Archive for November, 2013

We’ve still got a long way to go

November 29, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been using computers since high school which either isn’t a long time ago for people older than me and for my children is sometime just shy of the Late Middle Ages.

For years, I’ve heard the promise that computers will become vast storehouses of information and eventually even the great libraries of the world will have their stacks available online.  Now there are all sorts of copyright issues surrounding the Google Books project (although it looks like fair use will win out) but libraries have been relatively immune to copyright issues.  Libraries are great.  They’ve always had vast storehouse of information curated by knowledgeable people called librarians who can help a seeker sort through the haystack to find the needles.  Then they went digital.  The haystacks became staggeringly more difficult to sort through and all without the help of a librarian, that is a human who actually knows stuff.

What’s worse is that now what used to be identified through the card catalogs or their electronic counterparts and then sought in the stacks is now found through search engines and these horrible circa 1990 databases like those hosted by EBSCO . (I’ll give EBSCO credit that the information you’re looking for is probably in there but good luck finding it and good luck getting it out into some usable form.)

So here’s the rub, “the last mile” of the information age.  The text of the article is in the database but it’s completely ripped from the context of the printed page.  Usually in academic journals that’s not a bad thing but in the case of magazine articles there is usually significant graphical content that provides needed context for the text.  We need the fische like we used to have, actual images of the pages from which the text came.

This shouldn’t be nearly as hard as all that.

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Sermon for Weds in Pentecost 26

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Matthew 28:1-20

Note:  this sermon is an adaptation of Tom Wright’s, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28, 197–200.  With so much plagiarism around, it’s good to cite sources.  I essentially rewrote what Tom had here often adding my own insights and experiences but using his outline and main points.  As usual the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.


Many people have mentioned to one another this week where they were 50 years ago when President Kennedy was assassinated.  For people of my generation, the day is most certainly September 11, 2001.  The reason that those days mean so much to us is not just the tragedy or the trauma experienced on that day but a profound sense that from this point on everything will be very, very different.  And that opens the range of experiences not just to negative ones like assassinations or terrorist attacks, but very positive ones too.

I can remember many phone calls and letters over the years where the next part of the path in my life was illuminated where before it had been vague at best.  Leaving my parents for Freshman orientation.  When my wife walked into view at the end of the aisle.  When I held Erika right after she was born.  New and very different realities came to be at those moments and life would never be the same.

The resurrection accounts in the Gospels are very much like that.  Matthew especially seems to capture some of the mixture of delight and sheer terror of the moment experienced by the women who went to the tomb that Easter morning.  Mark and Luke tell us that they needed to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial but Matthew just tells us they went to see the tomb.  It’s not that there’s a great difference between the two accounts, it merely reminds us that the Gospels are, in fact, eyewitness accounts, not a party line made by collusion.  And Matthew’s account is the most dramatic of the four: an angel and an earthquake and guards fainting, and the messages about Jesus going on to Galilee. It makes sense that angel was there to announce Jesus’ resurrection because there was an angel to announce to Joseph, not to fear.  If Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience, it makes sense to include the angels because throughout the OT angels appeared at great moments within God’s revelation of His plan.  Guarding the gates of Eden, appearing to Abraham, ascending and descending on a ladder in Jacob’s dream, we could go on and on.

The whole point of noting this is to note that what is happening here at the tomb on Easter morning is the activity of the God of Israel Himself.  The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday as His Son was mocked is having the last word.  “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (27:40)  He is even answering His own Son’s question, “Why have you forsaken me?”  And the answer is the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  This is not just a display of God’s power for its own sake or even to right the wrongs done to His Son Jesus.  It is the beginning of something entirely new.  The promises made long ago to Adam and Eve that one day the curse of death would be lifted (Gen 3:15) is the end of death in resurrection of Jesus.  Everything is different for the women as a result of that morning.  Everything is different for us, for the whole world.

Just like you and I can remember where we were and what we said and did in the moments after tremendous tragedy or overwhelming joy, there is every reason to believe that the women who were there that morning remembered exactly what they saw and heard, as they saw and heard it that day.  The Good News that Jesus was raised from the dead was not just a theological result but a personal revelation attested to not only by the women but then hundreds of people over the next 40 days prior to His ascension to the right hand of God.

The resurrection of our Lord is not just offering people some new hope within themselves; it is about the plans and purposes of God revealing itself to be fulfilled in Christ.  The women must tell the others to go to Galilee and see Jesus there.  And so they head to Galilee and not only see the risen Jesus but are further sent by Him into the world to all peoples.  This new thing must be told to everyone because everyone is now free from death on account of Jesus victory over death here today.  Yes, they are commissioned.  Commissioned to baptize and teach everything that the Lord commanded, not just a new ethical scheme for the betterment of humankind but freedom from death and the power of sin and the devil.  This new thing has come to be.  Everything is now different than it was.  Everything is new and the Lord calls them to new lives, lives that already anticipate the resurrection of their own bodies.

Take away the resurrection of Jesus and there is nothing but a teacher teaching, maybe even a miracle worker working miracles, anticipation for something new, perhaps a glimpse of it but not the whole thing.  But in the light of Easter morning, the Sermon on the Mount is not an ethical treatise but the revelation of God’s new life in God’s kingdom, a new way of being human apart from death and sin and the power of hell all on account of Christ Jesus.

The old kingdom of death and sin is vanquished.  As a result of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, everything is different.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

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Adult Instruction Class on the Augsburg Confession

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Well, not that I’m an expert on the Augsburg Confession, but a number of folks asked me to start put on the web what I’m doing for Bible class and so here it is.  Your mileage may vary.

Instead of publishing the slides with the animations, I’ve just put up a pdf of them.  You can view them with Adobe Acrobat Reader or other far less bloated readers like Sumatra or my current favorite Nitro.  Some browsers have built in support for pdfs so it might not even be necessary to download and install one of these tools.  You might have to flip a little back and forth and listen to get a sense of what slide I’m on, so sorry.  As usual click on the triangle for the audio of the class.

Introduction to the Augsburg Confession PDF file


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Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 17 Nov, 2013

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Luke 21:5-35

Note: the audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.  

This is the last of Jesus’ temple teachings recorded in Luke.  After Palm Sunday, when Jesus triumphantly entered premillennialism-destruction-jerusalem-70ad-titus-archJerusalem, all week he was teaching in the temple courtyards.  He would go into the city during the day and then leave the city in the evening.  If we were to continue on just after the reading for today, Luke records, “37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.”

So, it’s the last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus is teaching in the temple courtyards and somebody in the large crowd of people made a comment about the beauty of the stones in the temple.  This prompts Jesus’ first comment.  Now, we modern folks are accustomed to skyscrapers over a hundred stories tall.  But Herod the Great’s temple was a marvel on a scale with the great temples of Rome and the Parthenon in Athens.  The outer courts were surrounded by a high and thick wall. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, says that this wall was the “greatest ever heard of,” which, although exaggerated, is not far from the truth (Ant. 15.11.3; 396).  Parts of this wall still survive today and have recently been excavated down to their original ground level.  No doubt these stones were impressive to anyone visiting the city, but Herod’s goal in building it was not to glorify God but rather to make a name for himself and achieve legitimacy for his impure lineage.  This magnificent temple stood as a symbol of everything that was wrong with what had become the religion of the OT, a religion which had morphed from the faith of Abraham, Moses and the prophets, into a religion Paul described as based on works of the Law, not grace.  Remember there is no Biblical account of the glory of the Lord returning to the temple after it was rebuilt after the exile.  It was a symbol of the religion of man, bound by time and space, its only significance temporal and earthly.

And Jesus begins to speak eschatologically, of last things, reminding them that “days will come” when not one of the magnificent stones will stand on another.  Lutherans have not been known for a focus on the end times.  There’s probably a Garrison Keillor joke or two in there somewhere but I think that we get a bad rap about our lack of eschatology.  Typically what many Christians think is eschatology is the Jack Van Impe type—newspaper in one hand and Bible in the other.  Jack represents what is called pre-millennial eschatology.  He thinks there will be a rapture of Christians out of the great tribulation.  You just heard this Gospel text read, the words of Jesus, nothing in this text suggests that God’s people will escape the trials of the end times.  If anything, Jesus is doing the opposite; he is preparing his people for the trials that will come.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We need to go back to the temple itself.

The people are impressed by the stones of the temple. But Jesus’ comment “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  Why would Jesus want his Father’s house to be torn down?  Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, he meets a woman at a well in Samaria.  You know the story, Jesus asks for a drink of water and she says he should know better being a Jew not to ask a Samaritan woman to draw water for him.  Jesus responds with “Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  (Jn 4:10)  So woman asks about this living water, thinking he’s talking about the water down deep, but Jesus responds, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (Jn 4:13–15)  Now, at first none of this talk about super water would seem to have anything to do with the temple, but then there’s a shift.  In an attempt to avoid Jesus’ questions about her adultery, the woman asks Jesus a question about the right place to worship. Being a Samaritan, she believes it’s on Mt. Gerazim, not the temple mount in Jerusalem.  And Jesus says something as equally eschatological as he says here in Luke 21, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The hour is coming,” that’s end times language.  When we couple these two things together, Jesus’ comments to the Samaritan woman at the well and his prophecy that the temple will be utterly destroyed, we see that Jesus is announcing there is a shift taking place.  God’s presence is no longer in the temple as it once was; his glory never inhabited the second temple.  No, the glory of God is now bound up forever in the hypostatic union of the Word made flesh.  We don’t need the temple in Jerusalem for anything anymore.  More importantly, no one does, not even the Jews.  The salvation of the world has come, Jesus.

We have Jesus—we have his living voice in the Word of God. We have his real and abiding presence at the Lord’s Supper.  The pre-millennial eschatology popular among so many Christians today says that our Lord lied when He spoke to the Samaritan woman and said the temple would not be located in a particular place.  It says that the Messianic age did not begin when Jesus came into His kingdom.  It says that all those end times signs on Good Friday, darkness covering the earth, earthquakes and even the dead rising from their tombs, were not the real end times signs.  They also must mean that the Church is not the everlasting spiritual temple of God because a new real temple needs to be built on the temple mount in Jerusalem.   And they say that it essentially every Christian’s duty to bring about the kingdom of God, even by force if necessary, to include the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (many of whom are Christians!) from Israel in the name of “Christianity”.  This is a dangerous and completely un-Biblical eschatology.  No dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have Jesus.  He reigns, right now.  We prepare to dine at his table shortly, a foretaste of the great Messianic banquet to come.

And so the signs of when these things will come.  Jesus prefaces his comments with a warning, “See that you are not led astray.”  You can look for signs all you want, but don’t be led astray.  “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’”  Well, we’ve got those kinds of preachers by the bushel.  Jesus warns, “Do not go after them.”  Next.  “Wars and tumults,” check.  “Great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences,” check and check.  “And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”  Have ya’ll heard anything about Near Earth Objects?  These are things like super asteroids on a collision course with earth.  So, I’m going to mark that as check.  “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you,” Yep.  That happens every day, all over the world, check.

Then Jesus warns about the destruction of Jerusalem.  Now I think that Jesus is doing two things here.  I think he is first talking about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 AD.  But I think he may also be talking about the last days.  But then he goes on to talk about the signs of his second coming.  “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.  You can imagine a guy like Jack Van Impe was all over this one after Christmas in 2004 with the tsunami in Indonesia.  Signs and signs.  But then a final warning.  “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  In all, Jesus is not imparting apocalyptic secrets to the disciples as much as he trying to prepare them spiritually for what lies ahead.  This is the goal of true Christian eschatology, not some secret knowledge about who and who won’t be “left behind” or who might be the “antichrist”, or about which Israeli attack helicopter is called a locust, but rather to teach that the end times begin with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are living in the end times and have been since Jesus entered this world in the flesh.  Now that Jesus has come into the world, God’s grace does not come through animal sacrifice at a temple made by hands.  Rather His grace will come through the New Covenant in the Messiah’s blood.  The Jews were the chosen people of God.  They were chosen to do one thing, usher in the Savior of the world.  He has come.  The temple, a modern nation-state for Israel in the land of Palestine no longer matters.  The life God brings in Christ is the life that springs forth from this new font at the side of Christ on his cross.  This life, a life in Christ, truly prepares God’s people to expect the second coming of our Lord, even to long for it, at all times.

But in the midst of these words of teaching and warning, we also can find great comfort.  We will find consolation in the communion of the saints during the persecution that lies ahead.  Dr. Arthur Just points out the Divine irony that God allows his former temple to be destroyed because He no longer dwells there but that he also allows Christians to be killed as they proclaim that His presence now dwells among them.  As Christians, we bear in their bodies Jesus, the new temple.  We are the living stones.  For Christians, persecution for Jesus’ sake is the opportunity to witness to the world the testimony of Jesus.  The testimony to the truth of Jesus’ teaching is His own death and resurrection wherein a new creation is breaking in to replace the old and the end times have arrived in Him.  When that hard time comes, we need not even worry about the eloquence of our words in that hour.

I will say this about Jack Van Impe and preachers like him.  Along with all the rest of his false doctrine, he gets this part right: he truly believes Jesus is coming back soon.  That’s more than I can say for a lot of Christians maybe even for more than a few of us.  Because as false as it is to believe the false teachings of the rapture and the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, it’s just as false to believe that this is it and the last day is the day we die and Jesus second coming is a long, long way off.  No.  We are to expect Jesus soon and very soon.

Jesus’ final words are in line with the rest of his speech here, equal parts warning and teaching.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The day will come.  Rejoice and be glad your savior has prepared you for it.  Amen

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Sermon for Weds in Pent 25, 13 Nov, 2013

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Matthew 26:20-35

Heavenly Host, 2013

Note: this is perhaps the most theologically dense sermon I’ve ever put together on the Lord’s Supper.  I was remarking to one of the saints here last week that I continue to learn things.  I learned this week about the four cups in the Passover meal and perhaps even more meaning to Jesus blessing the third cup but abstaining from the fourth.  And I learned about the Hallel psalms.  When I read the last lines in the study, a shiver went up my back to think this is what they were singing on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  As usual, the audio of the sermon can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below. 

Jews celebrate Passover annually and Christians celebrate Holy Communion, or if we pay attention to the Greek verbs here Hoc esteucharisto,“to give thanks” the Eucharist, on the Lord’s Day.  And that may be the distinction in a comparative religion class but there’s something far more profound going happening here at the disciples’ last Passover with Jesus.

We are very certain that this was a Passover meal, a Seder, from a number of clues in the account given not just by Matthew but by Mark and Luke as well.  It was evening.  The Passover does not begin until sundown.  But there are others, dipping bread into the sauce dish fits the Passover, especially if it was the sauce of bitter herbs and vinegar or salt water.  How ironic that the one who dips into the dish of bitterness is causing such great pain and suffering.  It should be lost on no one that all the disciples think themselves capable of betraying the Lord.  “Surely you don’t mean me, do you Lord?”  The question expects a negative answer, but they all know what lurks down below their façades of piety.  Judas is not alone.  Peter is angry that the Lord keeps talking about His coming death.  Thomas maybe understands a third of what’s going on if John’s account tells us anything.  Judas has conspired against the Lord to betray him at a moment out of sight of the crowds but they all think it’s possible the betrayer could be them.  If it were us gathered around that table that night, we would be no different.  And woe to him who betrays the Lord.  It would have been better for Judas to not have ever been born than betray Jesus, commit suicide, and die without faith.  And yet it is necessary to God’s plan.

It is true that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed; it is part of God’s plan and yet Judas still bears his own guilt for his treason.  By the will of God, His redemption plan is brought to fulfillment.  By the evil heart of a man is another betrayed to injustice for a profit.  While Judas is part of the plan, he is still to blame.  Even in the aftermath, Judas was overcome by guilt and despair.  If only Judas had not doubted that Jesus had died for his sins too.  Poor Judas.  He’s the only one who calls Jesus, “Rabbi” in Matthew’s Gospel, never does he call Jesus, “Lord.”  Jesus’ lament is an echo of Ps. 41:9, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”  But remember, Judas is not alone.  They have all dipped their bread.  And Judas’ shamelessness is the first of the lines bracketing the Lord’s words of institution , the end bracket is the boast of the one who would deny Jesus three times before morning.  If we were there, it would be no different.  Because that’s who are invited to the Lord’s table, those who see themselves as men and women no different from the disciples except perhaps who know the rest of the story and trust that the one who speaks these words, “given and shed for you” still invites and still freely offers His fellowship and forgiveness.

Our Lord took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it.  He gives thanks for the cup, eucharisto, to teach us how we should celebrate this Sacrament and to show that He knows what darkness awaits Him in the garden and He goes to it willingly for us.  We should note that as familiar with the Passover ritual all them had been, no one had ever taken the bread and said, “this is my body”.  Only with the hindsight of the resurrection did they begin to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:31).  The bread broken has sacrificial overtones that we should not overlook.  “Is” means, “is.”  It is His body.  How?  By His Word.  By the same word that called all things into being and that called us to new life, the bread is His body.  To say any more is to speculate.  To say any less is to deny.  “Take and eat; this is my body.  Take and drink; this is my blood, given and shed for you.”

Remember, this is a Passover meal.  Whatever this new meal is, Jesus links it to the redemption history of God.  “As the bread has just been broken, so will Jesus’ body be broken; and just as the people of Israel associated their deliverance from Egypt with eating the paschal meal prescribed as a divine ordinance, so also Messiah’s people are to associate Jesus’ redemptive death with eating this bread by Jesus’ authority.” [1]

Jesus gave the cup too.  Thus the practice of withholding the cup from the people in the medieval church was an error and an abuse without precedent in Scripture.  “This is My blood of the covenant.”  Blood and covenant are found together in only two places in the OT.  Exodus 24:8.  “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  And Zechariah 9:11, “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”  This means that Jesus understands that the violent death He is about to suffer is the ratification of God’s new covenant with His people sealed in His blood.  The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross is the event through which the Messiah saves His people from their sins and is the covenant creating action that bestows blessing and protection on the people by God’s own hand.  Jewish sources from this era, [The Mishnah (Pesaḥ. 10:6)] used Exodus 24:8 to interpret the Passover wine as a metaphor for blood that seals a covenant between God and his people.[2]  They had expected a new covenant with God.  It had been prophesied by Zechariah and before him, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant.

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:31-34)

One can come to no other honest conclusion except that Jesus understands the covenant He is introducing is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies and the perfected fulfillment of the Sinai covenant of which it was but a forerunner.  Jesus’ sacrifice is thus foretold not only in the prophetic Word but in the very redemption history of Israel.  The exodus from Egypt becomes a precursor of a new and greater deliverance; and as the people of God in the OT prospectively celebrated in the first Passover their escape from Egypt, anticipating their arrival in the Promised Land, so the people of God here prospectively celebrate their deliverance from sin and bondage, anticipating the coming kingdom of the Lord.[3]

Remember, this is a Passover meal.  So “just as the first Passover looks forward not only to deliverance but to settlement in the land, so also the Lord’s Supper looks forward to deliverance and life in the consummated kingdom. The disciples will keep this celebration until Jesus comes (cf. 1 Co 11:26); but Jesus will not participate in it with them until the consummation, when he will sit down with them at the messianic banquet (Isa 25:6; 1 En. 72:14; see comments at 8:11; cf. Lk 22:29–30) in his Father’s kingdom, which is equally Jesus’ kingdom (cf. Lk 22:16, 18, 29–30; see comments at 16:28; 25:31, 34). This point is greatly strengthened if we assume that Jesus speaks after drinking the fourth cup (see comments at v. 17).[4]

The four cups were meant to correspond to the fourfold promise of Exodus 6:6–7.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and [1.] I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and [2.] I will deliver you from slavery to them, and [3.] I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 [4.] I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”

If each of the four cups of the Passover meal correspond to the four promises, “the third cup, the “cup of blessing” used by Jesus in the words of institution, is thus associated with redemption (Ex 6:6); but the fourth cup corresponds to the promise “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Ex 6:7; cf. Daube, New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, 330–31; Lane, Mark, 508–9). Thus Jesus is simultaneously pledging that he will drink the “bitter cup” immediately ahead of him and vowing not to drink the cup of consummation, the cup that promises the divine presence, until the kingdom in all its fullness has been ushered in. Then he will drink the cup with his people. This is a veiled farewell and implies a sustained absence. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, points both to the past and to the future, both to Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary and to the messianic banquet.[5]

The hymn sung after the Passover was the last part of the Hallel, Psalms 114-118, the last verses of which are these:

22   The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone.

23   This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

24   This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25   Save us, we pray, O Lord!

O Lord, we pray, give us success!

26   Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

We bless you from the house of the Lord.

27   The Lord is God,

and he has made his light to shine upon us.

Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,

up to the horns of the altar!

28   You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;

you are my God; I will extol you.

29   Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever! [6]

In this way, “Christ takes Passover apart and fulfills it and recreates in its place a new and greater Passover, His Supper.  He continues to give His body and His blood for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins whenever we come to His Table.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for His righteousness![7]

“Lord, Jesus Christ, You have prepared This feast for our salvation.” Amen. (LSB 622:1)


[1] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 601.

[2] Ibid, 602–603.

[3] Ibid, 603.

[4] Ibid, 604.

[5] Ibid, 604.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 118:1–29.

[7] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1641–1642.

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Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 10 Nov, 2013

November 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Luke 20:27-40

Heavenly Host, 2013

Note:  For the first time, I’m not really sure which of the two preaching occasions I feel like was the better of the two sermons.   One had a little more energy but might have been slightly less articulate, where the other might have had a little less energy but was just slightly better spoken.  I think the ending went better in one, so that’s what I’ll post.  Click the triangle below to listen.  


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.jesus20and20sadducees20over20resurrection

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel we just heard.  And as we get started this morning, there a few things we have to get firmly fixed from the start: Sadducees, specifically what these folks in the Gospel today mean by “resurrection”, and this custom of levirate marriage.

First the Sadducees.  We’re more familiar with the Pharisees as the Gospel writers seem to record more of Jesus’ interaction with them.  In fact, this is the only time Jesus spars with the Sadducees specifically.  The Sadducees thought themselves to be the theological conservatives of the time when compared with the Pharisees.  They only accepted the Books of Moses, that is, the first 5 books of the OT, as authoritative.  And they didn’t read Moses as having anything to say about the future state of an individual after death.  They accused the Pharisees of not following Moses and being influenced more by Greek thought which taught a sharp division between the soul and the body, the soul being the good, pure thing, which is immortal in and of itself.  This is a direct import from Greek thought, specifically Platonic and Stoic ideas.  And the Pharisees leaned toward an idea of the resurrection that owed itself more to Greek thought than the OT.  But in their rejection of Greek thought, the Sadducees even refused to face the clear implications of OT teaching about the future state and were skeptical of any personal future existence.  We probably don’t think as clearly about the resurrection as we should.  What Scripture clearly does not teach is that the end state for us all is our souls flying around heaven playing harps.  And so the Sadducees are right to reject the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul but wrong to reject the resurrection of the body.

Understanding that Jesus might be supportive of the doctrine of the resurrection, the Sadducees bring up a hypothetical case of a woman who had successively had seven husbands who were all brothers.  It’s unclear whether they were all named Henry.  Their case was based on the custom of levirate marriage commanded in Deuteronomy 25.  A brother was commanded to marry his deceased brother’s wife in order to provide an heir.  It seems very strange to us, but we live in an era of inexpensive legal services and laws that enable wives and daughters to inherit property, and failing all that, probate courts.  So a custom that seems very odd to us is the basis for the Sadducees test case on the resurrection and by taking the case to its absurd extreme, they are attempting to show just how unreasonable the very idea of the resurrection was.  How can the dead be raised if they will not be able to tell who is married to whom?

Now, that the Lord even answers such a question is a sign of his condescending grace.  But Jesus’ answer tells us two things.  First, resurrection life will be quite different from this one of marriages and heirs and such.  Death will be no more and so the need for procreation will be irrelevant, especially the need for the continuing of one’s family line.  Those who are raised will become, literally in the Greek “equal to the angels,” not in the sense that they’ll become angels as some people think, but in the sense that they will live an eternal life in the presence of God.  And again, we should note that Jesus is not suggesting that the resurrection will not be a bodily resurrection, just that the bodies of the formerly dead will be, in significant ways, be quite unlike our present ones.

But secondly, and even more importantly, Jesus is saying that Moses’ Book of Exodus, one of those the Sadducees considered to be authoritative, does indeed teach the resurrection of the body.  The Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection of the dead[1] because they didn’t see it in the Torah, the Books of Moses.  And yet, Jesus says plainly that Moses does in fact know of the resurrection in the passage that is our Old Testament reading today where the Lord Himself speaks and calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of the dead, but the God of the living for all live to Him.  It’s no accident that Jesus mentions that those who are raised will be equal to the angels.  The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels either and here the Lord refers to them as well.  Jesus is showing very plainly that the neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees understood the Scriptures aright.  In verse 37 here, the grammar is important.  The tense of the verb “are raised” is not future but present.  So firm stands this certainty before the eye of the Lord, He speaks not in the future tense but in the present.  And there’s one other spot here where the English might be a little week.  Moses didn’t just “show” it, like it was a mathematical proof, Moses “revealed” this truth about those who are raised.  It’s as if Jesus was subtly saying, “Moses, you remember Moses right?  The exact same fellow you think supports your ideas?  He doesn’t.  Moses revealed this truth about the resurrection of the dead.  God is the God of the living not the dead!”

That leaves us in a bit of a quandary regarding the state of those who have died already and it looks as if we haven’t come to the Last Day, to the day of resurrection, yet.  What about them.  We’ll, we haven’t come to that day yet and without trying to speculate in terms of the relativity of time, we can say for sure that those who are dead are alive before the Lord.  The same God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same God who is the God of all those whose names we read last week on All Saints’ Day, and all the All Saints’ Days of years past.  The resurrection of the body and eternal life with God is not some abstract idea related to the relativity of time.  Remember who God is, He is not some abstract idea of a deity.  He is the creator God, who lovingly crafts Adam from the dust of the earth and breathes into him the breath of life and lovingly crafts Eve from Adam’s rib to be a perfect complement to Adam.  He is the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  If it’s been a while since you read those stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, go back and reread them.  God is amazing and good to His amazing promises.  He is the rescuer God who rescues His people from Pharaoh and the covenant making God who personally communicates with His people and gives them the words of the covenant that they might live with Him as His holy people and He would be there God, their king and protector.  “Behold, tell them, I AM has sent you.”  And so the resurrection of the body is not some abstract doctrine of an abstract God, but the promise of God that His people would live with Him in the full enjoyment and favor and fellowship with God into eternity.

Many people don’t necessarily doubt that there is a God, but they doubt heaven and all this business about life after death.  They are modern day Sadducees. But if there is a God and He is anything like what He has revealed of Himself to others like Moses, how could we ever expect to be restricted to just this present reality?  If God is God and we are truly His people how could we ever expect to be limited to just this temporal existence?  We are uniquely created beings who have enjoyed the grace and special favor of God.  How can we be tempted to think that there will come a day when there is nothing more than dust and ash?  If that were the case, wouldn’t God be ashamed to name Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob centuries after they had lived on this earth, ashamed to call Himself a God of dust and ash?  God who personally calls us by our names and bestows His own name on us grants us an eternal life with Him because we are children of the promise of the everlasting God.  Amen.

[1] Acts 23:8

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Sermon for Weds in Pent 24, 6 November 2013

November 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Matthew 23:13-39 — Seven Woes

Note:  This sermon got a little muddled toward the end.  I’m sorry about that.  Part of the problem was that the Gospel had to be imported.  You’ll see what I mean if you read or listen to it.   And I was particularly struck by the image of the hen and chicks and a sacrificial metaphor.  It works but it’s not a clear as I’d have liked it to be .  As usual, the audio of the sermon can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

seven woes

Jesus sounds like an OT prophet, like Isaiah, or Amos or Micah.

Theses woes in chapter 23 are the negative counterpoint to the Beatitudes.  Remember that the Beatitudes come at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  We just heard them Sunday.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5.3)  These woes come at the end of Jesus’ preaching ministry, after Palm Sunday, sometime during Holy Week.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  For you neither enter yourselves no allow those who would enter to go in.” (23.13)  It is as if Jesus has preached His heart out and is finally confirming the Pharisees in their unbelief.  And what is it that the scribes and Pharisees have really failed to do?  They have failed to understand that Jesus is God’s kingdom bringer.  Back in Matthew chapter 12, Jesus healed a man who was oppressed by a demon and was blind and mute.  When the crowd saw it, they asked, “Can this be the Son of David?”  (12.23)  Matthew continues, “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’  Jesus reacts against this in a way that is really significant to this first woe.  “Knowing their thoughts, [Jesus] said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  After preaching the kingdom of heaven for two more years, Jesus finally says to them, “woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”

The second woe is related to the first and almost describes how the Pharisees shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  They proselytize, in fact they are incredibly zealous at knocking on doors to gain more witnesses to the cause except their gaining converts to a religion that make its followers twice as much the son of hell.  There are groups today who are very active in proselytizing only to make their converts followers of religions that are not just new, religion should never be new, but false.  Jesus’ train of thought continues in the next woe because He shows how this zealotry is misguided when it comes to swearing oaths.

They had apparently devised rules about which oaths counted and which oaths didn’t.  We do the same thing sometimes.  We forbid our children to take the name of the Lord in vain, outright, but allow the lesser ones to come through, gosh, golly, gee whiz, etc.  The textual evidence from rabbinic sources seems to suggest that in Jesus’ day, there seems to have been something similar going on and the teachers then were trying to correct the abuses of oaths among the people but they apparently did so by distinguishing among oaths that bound the oath taker and oaths that didn’t.[1]  Swearing by the temple doesn’t count.  Swearing by all the gold in the temple did.  Remember the earlier parallel to the Sermon on the Mount?  Here there’s another.  In chapter 5, verse 33, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (5:33-37) Jesus basically forbid oath taking and mandated simply telling the truth at all times.  So what is Jesus doing in our reading tonight?  It looks like He too, is passing rules on oaths.  I’m certain that the way to read this passage and Jesus’ prohibition against oaths in chapter 5 is to read them as “don’t use oaths to cover up a lie.”  All oaths appear to be in some way related to God as witness so all should be considered binding.  At the heart of the matter is telling the truth, not using oaths to cover up lies.  Specifically, in the context of chapter 23 here, it appears that Jesus is really accusing the Pharisees of misusing the Scriptures to judge between binding and non-binding oaths.

New Testament scholar Tom Wright, offers a helpful caveat at this point.

It’s important at this stage to say something about who these people were whom Jesus is attacking in these passages. One sometimes hears it said that they represent ‘the Jews’. It’s true that Matthew’s gospel, not least this chapter, has sometimes been used as a weapon in anti-Jewish, or even anti-Semitic, propaganda. But that is a flagrant misuse of this text. In Jesus’ day, and on to our own day, the great majority of Jews have been, to put it crudely, neither scribes nor Pharisees.

True, the Pharisees’ laws and regulations were developed after ad 70 by the rabbis, who became the dominant factor within Judaism and remain so to this day. But Jesus’ criticisms were primarily against those of his own time who, he could see, were leading Israel astray, causing Israel to look in the wrong direction, at the very moment when its hour, and indeed its Messiah, had come. The main reason he is taking the trouble to denounce them in such detail is because they are distracting attention at the crucial moment. Their particular failings are simply extra evidence that they are not in fact the true guides that Israel needs at this fateful moment in its history.[2]  

emphasis original

I passed out a little handout with the bulletin, if you would take that out and have a look at it with me. 

A: First woe (v. 13)—failing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah

            B: Second woe (v. 15)—superficially zealous, yet doing more harm than good

                       C: Third woe (vv. 16–22)—misguided use of the Scripture

                                     D: Fourth woe (vv. 23–24)—fundamental failure to discern the thrust of Scripture

                      C′: Fifth woe (vv. 25–26)—misguided use of the Scripture

            B′: Sixth woe (vv. 27–28)—superficially zealous, yet doing more harm than good

A′:          Seventh woe (vv. 29–32)—heirs of those who failed to recognize the prophets[3]

 Matthew, we know was Levi, a Jew, and because of the structure and vocabulary of Matthew’s Gospel, we are rather certain that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew was wiring to a primarily Jewish audience.  Later Bible scholars have detected an elaborate set of parallels in Hebrew texts where there might be a central thought supported by a series of propositions.  This is not much different from what we were taught in composition classes years ago except with a distinct difference.  Where we were probably taught to the put the main point first and then support it with A, B, and C.  In Hebrew writings, often the main thought is in the middle with the supporting thoughts forming parallelism before and after it.  This is called a chiasm and we find these all over the Psalms but they also pop up very often in the teachings of Jesus.  So I gave you that simplified structure of these seven woes so you can see what is really at the heart and center of this whole passage, “the fundamental failure to discern the thrust of Scripture.”  It affects the Pharisees’ understanding of tithing, oath-taking, proselytizing, and their understanding of the kingdom of heaven.

Keeping in mind Tom Wright’s warning to be sure to see these woes not against the Jews as a whole but against a party among the Jews who’ve got it terribly wrong, we should also keep in mind that these failings of the Pharisees are not limited to their time or culture or religion.  We too should always be on guard against doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons to the point that we shut the door of the kingdom of heaven and forbid others to enter.  And yet, Jesus came for them too, even though they would not have him.

[The following I lifted and adapted from Tom Wright’s Matthew for Everyone, Part 2.  108-111]

One of Jesus’ most vivid illustrations concerns the hen and the chickens caught in a farmyard fire. Throughout the animal world, of course, the behaviour of mothers whose young are threatened is remarkable. But in this case there is a specially interesting phenomenon. There have been recorded instances of a mother hen, faced with a fire, collecting her young chickens under her wings to keep them safe. Sometimes she is successful: when the fire has done its worst and died down, you may find a dead hen with live chicks underneath its wings.

Now imagine Jesus as the hen, and his fellow-Jews, not least the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as the chickens. What is Jesus saying he wanted to do?  Jesus sees the build-up of all the guilt of Israel all the way back to the murdering of the prophets of the Lord, all the way back to the blood-guilt of Cain.  Jesus answer to that guilt takes us not into further denunciations, but deep into the heart of Jesus’ own mission and purpose.  Jesus’ vocation to fulfill the promises of God made to the world through His holy people, Israel.  The world had provoked its creator, worshipping idols and behaving in destructive, and self-destructive, patterns. Israel, called to bring God’s light to the world, had instead copied the world. The whole human race had played with fire; and the fire was now raging out of control. Jesus, as the mother hen, longed to gather the chickens under his wings, to take the full force of the fire on to himself and rescue the chickens from it.  And the fire, now blazing merrily, would rage on until the generation that had seen the Emmanuel, and had rejected his offer of rescue, had been consumed by its flames.

The final, sorrowful saying makes it clear that the messianic blessings that Jesus longed to bring to Israel can only be received by those who welcome him in faith. ‘Blessed is the one who comes’ is, to this day, the regular Hebrew way of saying ‘welcome’. The point is then that the only way to profit from what Jesus is about to do is to speak with true understanding the words which the Palm Sunday crowds sang, albeit with a shallow view of Messiahship (21:9).

The saying haunts all subsequent telling of Jesus’ story. Are we, the readers or hearers, really welcoming the true Jesus, the one who denounces evil and then takes it upon himself in the final great act of love? Or do we prefer, like the crowds a few days before, to welcome the ‘Jesus’ who happens to fit the imaginings and agendas that we have worked out for ourselves?[4]

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Blessed are you.  Amen.

[1] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 538.

[2] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 103–104.

[3] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 536.

[4] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 108–111.

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