Tuesday, December 12, 2017
A family was driving home after attending a Wednesday evening Advent service at their church - when all of a sudden the 3 year old daughter loudly proclaimed from her car seat in the back - "I'm afraid of angels!"
After the initial shock of his young daughter's statement, the dad gently asked, "Why are you afraid of angels honey?" She responded, "I'm afraid they'll talk to me."
It's not too surprising after all - since most of the Sunday School stories that lead up to Christmas involve angels that talk to people. Maybe this little girl had good reason to be afraid - because whether it's Joseph or Zechariah or Mary or the Magi, when angels speak in the Christmas story, lives are turned upside down and inside out and nothing is ever the same again.
Maybe our first instinct is to be afraid like the little girl. Especially in times like these. But then we hear what the angel says - and we are comforted and encouraged. Because every time an angel shows up in the New Testament to talk to people, they always begin the same way. Fear not - don't be afraid - it's gonna be okay.
"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Don't be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."
I'm sure Mary had her fears. She was just a humble peasant girl. I'm sure she was afraid. But she also had faith in her God and His promise of a Messiah to come. She trusted Him and His Word - even if it came with the slightly frightful experience of having an angel talk to her. Because it was all part of God's plan, to fulfill his far greater promise to bring into the world a savior from sin and death and hell. This conception, this immaculate conception, is unlike any in all of human history. Because this child is the one Isaiah had foretold - Immanuel, God with us. His name will be Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Just like at the time of Joseph and Mary, this is a fallen and broken world where we have to deal with difficult things like sin and suffering, pain and death. But also like Joseph and Mary, we have God's Word and His promise in the midst of all the trouble and turmoil and turbulence. We have the promise spoken by Isaiah, and repeated by the angel, which isn't just good news for them alone, but good news for all people. And very good news for those who celebrate Christmas in heaven this year.
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they will call his name Immanuel." The promise stands sure and true, even when the Christmas season comes with pain and suffering and loss. In such times perhaps the promise stands even more sure and true for us. For in such times we take to heart what it means for us and for all the world, that the Son of God came into this world as a little baby boy in order to be our Savior and our Lord - Immanuel - God with us. His name is Jesus - for he will save his people from their sins.
He is the One who led a perfect life for us, who was crucified on the cross for us, and who rose from the dead on the third day for us, to bring forgiveness and salvation and new life to all who believe. He came to give His life for us and for all those whom we love. He comes to us even now through His Word and through His people to bring us comfort and hope, life and forgiveness, peace and joy. He is the Way and the Truth - the Resurrection and the Life - our Risen and Living Lord and Savior - who has loved us with an infinite and intimate love - and whose amazing grace and tender mercies last forever.
So fear not. Don't be afraid. God loves you. Jesus forgives you. Your sins have been forgiven. He offers to you eternal salvation - an everlasting inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade. So no matter what, you have peace with God, you are His people, God is on your side. You need not be afraid of anything anymore. Not even angels.
"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord."
Friday, December 1, 2017
A few weeks ago a "lost" painting by Leonardo Da Vinci sold at auction for a record $450 million. The name of the painting? Salvator Mundi - Savior of the World.
Whether the painting is authentic or not is still up for debate - as well as whether or not the buyer overpaid for it. But there is no question about the mesmerizing nature of the painting.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, is dressed in a robe, holding a sphere in one hand and making the sign of peace with the other. And perhaps most striking of all - he is looking straight at the viewer. No sideways glance or downcast look that you might find in other medieval paintings of Christ. No - here He is staring straight ahead - looking directly into the soul.
Although He is indeed very God of very God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, here He simply appears as a man who comes to bring peace to the world. His face is one of humility, gentleness, and compassion. His posture is open and accepting and welcoming - for all people everywhere who might follow Him and believe.
Most medieval paintings of Christ depict Him as a stern judge. Here He is shown as Salvator Mundi - Savior of the World. That's something you just can't put a price on. You might even say it's priceless.
Monday, October 16, 2017
“You all sure do talk a lot about Jesus.”
We Lutherans hear this line from time to time, and although meant as a criticism, we actually take it as a compliment. The assumption behind the statement speaks to a problem in much of modern American Christianity - not enough talk about Jesus! Can you ever have too much Jesus? Impossible! The fact is that our problems are usually caused because we are focusing our hearts and minds on everything else rather than fixing them on Jesus.
Many people today find themselves lost, empty, and hopeless when they don't “feel” something in their hearts. When they look at their lives, they see little evidence that "proves" to them that God loves them. So what should Christians do when they don't see progress in their desire to love God more? Where should you turn when you find yourself making the same mistakes, despite all your best efforts? Look to Jesus. Cling to Christ. Set your eyes upon the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
He's always there in His Word and Sacraments, in the precious Gospel that is outside of us. There in the good news Gospel that never depends on how you feel or what you think. Your emotions and thoughts will ebb and flow from one day to the next. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Looking inside ourselves we see our sins, doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. But when we confess that sin, we look outside of ourselves to the light of Christ, which dispels the darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
So fix your eyes on Jesus. Focus on Him. Look to His cross and empty tomb. "Nothing in my hands I bring, only to thy cross I cling." You will always be disappointed if you choose to look inside yourself for comfort or security. You will always be let down if you put your hope and trust in other human beings, no matter how close they are to you. You will always be disappointed if you put your hope and security in your job, your marriage, an organization, or an institution.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2)
That's the secret of the Christian life. That's the key to being a good news person in a bad news world. Christ crucified and risen for you and for me. It’s all about Jesus. He is the One who gave Himself up for you. He is the One who died and rose again for you. He is the One who loves you with an eternal and everlasting love. He has purchased and won you from sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Why? So that you may be His own, and live under Him, in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
It’s still all about Jesus. Solus Christus. Christ Alone.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
The Lutheran Confessions state that the Scriptures alone are the only rule and norm for faith and life. The Latin expression "sola scriptura" (scripture alone) was coined by reformers like Martin Luther and refers to the authority of the Holy Scriptures to serve as the sole norm for all that is taught and confessed in the church.
In numerous places the Scriptures themselves claim authority as the inspired Word of God. Paul writes in 2 Tim. 3:16 that "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," The Apostle Peter also declares that "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy ever came about by the impulse of man, but men moved along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Acceptance of the Bible as the sole authority for teaching comes not from rational arguments or human traditions, but a conviction produced by the Holy Spirit in the human heart. It is a matter of faith worked by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace and the Scriptures themselves.
As the Holy Spirit reveals this to us, we are renewed, refreshed, and reformed by the power of God's Word, as we come to realize that it's time for us to get "Back to the Bible".
The Reformers were right. Verbum Dei Manet Aeternum - The Word of the Lord endures forever.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
To have faith means to believe. It means to place your trust, your confidence, and your hope in someone or something greater than yourself.
But faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. If we put our faith in earthly people or things, sooner or later we are going to be let down. We live in a fallen world, full of sinful people and broken things, and in the end they are unable to deliver the goods, to give us what we are all looking for, something to believe in.
So don't put your faith in earthly people or things - and for that matter don't even put your faith in your own faith!
There is only One in whom we can fully trust to have faith in and believe. There is only One Who always keeps His promises and in Whom we can place our hope. There is only One Who is worthy of all of our worship, honor, and praise. There is only One in whom there is forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation for all believe. There is only one way to heaven, and it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the World.
Believe in Him, have faith in Him, put your trust in Him, and you will be saved.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
That’s because salvation is only by God's grace, a free gift from God through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe. God does it all - we're just along for the ride. We can't do any of it on our own. If you think about it, our only real role in God raising us from the dead is ... being dead! (which really isn’t much of an accomplishment at all.)
Being saved by grace through faith means believing in Jesus as your Savior, trusting in His death and resurrection, and receiving His forgiveness and salvation through belief and baptism. It's as easy as that.
But that's a little too easy for some. For them the grace of God is unimaginable, because it's hard to believe that you can get something for nothing in this life. But God's Grace is different than what the world offers. It's getting what you don't deserve. It's God's riches at Christ's expense. It's your filthy rags in exchange for Christ's robe of righteousness. It's like Christmas - Jesus has the birthday, but we get all the gifts!
Sound too good to be true? Yes it does. But in fact, it is the greatest truth the world has ever known.
"By grace you are saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so no one can boast." (Romans 2:8)