Monday, October 5, 2015

What God has Joined Together

 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, [1] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:1-16 (ESV)
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
So is the kingdom of God received, by Christ taking you into his arms and blessing you, laying his hands upon you and forgiving you your sins. They couldn’t do anything, how much they knew was also doubtful, they couldn’t make a profession of faith. There is no guarantee that they are going to live a perfectly Christian life or witness to Christ with their life. There is only Christ gathering them to him, laying his hands on them, blessing them. This is how we are to receive the kingdom of God. So simple, and yet so easily messed up by our hard and jaded hearts.
The Kingdom of God, a restoration to that relationship that we had with God before the fall, before sin entered our world to cause our death, hardening out hearts to one another and to God until which time they just stopped working. We see how corrupted the world has become as the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce.
Is it lawful to divorce. “As Paul says in the 10th chapter of Corinthians, all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful but not all things build up.” Contrary to popular belief nothing Jesus says here changes a dot or tittle concerning the lawfulness of divorce. He knows what Moses has written. He knows that divorce is often necessary in this world. I do believe it cuts down on the murder rate. It’s not a light or easy thing, and it was never meant to be. Yet God tells Abraham to send Hagar away. He commands the Jews upon their return from Babylonian exile to put away their foreign wives, the wives that were teaching them to worship other gods, and in essence to divorce him. God allowed and still allows for divorce.  To this day it remains something necessary in this world, where husbands often beat wives, where sinners sin against sinners and cheat and steal and murder, abandon their responsibilities to others and commit adultery. All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.
So Jesus points to something else. Sure Moses allowed for divorce because the hardness of your heart. But why is your heart so hard? There was no question for the
 Pharisees as to whether or not divorce was lawful, it was rather a question of when it was justified. And in Jesus day it wasn’t hard to see the fall out of massive divorce. You had the problem of broken families. More than that you had daughters constantly returning home to live as burdens on their father’s incomes because there was nowhere else for them to go, and typically they would find it hard to marry again. And then women had limited means of employment outside the home in that age. If they weren’t housewives and mothers, if their fathers were no longer around to take care of them, they became the kind of women who would wash the feet of Jesus with their tears and dry them with their hair. The question wasn’t is it lawful, but when for the Pharisees, can you send her home if she isn’t a good cook? Perhaps when you are bored of her?
Jesus points us to the kingdom as it once was. Yes Moses allows for divorce. But was that the most decisive thing he wrote concerning marriage? Or was it this, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” God has a purpose with marriage and it isn’t to use, abuse and discard. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way husbands shall love their wives as their own bodies. As your own bodies. As your own self that is, your own flesh, your own being. Marriage is a gift from God, a one flesh union to be cherished, to help complete you, a relationship in which two people grow together evermore united in the face of hardship. And so it is that it even becomes a model for the relationship Jesus has with the church, with you and I, and this is why he can say let the little children come on to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Jesus knows the law of God inside and out. Jesus knows this law by which we think we stand or remain in the kingdom. A show of strength and pride. It is in the nature of man to think we stand in this by our own two feet. That we enter by making a commitment to live as Christ would have us to live. Perhaps by not divorcing etc. How could we commit our children to that? I mean that is often the objection to infant baptism, is “don’t you see how many of them leave the church? Who don’t remain Christian?” Though I have to say, the records on all that whatever they may be don’t show themselves better in this world for those who wait for some age of accountability.” No if it is up to us and how we live we’ll lose the kingdom every time. Lawful to divorce? We give Christ reason to give us the bill of divorce with almost every breath we take. But it was precisely that reason for which he gave up his life for you, for your spouse, for your ex-wife and your ex-husband, but also why he gave up his life for your children, because he knew if this relationship was going to work, he could not depend on us to make it right or keep it right, but would have to forgive us all our sins, and wash us clean, sanctify us to be his bride through the washing of the water with the word. And there in baptism he would join us with him, even as little children who don’t stand a chance in this world of sin, but there God would join us together and make us one flesh with Christ and what God has joined together he will not let man separate so that we would enjoy this restored relationship with him for all eternity.

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Heir of the World

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:13-15 (ESV)
He would be heir of the world. It’s funny, the embroiled conflict in the Middle East today, and people arguing that God promised this land to Israel. The argument always sounds hollow to me. It doesn’t take the covenant with Abraham seriously enough, and for a Christian it doesn’t make sense because it fails to take into consideration the true Israel, and what it means to be a child of Abraham. That said, I’m all for modern day Israel, and their right to be right where they are. I actually tend to me more pro-Israeli than most when it comes to my thoughts on foreign policy. I just don’t justify my pro-Israeli leanings with scripture.

Part of the problem is to do so by way of the Abrahamic promise, the picture gets a bit more grand than that little sliver of land on the Mediterranean coast line. The Jews of the first century understood this. The whole world is encompassed in it, all nations. Perhaps it is all written cryptically enough that it can be somewhat disputed, but the oppressed people of first century Israel understood it well enough, and Paul accepts in unabashedly. For the Christian, there can be no disputing it, we have Romans 4. It is a question of the whole world. And it does not find it’s fulfilment in earthly kingdoms, but in the kingdom of God that comes through baptism, for there it is not many nations, but all nations that are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Children of Abraham

 “Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

Circumcision, reading the scriptures today, well it’s funny. Today people can watch all sorts of sexually charged television, often with their children in the same room, they can crack bawdy jokes everywhere. It is as if they do not know how to blush. But then, then God starts talking about sex, the Bible talks about circumcision and everyone gets a bit uncomfortable. We can’t understand why religious people should be so concerned about the state of a man’s penis that talk of it should take up so much time, not only in the OT but in the NT as well. But for the Jews of the first century this was of paramount importance.  God had commanded circumcision, he had his reasons, and I’ve speculated on that elsewhere. It is true that God had justified Abraham before circumcision because Abraham believed, but we would not count it as faith if Abraham had refused to be circumcised. It’s the same with baptism. What sort of faith is it that refuses to be baptized when God has attached such great promises to baptism. People say they believe without baptism, but that seems to be a rather hollow belief. The Jews of the first century had the same questions when it came to circumcision and this new sect in their midst that said it was no longer necessary. The only thing that could do away with circumcision was Christ’s fulfilment of it, circumcision was literally the Old Testament, which is not pages in a book but an actual testament, a promise, a covenant if you will that was made between God and man, specifically between God and Abraham concerning his descendants according to the flesh. It found fulfilment in Christ. Until then it wasn’t old, it was just the testament, and if you wanted to be part of it, you had to sign on the blood dotted line, that is be circumcised. It was a pact made with blood, but a heck of a lot more important than that pact you made with a cut hand around a drunken campfire in your teen years. If one did not know that the testament had been fulfilled then one would not know that it was no longer necessary. But the blood itself showed in just which way the pact would be fulfilled, just what it was that the covenant would require and that was blood. One might argue that the area from which that blood flowed heightened the significance of that blood also. It was Jesus who fulfilled that covenant, who signed that dotted line with his own circumcision, perhaps the least celebrated and yet most important events of his youth and our salvation history, it gets overshadowed by New Years. That covenant cost him his entire life, it encompassed every last aspect of his manhood, now it redeems every last aspect of ours. But because it has been fulfilled it is no longer in play, but a new testament has taken its place, another testament of blood that cannot be ignored by one who professes to believe, because now the blood first shed for us by a rabbi’s razor cutting into the manhood of God himself, is the innocent blood poured out for us on the cross, and poured into the cup for the forgiveness of our sins, that it would make us who believe children of Abraham. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blessed are Those Whose Sins are Forgiven

Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:6-8 (ESV)
Paul quotes a couple Psalms to make his point that what he preaches is something that the OT already teaches. It isn’t anything new. God justifies the ungodly. God forgives sins. God does not hold our sins against us. Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven.

The question I suppose one has here is, who are “those?” You are those. It is your lawless deeds that God forgives. We automatically though, run into a catch 22. Our sinful natures want our lawless deeds to be forgiven, we want their lawless deeds to be punished. In this world lawless deeds are punished. Even your lawless deeds find punishment and earthly retribution more often than not. The old saying that what comes around goes around is for the most part true. Sometimes we escape direct retribution but then we find things happening to us for no apparent reason, and sometimes you wonder if it isn’t somehow retribution for whatever it was that you did and kept hidden since you were 12 or whatever. This isn’t talking about earthly consequences for our actions. It is talking about something far more severe, the eternal consequences of our actions. And what we deserve is what they deserve, and none of us would wish that on our worst enemy’s dog as the saying goes. God doesn’t wish it on you either. For this reason he sent his Son to die for you, that you would be blessed and being blessed be forgiven.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Justifying the Ungodly

4:1 What then shall we say was gained by [1] Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in [2] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”(Romans 4:1-5 (ESV)
“Him who justifies the ungodly,” what a God. “I thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the third generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Of all the things I learned as a kid, this one sticks. Partly it sticks because I once encountered a guy who blamed that passage he learned in school for his atheism. He didn’t think jealousy was an emotion God should have. We do try to teach our kids not to be jealous. But no one wants a spouse that isn’t jealous of them. It’s one thing to be jealous of what your friend has, it is another to be jealous of what you have. The jealousy of God is a good thing for us. It compels him to justify the ungodly. That is it compels him to justify you.
To say God is jealous of you is to say that he loves you. But a jealous love is often an unaccountable love, and unreasonable love, a love that doesn’t see straight. I’m not here to tell God what is seeing straight and what is unreasonable. But when you look at his love for us, it certainly seems unreasonable from a sinners viewpoint. We think God should love what we love, what we think he should have reason to love, because our skewed emotions have reason to love it. That is we think God should love the godly, the people we think are godly. But if he was to love the godly, he would love no one.
No one is godly, no one is good. Not only do our sinful deeds and actions far outweigh anything we consider good, even those things we consider good can be exposed as sinful if we begin to examine them in light of God’s word. But God is jealous. He is jealous of his creation, he is jealous of you, and so he will not let evil have the last word. Instead he counts as righteous the ungodly who believe in him, the ungodly whom Jesus Christ saved with his death and resurrection, redeemed with his blood.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Salted With Fire

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, [6] and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, [7] it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, [8] to the unquenchable fire. [9] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. [10] 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:1-50 (ESV)
“For everyone must be salted with fire.”
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it would already be kindled. I have a baptism with which to be baptized with and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” Thus Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection in the 12th chapter of Luke. And event by which he would cast fire upon the earth, that in our baptisms in which we are joined to his death and resurrection, we would be salted with the fire of the Holy Spirit. That is we would be made to be living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God, as the salt of the Old Covenant made the sacrifices of temple to be consumed by the fire of God to be acceptable to him. We are salted with fire, and the salt is the forgiveness of sins by which we live that we may never lose our saltiness, but continually be at peace with one another.
Salted with fire that we would be living sacrifices before the Lord, willing to gouge out our eyes, chop off our feet, and hands and throw them into the fire that we ourselves would escape the fires of hell where the worm does not die, where the fires are never quenched. That we would not ourselves fall from the faith. This is what the temptation to sin is really about in this passage. It is the temptation to apostasy, or the temptation to give up the Christian faith. And it happens, often it happens as Christians are given to the temptation to indulge the hungers and desires of the flesh in manners not consistent with Christian morality, not consistent with the love of Christ for the world, for others for us. Not consistent with the love we have for God or the love we have for each other by which we live at peace with one another. Instead there is a life in which we give into the covetousness of our hearts, we take advantage of others, often when they themselves offer to be taken advantage of.
If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is one of the harder passages in scripture. How literally it is meant to be taken is perhaps up for debate. Church history has recorded those who have taken this passage rather seriously. The early church theologian Origen, the man was quite a genius even if perhaps a precursor to the heresy of Arianism, which first espoused the Mormon idea that as God once was we now are, as God is we can become. Much of Origen’s work was later condemned even as it remained influential for centuries, shaping Christian thought even today in some ways. He is best remembered for the comparisons of biblical texts. However, as great a scholar and genius he was, he was denied the priesthood after reading this text because his bishop had considered him to have lost his manhood. And it just goes to show, that following this text to literally would lead to another sin, that of self-mutilation. God created us with two eyes, two feet and two hands for a reason. But it was not so that we could sin, or tempt others to sin, but that we could serve the Lord with and in our bodies. And this we do not by tempting the little ones who believe in him to sin, but by raising them up in the faith, feeding them and clothing them physically with hotdogs and mac and cheese, but also spiritually with the love and righteousness of Christ, the robes of righteousness given in baptism. These little ones who believe in me, I love those words of Christ. There is here no question about the age of accountability. No question about them being able to make a decision for Christ. There is nothing but Jesus saying, don’t teach them to sin. They believe in me, don’t make them to despise my word. Raise them in the faith I have given them. And this is where a life of self-sacrifice hits home, because it is at home and work that we live as living sacrifices salted with fire. It is there that we have to bear with one another in love and forgiveness, even as we do so within the church, that the salt would not lose its saltiness.
No, it isn’t being overly strict with ourselves and those entrusted to our care that gives us our saltiness. This is actually a way to lose the saltiness, to foster dissent, to cause little one’s not to believe. To raise them up with resentment, perhaps because they can’t join the neighborhood kids in the upcoming parade of costumes. People, there are satanic ways to celebrate Halloween, and a parent is perhaps right to be concerned about the appropriateness of a particular costume. But trick or treating, and Halloween parties are not things that should be denied children in the name of Christ, any more than Christmas presents, or being able to play on Sunday, or even work if they are old enough, I have to shake my head at things sometimes, things parents do to their children in the name of Christ. Santa and all the fun surrounding him is not a misspelling of Satan. Neither does it take away from the true meaning of Christmas, but actually has a way of adding to everything, if the parents themselves would actually keep the true meaning of Christmas at the center. That isn’t the saltiness. No the salt, the living sacrifice is often rather than an embrace of love and forgiveness when it hurts to forgive, when that child perhaps has given into temptations they would have done better to avoid. Because the salt with which Christ salts us with is the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, when he joins us to his death and resurrection and baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire.

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

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Law that Will Not Allow our Justification

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31 (ESV)
Boasting. This is the problem with the gospel. This is why sinners don’t really like it. We want to be able to boast, even before God. It shows us the evil of our heart, the self-destructive madness that we try to satisfy as we go off to find ourselves. But we have nothing to boast about. We want God to factor in our good works into our salvation, the character we have spent so much time developing. And God won’t have it. He will justify us apart from the law, by faith. If he was going to factor in good works as we would like, then he would also have to factor in all our failures, mistakes, and down right malicious behavior. He who calls his brother a fool is guilty of hellfire, and I know for my part I’m guilty of ridiculing brothers with far worse language than that. If we were to factor in our good works, those too would come along and we would not find ourselves in the black.

But some attention should be paid here to Paul’s argument from the oneness of God to his universality. God is one. On the one hand this speaks to the unity of the Holy Trinity. Paul is here making reference to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4.  But this also means that in reality there is only one God. All other things that we refer to as gods, are false gods, inferior gods. Sure there are times when even men are referred to as gods in scripture, mortal as they are. This has to do very much with the fact that we have been created in God’s image to share in the dominion of his creation, where we in a manner of speaking play god with our little domains, deciding what weeds to pull, what flowers to plant here or there, which dog to take home from the pound. But we as gods have a God who is God of gods, even as he is King of kings. He is the creator of the world over which and in which we play god, and he is one, not many, but one, if we have peace with him then none of the others matter, at least not in the sense that we should have to find peace with them, satisfy them, propitiate them to be able to find peace with ourselves, or secure our salvation. And peace with God is what we have on behalf of the propitiation of his son set forth out of love. Now, now these others only matter insomuch as God has put them in our lives to be objects of our love, even has they are objects of his love. We don’t have to justify ourselves to them, but now we love them, and loving them we uphold the law even greater than those who would try to justify themselves by the law that will not allow our justification.