy Spirit is received by the Samaritans with the laying on of hands as a separate event from baptism, or the house or Cornelius before baptism, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is always given apart from baptism, or that baptism isn’t the regular means through which one receives the Holy Spirit. In any case, in both those events, baptism occupies center stage. But you get the picture, the recording of an event in one way does not make it normative, it is descriptive, not prescriptive, kind of like a dictionary…. But then sermons do more than record an event, they proclaim God’s word to sinners, Justification by grace through faith. So what is recorded in a sermon is true for all times and all places, especially if an apostle is giving it. A sermon may describe an event, but its purpose is not description but prescription. So what Paul will preach here in this synagogue, is true today too. It is true for you, same as when Peter says that Baptism is for you and for your children in his sermon in chapter 2.

Paul starts his sermons remembering the history of Israel, the whole Old Testament, he ends then with John the Baptist, the last of the prophets of the Old Testament (which is not a collection of books, but circumcision). John then marks the transition from the Old To the New, the beginning of this transition anyway, as the transition is still happening at least as long as the Temple is still standing. For the Jews, much of this would be a review. It may  have even been boring. But for the God fearers, these would be those who perhaps have just started listening to Jewish rabbis, hearing about God, but  had not yet been circumcised and therefore not part of Israel, this would have been intriguing to them. Here is a God actively participating in the history  of this world, actually driving history. Their god’s typically just watched as if they were watching a play, and sometimes would intervene as if the script was a choose your own adventure book. But the God of Israel is active in history, even today. He doesn’t just wind up the watch and let it go, he actively turns the gears. He is operative even in your own life, blessing what you do, working all things good for those who love him. But the chief purpose of Paul recounting the history of Israel is to bring about Jesus, the son of David, the promised one. The story is about Jesus, it is completed and fulfilled in Jesus, and without Jesus it is incomplete, senseless, a collection of gibberish that means nothing. Which sad to say, is the way most read it today, even Christians. Today when we hear the word scriptures, our first thoughts are of the “New Testament” but when Paul used the term he had not in mind the letter to Romans, or Ephesians, or any of the gospels, but he spoke entirely of the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi, and these testify of Jesus as Paul will show. What Paul writes in his letters is always commentary on the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ, the savior of the offspring of David, to whom John pointed. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

John Mark Leaves

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: