Saturday, April 30, 2011
We live at a time when many people have begun to give up hope. Their confidence has been eroded,
a sense of despair has begun to spread, because they are not sure about what the future will bring.
After an era of success and great progress, this past century has brought us World War I,
the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, the threat of a Nuclear bomb,
9-11, the war on terror, the economic collapse, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, you name it...
Just as the sign above the entrance to Dante’s hell says, “Abandon hope all you who enter here",
Many have begun to give up hope.
Add to this the fact that our default setting as human beings is what Luther calls a theology of glory, that is, believing that God deals with us the same way we deal with Him. When something bad happens to you, God must be punishing you for something you've done. So you begin to lose hope.
We are all hard-wired, or hot-wired, this way, to think that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. The only problem with that formula is, since we are all born in sin, we're all bad and we're all going to hell. The only thing that makes us good in the eyes of God is Jesus Christ, and his perfect life, death, and resurrection for us in our place.
Regardless of what we have been taught, what we have heard, or what we believe to be true, when push comes to shove, when tough times come and the rubber hits the road, our default setting is always there waiting to reboot, waiting for us to slip back into our old adam's way of thinking...
I hope I've done enough... I think I've been good enough... At least I'm better than most people.
I hope I'm going to make it into heaven.
Well, the truth is, you haven't been good enough. The truth is that by nature you are a poor miserable sinner, rotten to the core, just like everyone else. No one has been good enough. No one, that is, but Jesus.
Jesus was good enough, and He took what you deserved, that is death and hell, and He died in your place on the cross to give you what you don't deserve - His grace, mercy, forgiveness, life, and salvation. That is the theology of the cross - that is the hope of the Christian.
As God's Easter People this morning we need to again hear the words from 1 Peter -
"According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
And from the book of Romans...
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
The Biblical meaning of the word “hope,” means having a sure and certain rock-solid confidence that what God has promised will indeed come to pass, trusting that what God says is true, and that He indeed has a future for you. Faith is trusting God in the here and now; hope is trusting in God’s future.
The only survivor of a shipwreck washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed to come.
Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had now happened to him; everything was lost.
He was stung with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me!" he cried.
That night he fell asleep in sorrow and in tears.
Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him! When his rescuers finally reached him, the weary man asked them -
"How did you know I was here?" "We saw your smoke signal in the sky."
Friends - there is always hope, even when it seems like all our hopes are dashed.
Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are absolutely convinced of the power of hope.
We abound with hope. We are filled with hope. We are overflowing with hope that the God who has taken care of us in the past, and is with us today, will indeed take care of us in the future. Therefore, we are not afraid no matter what the future may bring. We know that the God of the past is also the God of the present, and of the future.
God's Easter People are those who have hope, hope in this world but also hope for the world to come.
We have the absolute sure and certain hope of eternal life.
The greatest hope ever given is God's promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation found in His One and Only Son, the Savior and Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord. He kept His promise to His people and fulfilled their hope in a Messiah to come, the Hope of Israel. He who was born as a babe in Bethlehem grew up to be be a man, to live and die and rise again, so that we might also rise to newness of life someday. He will come again for us, to keep His promise, to fulfill our hope, and we shall live with Him in peace and joy for all eternity.
We live in that sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
It is the same hope found in a prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp.
For scratched on the walls of one of the camps were these words,
“I believe in the sun even when it does not shine. I believe in love even when I can't feel it.
And I believe in God even when He is silent.”...
That is our hope as God's Easter people this Easter season.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Students stuffed notebooks into backpacks as they waited for perhaps one more nugget from the 80-year-old professor who just delivered a 90-minute lecture without notes.
Paul Maier looked at his watch. He smiled. It was time.
"Sorry to run over team, but it's my last lecture. What can I do?" he said to student laughter and applause.
The lecture was the Socratic capstone on a 50-year teaching career at Western Michigan University. After he administers final exams this week, the professor plans to retire, ending the longest-tenured teaching career at the 108-year-old university.
During his half-century, Maier has written 25 books with 4 million copies sold. He's a frequent expert cited by national news media, and he has delivered seminars across the country for decades.
As Paul Maier effortlessly careened through a couple centuries of Roman emperors, he quipped about their short life-spans: "If you're the insurance company, don't sell any of them a ... policy," he said to the class, referring to dead emperors as if old friends.
Without using notes, he imparted knowledge for an hour and a half from a vast mental repository of facts. It was different from the first time he taught -- during the Eisenhower administration. Back then, he needed notes.
"I was still learning the material," said Maier, the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western University Michigan. "I know it a lot better now."
After Maier gives his final exams this week, he'll retire and put to bed a teaching career that spans nearly half of WMU's 108-year history and 11 American presidencies.
The year he came to campus, the average American made less than $4,000 a year, and the first microchip -- forerunner to the personal computers -- was developed.
Despite changes and advances, his love of teaching has stayed the same. The information for his lecture Thursday readily sprang from his mind as he strolled around the classroom, gesturing and smiling. He wore a coat and tie and got slightly more rumpled as the class went on.
"There are people who have to go to jobs they don't like every day," he said after the class. "Not me. I love what I do. I love teaching."
His energy is still there. But his eyesight is waning a bit. This past winter was hard -- he already has plans for Florida in the colder months. It's time for younger folks to step in, he said.
He arrived on campus in 1958 as the Lutheran campus pastor, a year after Western Michigan College was renamed as a university. He joined the faculty for the 1960-61 school year.
He has known every school president, save the first. He has seen more than 20,000 students come through his classes. He has written dozens of books and articles. He has appeared in the national news media as an expert. He has conducted seminars across the country for decades.
He has seen campus golf courses turned into buildings, some named for professors he knows but who have long since retired. He has seen the university grow from 9,000 students to more than 25,000. The history department has expanded from 12 faculty sharing space to nearly 40 full-time and adjunct faculty.
"His lectures were more than educational, they were truly enlightening as well as completely engaging," said former student Ruth Villeneuve, who had Maier for two courses in the early 1990s. She was among several former students who commented this month on a WMU Facebook wall post that linked to news about Maier's departure.
She remembers he asked the class to vote on the title of one of his books from a list of possible names, she said in a telephone interview. "It was obvious to me that Professor Maier's love of history was second to none and that his knowledge was beyond compare."
That love was sparked as a young boy, and tied to his family's Christian faith. "Over half the Bible is history," Maier said Thursday. "I always was interested in learning more."
During his career, his research examined the actual date of Jesus' crucifixion and the persecution of early Christians at the hands of Nero.
Courses on ancient Romans and the Greeks are his favorites. He also has taught a class about general Western civilization, which he says he likes because it's a chance to get students interested in some era of history.
Even after 50 years of lecturing, Maier wasn't coasting at the end.
His last lecture didn't include much about his career. It was apparent, however, from the row of neighbors sitting along the back classroom wall and by the presence of news media cameras.
As usual, the class was mostly about Maier trying to cram more knowledge into his students' heads.
"I just love teaching," he said. "It's too much fun."
(from the detroit free press)
(from the detroit free press)
Monday, April 25, 2011
"Worship is like no place else in this world. But there is one place it does resemble, and that is heaven."
Worship is like having one foot in heaven and another here on earth. What brings heaven into our earthly worship is not dependent on the elaborateness of the service or the sincerity of our devotion. Rather, it is because of the One who is present in our worship that we experience heaven on earth.
If worship is "heaven on earth," then it stands to reason that what we do and say in worship should in some sense give us a foretaste of that great feast to come. In the Divine Service, the ancient liturgy gives us that glimpse of heaven and, more importantly, it delivers to us the eternal benefits of Christ's forgiveness, life, and salvation.
(from the lcms website)
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
(Luther on Death and Resurrection As Life, from Resurgence)
Martin Luther knew something about economics. Well, God’s economics anyway. It goes something like this: you can't pay your way into heaven, and it was wrong of the Pope and his cronies to say so. The Christian life is all of grace and nothing of personal sacrifice or performance. These are the big ideas that frame Luther’s 95 theses. But honestly, a long gripe against the Pope kind of makes for a dull read.
The real exciting Reformation stuff happened at Heidelberg in 1518 where Luther railed against the self-important theology of his day and placed the cross front and center where it belonged. Luther’s Disputation is a tough, but important read. In light of I Corinthians 1, Luther maintained that reason, philosophy and religion were the very antithesis to the word of the cross:
- "The cross of Christ is not a concept compatible with human wisdom and philosophy, but only with deep folly and offense. The cross is not inspiring but a scandal. Therefore the true theologian is not one who argues from visible and evident things, but rather the one who learns from the cross that the ways of God are hidden, even in the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Cryptic stuff, no doubt. But the point is, God reveals himself most clearly (don’t miss the irony) in counterintuitive ways - namely as a man dying a criminal’s death for his enemies. In turn, God calls us to name our rebellion for what it is - cosmic treason - to have our sin put to death so that we can be resurrected to new life. But we don’t like being implicated in the cross. Instead, we re-translate the meaning of the Christian life by highlighting our efforts, achievements and transformation instead of trusting in his finished work.
The Good News of the gospel is nonsensical until we tell the truth about the Bad News of our sin. And especially about our efforts to add to God’s one-way love to us. People much prefer spiritual advice over the stark truth that spiritual aspirations meant to earn God’s favor ought to be put to death. God doesn’t massage our egos by giving us tips for sin management. He attacks sin and puts it to death in Christ. Our refusal to face this death - and the personal disequilibrium that comes with it - is what Luther calls the glory story.
What might this glory story look like? Jesus serving as a means to to our ends like a kind of cosmic butler. But Jesus himself, at the cross, is the end. There, he invites sinners to come tell it like it is, have their self-inflated hopes put to death, and to be raised to new life.
This pattern of death and resurrection isn’t just a Christian conversion event. Death and resurrection isn’t just physical death and a celestial hope. Instead, death and resurrection is a pattern for all of life. Sin is put to death and God raises us to new life. Repeat, repeat, repeat...
Monday, April 11, 2011
When I was a kid, it seemed like every year or so we had some kind of craft project in Sunday school that had to do with making a bible verse out of dry alpha bit soup letters, putting it all together, and then gluing the verse on some kind of backdrop suitable for framing. Long story short – the shorter the bible verse, the easier the craft project.
One of the verses found in the story of Lazarus from Gospel of John was always a very popular verse for this project, as it is the shortest bible verse in the English language. That verse is "Jesus Wept".
Mary and Martha were feeling helpless and hopeless four days after their brother Lazarus died. And their questions added insult to injury. They are questions we all ask even today. Where is God?
Couldn't He have prevented this tragedy in the first place? Why couldn't He have healed Lazarus of his sickness like he healed so many other people?
Jesus delayed His coming, so by the time He finally arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. "Lord," Martha cried, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died". Amidst all the grief and tears, the neighbors mumbled their own aside: "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?". Could he not have prevented all this horrible pain and heartache? What kind of friend is this Jesus anyway?
Jesus doesn't answer the question. Instead, in the shortest verse in the English Bible, Jesus reveals one of the most important things we can ever learn about the heart of God - Jesus wept. When Jesus experiences his friends Mary and Martha weeping for their dead brother Lazarus, John writes that he was "deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled".
The almighty powerful God whom we worship is not a remote, aloof, foreign god somewhere way out there in the universe. No, He's a tender and loving and compassionate God who is deeply moved, even grieved, by the things that threaten the well-being of his people.
This compassionate nature of God is the reason why the Scriptures encourage us to bring to Him every pain, anguish, confusion, and anxiety. Like Mary, Martha, and their neighbors, the Psalmist demonstrates this crying out to God :
"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy."
We can pray to God like this because we know that He cares for us. We can place our hope in Him because, He is a God of unfailing love and full redemption.
God not only empathizes with our many pain and sorrow, He also participates with us in them, and He acts on our behalf in the midst of them. After Jesus wept, He demonstrated His power over death and the grave, by raising Lazarus from the dead, his last miracle before his own death and resurrection. Lazarus, come out!
And the man who had been dead came out.
Dead men don't just get up and walk out of their graves!
Dead men tell no tales! Well, not usually anyway - not unless Jesus is around.
The same voice that spoke at creation – Let there be light –
now says to Lazarus and to all of us gathered here to day - Let there be life!
From the very beginning God has always been in the business of giving life, and making alive out of that which was dead.
A thirsty woman getting water is pretty interesting. A blind man getting his sight back is quite remarkable. But a dead man getting his life back? Now that is really something.
And if Jesus has the power to bring someone back to life after they had died and been in a grave for four days, then He has the power to do the same in my life and in your life as well!
It was said of the Messiah, that you will know that he has come when the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them. He is here. Messiah has come. And His name is Jesus.
The raising of Lazarus is a preview of Jesus' own resurrection. In just a few short weeks, Jesus will walk out of a rock tomb as well, He too will leave behind a grave stone and leave His grave clothes behind. And when those who surround Him witness His resurrection, they will believe and put their faith in Him as well.
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever lives and believes in me will never die but live forever. Do you believe this?
It's true - the shortest verse in the English Bible, is "Jesus Wept".
But the shortest verse in the Greek Bible is - "Rejoice always".
And because Jesus wept, we can rejoice always. Amen.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Every year about this time, news stories come out, magazine articles are published, and tv programs are produced that seek to capitalize on the popularity of the Easter Season, while at the same time trying to raise doubts about the validity of Christianity in the process.
These have taken the forms of the DaVinci Code, the Gospel of Judas, implying that Mary Magdalene was Jesus wife, digging up the so-called tomb of Jesus, etc. etc.
This is irksome to me not only as a Christian Pastor, but also as a student of history, geography, and archaeology as well.
We need to remember that the truth of the matter is that there is only one religion in the world that has the kind of historical, geographical, archaeological, (even astronomical) evidence for the truth of its claims - and that is the Christian faith.
We could spend all day talking about the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity, but this morning, this April 3rd, we will focus on only one. This morning we will make the case for the day Christ died.
Let's begin with the basics.
At the time of Jesus Jews observed the Sabbath as a day of complete rest.
No work could be done on the Sabbath, which was a Saturday, and so Friday came to be known as Preparation Day. It was a day when food and other things needed for the Sabbath were prepared for in advance. All four Gospels state that Jesus was crucified on Preparation Day, a Friday.
Of course we all know this as Good Friday.
The Gospels record that the crucifixion occurred the day before the Passover festival.
This is an important clue, because it gives us a solid connection with the ancient Jewish calendar system. We know from history that Passover always began on the 14th day of the first Jewish month of Nisan.
Putting these together, we see that the death of Jesus must have occurred in a year when Nisan 14 happened to fall on a Friday. That narrows things down considerably.
Scripture as well as ancient historians record that Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea for 10 years - 26 AD through 36 AD.
Now Jesus was born around 5 BC. (He would have been born after the census decreed by Caesar Augustus in 6 BC and before the death of King Herod in 4 BC.) The Gospel of Luke records that John the Baptist began his public ministry in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, 29 AD. And Jesus began his public ministry when he "was about 30 years old". We know He would have been older than 30, because traditionally a Jewish man had to be at least 30 years old in order to be a prophet or priest in the service to the Lord.
Also, the Gospel of John records that there were three annual Passovers during Jesus' ministry.
So taken together, these pieces add up to a crucifixion date in the early 30's AD.
And during those years, the beginning of Passover, Nisan 14, fell on a Friday twice:
on April 7 of 30 AD and April 3 of 33 AD. To help us chose between those two dates, there is more evidence to consider.
After Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor at the time Jesus was born, came Tiberius Caesar.
After a number of years in charge of the world, he became weary of his daily Imperial duties.
He entered semi-retirement on the Island of Capri. While there, out of the public eye, he embraced a life of depravity and cruelty. Still, even for a degraded and absentee emperor there were the problems of government. So Tiberius appointed one Aelius Sejanus to be in charge of day to day operations. Sejanus turned out to be quite a cunning and ruthless man himself. He tried to plot his way to the throne, but Tiberius Caesar managed to find out about it, and had Sejanus arrested and executed before he could carry it out in 31 AD.
Why does all of this matter? Because Roman and Biblical history intersect. Before he went rogue, Sejanus made appointments of many Imperial officials, including one Pontius Pilate.
Because of this we know that after 31 AD, Pilate lived in a pretty lethal political context.
If Jesus trial and sentencing took place after this date, then Pilate's ambivalence toward Jesus and the Jewish leadership is not so strange after all— at this point in his career, his decisions could cost him his life! Knowing this helps us understand why Pilate would have dreaded the chanting of the Jews who demanded Christ's execution.
The date of Jesus death is becoming more and more clear.
Now its time to look for a sign in the heavens.
Remember the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were speaking in tongues and everyone thought they were drunk? Here is how Peter responds in Acts ch. 2...
"Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, signs, and wonders, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know."
Peter asserts that Joel's prophesy has been fulfilled and his listeners know it — they have seen the signs themselves. Peter's argument would have had no force unless the audience knew that the signs had occurred. He assumes everybody knew about the signs. Of particular interest for us: Joel said there would be astronomical signs. And Peter says, "you've seen them." Well, what were they?
"The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood..." The gospels recount that the sun was darkened on the day of the crucifixion from noon until 3 in the afternoon. Ancient sources confirm this. Phlegon records in his history, Olympiades:
"In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [33 AD], a failure of the Sun took place greater than any previously known, and night came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon], so that stars actually appeared in the sky; and a great earthquake took place in Bithynia and overthrew the greater part of Niceaea."
The prophet Joel mentions the "moon turned to blood". This has a specific meaning, for in ancient literature this meant a lunar eclipse. Why a bloody moon? Because when the moon is in eclipse it is in the Earth's shadow. It receives no direct light from the sun, but is lit only by the dim light refracted by the Earth's atmosphere. The moon in eclipse has a dull red glow, as I'm sure some of you know if you've seen one.
This is a pretty big deal, because we can determine exactly when eclipses have occurred in history. And at this point it probably won't surprise you to learn that only one lunar eclipse happened on Passover visible from Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate was in office. It occurred on April 3, 33 AD.
At 9 AM that day, Jesus was nailed to the cross. At noon the sky was darkened for three hours.
In the Temple, the thick veil or curtain was torn apart, from top to bottom, and a shattering earthquake split rocks and broke open tombs.
At 3 pm on Friday, the day of preparation, at the very same time the lambs would have been slaughtered before the Passover, Jesus, the Lamb of God, died for the sins of all the world.
At 3pm, on April 3rd, 33 AD.
Jesus of Nazareth, son of God and son of Man, died for your sins and for mine.
It all really happened, it is all true, He did it for me, and He did it for you.
"For we did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty... And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1)
(much of this information comes from Paul L. Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan)