Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "Body and Blood Benefits"

NOTE: In Southern California there is a group of confessional Lutherans known as "The Servants of the Word." Together this group organizes an annual Lenten pulpit exchange in addition to a Catechism Convocation held the second Saturday after Easter. New to the convocation this year are special youth breakout sessions hosted by myself and Pastor Al Espinosa.  This year we are also pleased to welcome Pastor and President Matthew C. Harrison to our convocation as we focus on the 6th chief part of the catechism, the Sacrament of the Altar. The sermon below is based on my assigned question from Luther's catechism for this year's pulpit exchange: "what is the benefit of this eating and drinking." 

+ Lenten Midweek Pulpit Exchange – 2013: Sacrament of the Altar +
Text: Matthew 26:17-29
Topic: Catechism Question: “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            One of my favorite college professors was fond of saying: “Christ died for sinners…and you qualify.” That works two ways. The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. As in Adam all die. So in Christ all are made alive.

            The same is true of the Lord’s Supper. We are both the sinner, starved and enticed by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh to eat all manner of poisonous, spiritual foods. And in this Sacrament, Christ feeds us his holy body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

            The Lord’s Supper is for sinners…and you qualify.
            What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?  Jesus’ Word answers: “Given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Luther directs us - not to himself - but to Christ, the giver and the gift of the Lord’s Supper. To His clear Word.  “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

            Jesus’ Word and promise have both the simplicity that a preschooler can understand, believe and trust in; and yet a sublime depth that the adult and scholar alike can never fully exhaust their study of God’s Word.

             Here, in the words [of Christ] you have two truths: that it is Christ’s body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift (Luther, LC, 24). Here, in the words of Christ – we have the whole Gospel.

            Just as in Baptism – where the water is not plain water, but it is water included in God’s command and combined with His Word. So too, in the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine are not plain bread and wine, but are included in Christ’s command and combined with His Word and promise.

            This Sacrament rests not on our holiness but upon Christ’s, not upon our word, but Christ’s Word.  Luther uses that word, “benefit” intentionally. Jesus is the gift given in the Sacrament and the giver of the Sacrament. He is the host, cook, waiter, and meal.

            However, our culture looks upon gift giving with suspicion: “What’d you do this time? What do you expect in return? What do I have to do now?” Our sinful flesh also despises gift giving. And in despising the gift, we reject the giver. Our sin is always as deep as the grave.

            But Christ’s love and gift giving ways are deeper than your sin and death. The same flesh and blood sacrificed on the cross for you is the same flesh and blood given to you at the Lord’s Table. Free gift. Free salvation. Free forgiveness. “That’s outrageous,” we say! Yes. And what a blessed scandal it is. The Lord’s Supper is outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners.

            Christ lives, suffers, bleeds, dies and rises all so that he can pour out the blood of this new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus means what He says. Jesus gives you what He promises.

             This Sacrament is a bridge from the cross to the altar, from Jesus’ crucifixion to you, from the Passover Lamb who is sacrificed for us to the Lamb’s high feast. “Christ could have been given and crucified for us a thousand times, and all would have been for naught if the Word of God had not come and distributed it and given it to me as a gift and said, that it is for you, take it and have it for yourself” (Luther).      

            Two little words anchor Christ’s promise to His benefits: For you.

             In this way, the Lord’s Supper is like the cross. Here, just as in Jesus’ death, we behold a blessed exchange, a sacred swap of cosmic proportions.

Christ takes your unbelief and gives you faith in His Word.

Christ takes your self-worship and gives you His self-sacrifice in Divine Service.

Christ takes your name: sinner and gives you his own: son, saint, and heir.

Christ takes you rebellion and gives you his obedience.

Christ takes your lust and gives you His fidelity.

Christ takes your gossiping tongue and gives you His Word of peace upon your lips.

Christ takes your envy and coveting and gives you His charity and compassion.

            “It is as if a wolf devoured a sheep and the sheep were so powerful a food that it transformed the wolf and turned him into a sheep. So, when we eat Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually, the food is so powerful that it transforms us into itself and out of fleshly, sinful, mortal men makes spiritual, holy, living men” (Luther This is My Body, AE 37:101).

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

            To the sin-sick man, it is the medicine of immortality.

            To the dead man, it is Living Bread from heaven.

            To the poor beggar, it is a sacred treasure.

            To the lonely, it is the communion of saints.

            To the one attacked by the devil, it is a trusty shield and weapon.

            To the hungry man, it is life-giving food for body and soul.

            To the thirsty man, it is a cup of blessing overflowing with Jesus’ forgiveness.

            To the faint and weak pilgrim, it is strength and sustenance for the journey.

            To the man emptied of all self-righteousness, it is Christ’s righteousness that satisfies him with good things.

            To Adam’s cursed descendants, it is the flesh and blood of Christ that redeems us from the curse.

            To the troubled conscience, it is consolation and peace.

            To the Church on earth, it is the pulsating heart of the Gospel where heaven comes to earth.
                        In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is for you. His Word for you. His body and blood for you. His forgiveness for you.  And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. For you.

             In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Apologetics 101, Part 3: An Outline of the Historical Argument for Christianity

‘The view of all serious historians of antiquity of every kind, from committed evangelical Christians to hardcore atheists is that the oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus are the works of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” – Bart Ehrman[1]

In part 1 of this series we unpacked the question, “what is truth?” along with sound methods of establishing the rationality of various religious truth claims. In part 2, we established that the historical/legal method of empirical and evidential apologetics is the best means of arguing positively in defense of the Christian faith while at the same time taking into account all the historical evidence. By now the reader may have noticed that we have given very little actual evidence. That is intentional. We have been building the case for Christianity. Now in part 3, we will outline the historical argument which was also presented by Craig Parton in January at UNWRAPPED in St. Louis, thus stabbing two birds with one electronic quill.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Christianity is unique in its historical claims, its historical context, and in the fact that, in principle, it is historically verifiable. Moreover, Christianity’s claim to truth – unlike any other world religion - is falsifiable. This is what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “If Christ is not raised from the dead, then your faith is in vain.” The question also needs to be flipped around. If Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, what does that mean? It would mean his claim to be God is vindicated and what he says is true. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What evidence do Christians have to back up their truth claim? How do we go about arguing positively for the defense of the Christian faith? What does a reasonable defense, ala 1 Peter 3:15, look like? 

Here’s the four-part outline.

  1. The four books known as the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are reliable primary source documents.
  2. In these primary source documents, the central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, claims to be nothing short of God almighty in human flesh.
  3. Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead proves his deity.
  4. Christ gives his stamp of approval to the Old Testament and the New Testament, which he will bring to the apostles’ minds.

Using this outline, we argue inductively, taking into account all the historical evidence, both internally and externally, and ask ourselves the question: “what is the best explanation that includes all the evidence?” As a brief side note, this does not mean that apologetics is trying to bench the Holy Spirit, nor does it mean we are arguing for a purely rational faith. To use the early Lutheran dogmatic categories, apologetics can deal only with 1) notitia and 2) assensus; here we rejoice with Luther that reason is given and preserved by God and is to be highly praised when used ministerially. Fiducia, the third category, is the realm of the Holy Spirit alone; here we join Luther in confessing, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason believe my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…”

It is precisely because there is an objective Word (proclaiming an objective, extra nos, outside-of-you salvation) that we are able to know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and to martial evidence in support of that claim while at the same time maintaining that this faith, which is founded on fact, is also – and entirely – a gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not an act of the will in spite of the facts or a blind leap into an existential abyss: “I’ll believe no matter what they say.” Rather, faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8-10) grounded in the objective events of Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15). This is a good thing. Christianity did not occur in a vacuum. No wonder Luke’s gospel reads more like a history book than a conspiracy novel (sorry to disappoint all you closet Don Brown fans).

This brings us full circle to part one of the historical argument:

The four books known as the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are reliable primary source documents.

Although we usually see the Bible printed on fine India paper with gilt-edged pages, leather bound in one single volume, the Bible is a collection of sixty six books. The primary source history of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is found in these four books, known as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were written by four separate men who were contemporaneous with the events they claim to report. In the case of the Gospels, the four authors are either eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or close associates of eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke) of Jesus’ public ministry and subsequent death and resurrection. Think of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John like four eyewitnesses to an automotive accident on four separate corners. The fact that they report the same events with remarkable similarities and yet present unique contributions in their accounts does little to undermine their testimony. Quite the opposite in fact; this lends support and credibility to their reliability as eyewitnesses. 

The veracity of the paper trail left by these four separate accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is further bolstered by three important facts: 1) the overwhelming amount of New Testament manuscript evidence giving us an accurate and abundant view of what the original autograph would’ve said, 2) the minimal time gap between the date the events occurred and when they were written down, in addition to the minimal time gap (especially when compared to other works of antiquity) between the original date of the events in question and the earliest known manuscripts, and 3) following up with the first point, is the fact that the manuscripts we do have have been accurately transmitted over time and have been painstakingly collected into the critical edition of Greek texts, such as the 28th edition Nestle Aland, most commonly used today. 

Craig Parton’s observations are helpful here.   
“If the documents containing these claims are suspect and subject to corruption over time so that we really have little idea what took place originally, then all bets are off.”[2]  If, however, “the documents are sound and have come down to us in a reliable fashion, we can move to the next step of considering the facticity of the claims made in those documents.”[3]

In other words, if Dan Brown, Bart Ehrman and others are correct that the Bible is simply full of errors and the transmission of New Testament manuscripts has been thoroughly corrupted over time so as to make the text utterly unreliable, then there’s little reason to continue on with the rest of the argument. 

(Here I must offer a brief parenthetical note:  Bart Ehrman is cited intentionally, not because he is an ardent supporter of the reliability of the New Testament, nor because he is an unbiased source of support for Christian apologists, but rather, for the opposite reasons. In other words, the fact that Ehrman – and other liberal scholars like him – admit that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the best sources for the life of Jesus, actually lends credibility to the claim of Christian apologists. While it does not prove the case conclusively, it provides good corroborating evidence from a source that is similar, if not identical, to a hostile witness. Furthermore, Christians should not avoid reading Bart Ehrman (or similar authors) simply because they present opposing views, but rather should be discerning in their reading. Therefore, when reading Bart Ehrman or other skeptics' works, proceed with caution. If this is your first introduction to Christian apologetics, consider checking out the following online resources: Apologetics 315 at; Stand to Reason at; Issues Etc. archives at; or New Reformation Press at  

Are liberal scholars right in asserting that the Bible is full of errors and is therefore untrustworthy? Are claims that the New Testament is a byproduct of some mass ecclesiastical conspiracy accurate when compared to actual historical records? How do we go about evaluating whether or not these primary source documents have been handed down to us in a reliable manner? 

One way, effectively used by Craig Parton in his plenary session at UNWRAPPED, is to apply the same methods of historical investigation to these documents as we would to any document of antiquity. In this case, there are three standard tests used in establishing documentary authenticity: 1) the bibliographic or textual test, 2) the internal evidence test, and 3) the evidence external test. And just to reassure the skeptic against any alleged biases at this point, these three tests are drawn from military historian, Chauncey Sanders, and not from a religious historian.

“The bibliographic test seeks to determine how reliably the actual, physical document has come down to us today. With the internal evidence test we seek to discover what the texts themselves reveal about their reliability. This is, do they even claim eyewitness status, and even if they answer is yes, do the authors give evidence of the means, motive and opportunity to present eyewitness evidence? Finally, the external evidence test focuses on reliable materials and evidence found outside the texts which either support or contradict the claims in the document itself.”[4]

In the ensuing posts, we’ll take a more detailed look at each of these three tests in relation to the primary source documents of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the meantime, here are several sources for further reading on this particular topic.

  • ·         The Bible on Trial - A Lutheran Hour Men's Network Video Series hosted by Craig Parton.
  • ·         How We Got the Bible - A Lutheran Hour Men's Network Video Series hosted by Paul Maier.
  • ·         Can We Trust the Gospel? ­ - Mark Roberts.
  • ·         The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?  - F.F. Bruce.
  • ·         The Text of the New Testament – Bruce Metzger.
  • ·         A General Introduction to the Bible – Norman Geisler and William Nix.
  • ·         History, Law and Christianity - John Warwick Montgomery.

In these primary source documents, the central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, claims to be nothing short of God almighty in human flesh.

Typically most conversations with a skeptic spend a great deal of time on the previous point.  No doubt, they have been fed the constant assumption (without little or no evidence) that the New Testament has been handed down to us much like a junior high game of telephone.  Sadly there is just as much confusion on the nature of New Testament textual transmission as there is concerning the actual content of the texts themselves. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus was not some elite Jewish boy scout helping ferry little old ladies and their groceries across the Sea of Galilee. And neither did he come to be a good moral teacher or simply to fill the minds of his disciples with pithy wisdom. 

Most catechized Lutherans whom I know are able to demonstrate this point of the argument quite thoroughly. This is one area where Lutheran catechesis has excelled. Very few Lutherans who have studied the catechism, sat in Bible class regularly, listened to faithful sermons and sung the liturgy weekly, are going to buy into the lie that “Jesus never actually claimed to be God; only his followers claimed that after he was gone.” For those who are less fortunate and have not received faithful teaching and preaching, even a cursory reading of the New Testament will reveal the recurring answer to the question about who Jesus is: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day raised” (Luke 9:22).  So, if the text has been reliably handed down – which we have briefly demonstrated here in the positive – then there are only three logical possibilities about Jesus (just as the professor described concerning Lucy’s claim of a certain magical world in a certain mysterious wardrobe).[5] To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, Jesus is either a madman, a sensational (and convincing) liar or he’s actually telling the truth, namely, that He is God Almighty come in human flesh to save the world by his death on the cross. There are no other options.

Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead proves his deity.

Christ’s death and resurrection are recorded in stunningly rich detail in all four of these primary source documents. Holy Week, in particular, is the focal point of all four of these primary source documents. A larger percentage of time is spent on the accounts of the events of Jesus’ triumphal entry, trial, death, and resurrection than any other portion of Jesus’ public ministry. This is no accident. Jesus was born for this very purpose: to go to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise from the grave for the sins of all mankind. Holy Week is the climax of Jesus’ entire public ministry. Time halts and the narrative pace slows down during Jesus’ last week before his death. This demonstrates exactly how significant these events were both in the minds of those who recorded them as well as in the life of Jesus and his salvific work. 

These authors spend the majority of their time – in Matthew 29%; in Mark 38%; in Luke 25%; in John 40% (approximately) - dedicated to narrating the events of one particular week in Jesus three year public ministry. Why pay so much attention on these eight days if Jesus is only a moral teacher or a super-duper nice guy? The answer is clear: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John focus the spotlight on Jesus’ death and resurrection because this is the central event in all of human history. Their work is replete with details only eyewitnesses would remember, much less pass along (not to mention, embarrassing details that wouldn’t be included the story was fabricated), such as the number of fish caught on a certain day (153 in John 21) or that Jesus was thirsty on the cross or that Jesus’ words were spoken in Aramaic. As my good friend and apologist, Mark Pierson says, “These seemingly mundane historical details smack of eyewitness testimony.”  These writers want anyone who reads their work to know that they saw it themselves, or they checked out the facts from people who did; this really happened and it happened for you. The details of these accounts of the Jesus’ life and ministry confirm their accuracy. And coupled with this richly detailed account is the fact that no other viable explanation exists for what happened to the missing body of Jesus and the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. This is a crucial point and will be handled in more detail in a future post on the defense of the resurrection. 

For now, we’ll move on to Jesus’ central claim: that his resurrection proves his deity. Claims to divinity are cheap, especially in California, where I live. But Christ backs up his claim.  John is filled with signs that point his hearers to Jesus and his saving work on the cross. Similarly, we are told that the entire Old Testament points to his death and resurrection (Luke 24). And Jesus routinely predicts his death and resurrection as the foundational event for his claim to deity. In the Old Testament, false prophets are stoned to death if their predictions do not come true. If Christ is a false prophet and false teacher there is no reason for God to raise Jesus from the dead; Jesus would simply be revealed as a charlatan. However, since God alone is the author and creator of life, it would follow that if Jesus rose from the dead he is truly who he claims to be, God almighty in human flesh (John 1). What’s more, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus both commands that worship be directed to God alone (citation) and receives worship after his resurrection from the dead without rebuking the disciples for committing blasphemy and breaking the first commandment’s prohibitions (citation).
No matter the worldview, religion or spirituality you claim, this reality is true for all: one can evade taxes but not death. Death is the great equalizer. And yet this is precisely the reason why Jesus came in the first place, to die in our place. Not only does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead vindicate his claim to deity. It also ensures that his promise to us is true, namely, that he also holds authority over our death and promises that we too will rise from the dead (Romans 6). 

As Craig Parton notes,

“Jesus says his resurrection establishes his deity. Of course he could simply be dead wrong about that interpretation (for example, he could have resurrected but the correct interpretation of that is that we all resurrect anew each spring, like wild-flowers). However, if he did accomplish his resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion, the law would easily find that he is the most qualified witness on the topic of the correct interpretation of that event. Particularly unsuitable interpreters of the meaning of that event are critics living centuries later who were not eyewitnesses of the event, whose worldview does not allow them to even consider evidence for the resurrection, and who have certainly never accomplished their resurrection.”[6]
Christ gives his stamp of approval to the Old Testament and the New Testament, which he will bring to the apostles’ minds.

If, as we have argued, Christ’s resurrection establishes His deity, then we should be quick to hear Him as He has pronounced on any topic, including the reliability of the Scriptures. On this topic, Christ could not have been clearer. As for the Old Testament, He unambiguously testifies that it is accurate to the smallest jot and tittle, while He guarantees that the coming New Testament will be guarded in its transmission by the Holy Spirit through the pens of the eyewitnesses to His resurrection – namely the apostolic band.[7]
Although Jesus frequently uses stories and passages from the OT as application to his own life and ministry, Jesus is anything but a higher critic or liberal Bible scholar. Rather, He treats the OT people, places and events as historical, not legendary (i.e. Moses and the Exodus, Creation, Jonah, the flood and Noah, etc.).  In a similar way, Jesus puts his stamp of approval on the New Testament (John 14 and 16). Thus we can confess with Peter that these New Testament books are indeed products of men carried along by the Holy Spirit and not cleverly devised myths (2 Peter 1:16-21).

Stay tuned for the next Apologetics 101 post, where we’ll take up the “bibliographical test” in specific detail as we continue to build a positive case for defending the Christian faith.

[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Davinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Constantine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 102-3.
[2] Craig Parton, Religion on Trial (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishing, 2008), p. 40.
[3] Ibid, p. 41
[4] Ibid, p. 44.
[5] The full context of this reference can be found in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the chapter titled, Back on This Side of the Door (page 48 of the Harper Collins, Full-Color Collector’s Edition of 1950), where the Professor says the following to Lucy’s siblings who doubt her account of Narnia: “’Logic!’ said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?  There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth.  You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad.  For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.’”
[6] Ibid, p. 73-74.
[7] Craig Parton, The Defense Never Rests: A Lawyer’s Quest for the Gospel, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003), p. 92.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sermon for Lent 1: "A Tale of Two Adams"

+ Lent 1 – February 17, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

             Jesus is tempted three times just as Adam and Eve were. The old evil Foe has no new tricks. He uses the same three temptations in the wilderness as he did in the garden: food, power and idolatry, and doubt in God’s Word.  Three temptations, but it’s always the same lie: Jesus’ Word isn’t enough.

            Worship your desire. Worship yourself. Worship any word - fear, love, and trust in anything or anyone  - besides Jesus. That’s the devil’s game. It worked on Adam and Eve. They lost. It works on us too. In Adam we all lost.

            But the devil’s temptation tactics don’t fool Jesus. Why not? He has flesh and blood like you. He was born of a woman like you. Hungry. Tired. Wept like you. Tempted like you are. He is like you in all respects except He is without sin. Perfect. Obedient. Son of Adam and Son of God.

            Right before Jesus’ temptation in chapter 4, in chapter 3 Luke shows you Jesus’ family tree – beginning with Jesus and ending with Adam –  to show you that Jesus is the new and greater Adam.

            As it was with Adam and Eve, so it is with Jesus.

            The devil starts his temptation with appetizers. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

            The devil isn’t concerned about a fair fight; he attacks when Jesus is weak and hungry. Beware. He’ll attack you the same way. He knows what the ancient Romans knew: you can do anything you want as long as the people’s desires and stomachs are satisfied: bread and circuses. The devil is an expert party planner, catering lies for our every desire. How easily we turn God’s good gifts into idols: work, relationships, sex, food, technology, even worship, faith, and church – it’s all about me.

            Not so for Jesus. He denies himself. He fasts 40 days. But don’t try this at home. This isn’t a WWJD moment, as if by giving up something for Lent you’re living like Jesus; you’re free to do it, but do it for the right reason. Jesus came to serve, not to be served nor to serve Himself. The Bread of Life refuses to make bread for himself.

“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.”
            Jesus overturns the dust of Adam’s death and sows the living seed of His Word. Jesus does what Adam couldn’t do, what we cannot do. Jesus fights the devil. He resists the temptation. He stands firmly on the Word of God. All of this…for you. That’s his bread and yours, God’s Word. “It is written.” He knows the Father will provide all He needs.

            Where the first Adam ate and brought death, the second Adam does not eat and brings life. You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are filled by His Word of life - in Scripture, water, absolution, bread and wine.  The devil’s lies are no match for the Word. Christ speaks. The devil flees.

            Next, the devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory...if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”

            It’s a regurgitated temptation, the same one that got Adam to bite down on the lie. Kingdoms. Authority. Power. Glory. You can be like God. It’s a temptation to idolatry. A temptation to satisfy fallen man’s insatiable appetite for power.

            The devil comes at us this way too. The devil loves have-it-your-way-religion. My kingdom come. My will be done. “Have-it-your-way-spirituality. Have-it-your-way-worship. Have-it-your-way-church meetings. You can have it all your way…if only you bow down and worship me.”
            But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He stands firm. Refuses the power grab. The devil would’ve promised him anything to bend the knee and avoid the cross. But Jesus will bend the knee to no one save His Father.

“It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
         But the only way Jesus is enthroned as King of kings and Lord of lords is by his coronation on the cross. No cross, no Kingdom. So he refuses to be the Superman and instead becomes the Man of Sorrows, the broken, bleeding man, the beggar King who rules by dying and rising.

             That’s why Divine Service isn’t conditional like the devil’s worship: “If you worship me, then I’ll give you__________.” It’s exactly the opposite. Christ gives freely. Divine Service is just like it sounds. Christ serves you. Christ washes away your sin in Baptism. Christ pours out his forgiveness for you to eat and drink. Christ forgives your sins. Jesus’ worship is pure, and His purity is yours.

            Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
            See how cleverly the devil twists Scripture. He plants doubt in God’s Word. It worked on the first Adam. “Did God really say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Did God really say, “On the day you eat of that tree, you will die?”And by mixing a little truth with his lie, he makes his lie all the more convincing.

            This third temptation is particularly insidious. Luther observed that this temptation – the temptation to forsake the Lord’s clear Word - is the greatest. It’s a temptation to put God’s Word and promise to the test. With this temptation the devil scratches itching ears, muddling God’s Words with our emotions and opinions. With this temptation the devil has blown his foul breath of false teaching into countless churches and led many astray.

            Did God really say that, “Baptism now saves you?” Did God really say, “Your sins are forgiven?” Did God really say, “This is my body and my blood?”

             In all these temptations – food, power and idolatry, and doubt in God’s Word - the first Adam failed. And so do we.

            But not Christ, the second Adam.  The lord of the lies is no match for the Way, the Truth and the Life. That’s what Luther means in that line of the hymn, “One little Word can fell him.” That little word is liar.

            Where the first Adam said “yes” to the devil’s lie, Jesus says no, three times. Jesus resists. Stands firm. Steadfast.   

            But Jesus does not stand alone in the wilderness. Jesus is your substitute, your stand in. His temptation is our temptation; His victory is our victory.

            Everything Jesus does is for us. He was Born for us. Grew in wisdom and knowledge for us. Was an obedient teenage boy for us. Baptized for us. Sent out into the wilderness for us. Tempted for us.                       

            And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Luke points to the cross. There’s the opportune time. In the wilderness, Jesus fights the devil so you don’t have to. But the fight isn’t over once the devil leaves. Jesus goes to fulfill the rest of Psalm 91 – the part the devil conveniently left out:

            “You will tread on the lion and the adder…the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

            The first Adam could not defeat the devil. But the second Adam, Jesus, can and did defeat him. So that the devil, who overcame mankind by the tree of the garden, might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome by Christ.       

            In the first Adam we were cursed to dust and death. In second Adam we are raised from the ashes by His resurrection.

            In the first Adam we were cast out of Paradise into the wilderness in sin and death. In the second Adam we’re brought through the wilderness to a new creation: “today you are with me in Paradise.”  

            In the first Adam we were cursed with the food of bread and sweaty labor. In the second Adam, we’re fed by the sweat and blood of his brow in his body and blood. Eat this bread and live forever.

            In the first Adam we were tempted and fell. In Christ’s temptation, life, death and resurrection, we stand victorious over sin, death and the devil.   

            And that’s good news. Because we are the Baptized. And that means the devil will come after us too and not just during the 40 days of Lent. You will be tempted by your appetites, by the lust for power and control, by the desire to test and doubt God’s Word. But you need not fear the devil or his lies. The serpent’s head is crushed. The devil is thrown down. Satanm hear this proclamation, "I am baptized into Christ!" And that's good news, because you are Christ's and Christ is yours.

            Christ stood firm for you in the wilderness, on the cross, and today by His word, water, body and blood. And he holds the field victorious. Forever.

 In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Article Review: Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church

leaving-churchThis catchy title piqued my attention on Facebook recently. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this blog post. I found – to my delight – some candid observations about the way Christians minister to youth in the church. This article is well worth reading, whether you have kids or not.
I’m thankful the author wrote this article. He wrote down many things I’ve thought about over the last few years. Sadly, I don’t know much about him, only that his name is Marc and he has a blog titled, marc5solas, and that he comes from an American Evangelical background. To get the full article, click here.

So, here’s a summary of his argument, some selected quotations in italics and a little bit of my own commentary in regular type-face.

“The facts: The statistics are jaw-droppingly horrific: 70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate from High School. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church. Half. Let that sink in. There’s no easy way to say this: The American Evangelical church has lost, is losing, and will almost certainly continue to lose OUR YOUTH. For all the talk of “our greatest resource”, “our treasure”, and the multi-million dollar Dave and Buster’s/Starbucks knockoffs we build and fill with black walls and wailing rock bands… the church has failed them. Miserably.”

Much the same could be said of the youth within the Lutheran Church no matter what the denomination. A simple indicator of a local congregation’s commitment to its youth is found, at least in part, in the percentage of the budget allotted for “youth work”. Where our treasure is, there are heart is also. Of course, money isn’t the primary problem. Application of funds is also vital. What’s more, the substance of care and catechesis of our youth is what we ought to focus on first and foremost.

“10. The Church is “Relevant”:

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.
As the quote says, ‘When the ship is in the ocean, everything’s fine. When the ocean gets into the ship, you’re in trouble.’”

For decades, American Christianity – and youth work in particular – has been amusing itself to death. When Christians attempt to make the Church, in both doctrine and practice, relevant in the eyes of the culture, the church repeatedly shows herself to be irrelevant. Relevance is never good enough. There’s always something newer, shinier, and more glorious. Eventually the panacea turns out to be the poison. The church’s obsession with being relevant is a never-ending process of increasingly limited returns.

As C.S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters. “My dear on their horror of the Same Old Thing. The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion...” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter 25, p. 116).

When a Lutheran congregation changes their worship practices to become more like the Methodist, Evangelical, or Baptist church down the street they abandon the very things that sets Lutherans apart. Why should anyone – let alone the youth – come to a church that looks just like the mega-church across town that does it bigger and better, or worse yet, any church at all? What sets Lutherans apart from the world at that point? Lutherans worship the way we do because we believe, teach and confess the things we do. All the more reason to teach our youth what we believe and why.

“ 9. They never attended church to begin with:”

Everything done (or not done) in the church’s worship confesses something. So, when we send our children out for part (or all) of the service, over the course of a few years, we have successfully communicated to them that what is going on in the Divine Service isn’t for them; they need something different. And if they ever do come into church they’re lost because they never learned what was going on in the first place. As Marc notes,

“They’ve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank. They don’t see the full timeline of the gospel for every season of life. Instead, we’ve dumbed down the message, pumped up the volume and act surprised when….”

“8. They get smart:”

Our youth may appear hidden behind their iPhones and video games. But I’ve listened to these kids’ conversations and questions. And behind their youthful shyness they possess an intelligence adults take for granted. Although plenty of atheists and false teachers haven’t. While we’re busy cooking up the next great youth strategy or trying to figure out what the kids think is cool these days, they’re asking tough, skeptical questions.

However, Marc observes,

“7. You sent them out unarmed: We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”.

When it comes to armaments in the Christian education fight, Lutherans have the three best weapons: the Scriptures, the hymnal, and our Lutheran Confessions. I know our youth around Redeemer regularly study these, along with Christian apologetics. It’s important to know what you believe and why you believe it. Rather than dumbing or watering down our teaching for the youth, let’s give them a faith that they can grow into, not out of. That way, when skeptical wolfs come knocking, they won’t be living in a house made of straw.

“6. You gave them hand-me-downs”

“You’ve tried your best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you “feel”. You really, really, really want them to “feel” it too. But we’ve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You can’t hand down this type of subjective faith. With nothing solid to hang their faith upon, with no historic creed to tie them to centuries of history, without the physical elements of bread, wine, and water, their faith is in their subjective feelings, and when faced with other ways to “feel” uplifted at college, the church loses out to things with much greater appeal to our human nature. And they find it in…”

“5. Community”

This word is everywhere today. Problem is, no one really knows what it means or, worse yet, everyone has a different definition. Therein lays the problem. When our youth are fed a steady diet of soda-pop worship services and junk-food doctrine, the Christian community (the communion of saints) is easily replaced by any other number of communities willing to cater to their felt needs.

“4. They found better feelings:”

Emotions are a dangerous, sandy foundation on which to build our children’s house of faith; they wax and wane, especially in youth. Feelings can’t produce faith; but faith in Christ can produce feelings. Too often the emphasis is on the wrong syllable.

“Rather than an external, objective, historical faith, we’ve given our youth an internal, subjective faith. The evangelical church isn’t catechizing or teaching our kids the fundamentals of the faith, we’re simply encouraging them to “be nice” and “love Jesus”.”

“3. They got tired of pretending:”

It’s hard work being happy 24/7/365. A theology of glory is as emotionally demanding as it is theologically damaging. When Christianity is reduced to a “how-to” book or a list of fill-in-the-blank ways to be a better Christian, it’s not long before our youth end up in despair. Why?

“2. They know the truth:”

“They can’t do it. They know it. All that “be nice” moralism they’ve been taught? The bible has a word for it: Law...There’s no rest in this law, only a treadmill of works they know they aren’t able to meet.

And as a result, Marc concludes his article by saying,

“1. They don’t need it:”

“Our kids are smart. They picked up on the message we unwittingly taught. If church is simply a place to learn life-application principals to achieve a better life in community… you don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. Why would they get up early on a Sunday and watch a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before? The middle-aged pastor trying desperately to be “relevant” to them would be a comical cliché if the effect weren’t so devastating. As we jettisoned the gospel, our students are never hit with the full impact of the law, their sin before God, and their desperate need for the atoning work of Christ. Now THAT is relevant, THAT is authentic, and THAT is something the world cannot offer.”

Instead of approaching the youth with pragmatic, subjective based teaching and worship, let’s give them a firm foundation to stand on. This is why our youth group at Redeemer goes to Higher Things conferences and often uses their magazines and videos for bible study. Because the first rule of youth ministry is, there is no youth ministry. I learned this from Pastor George Borghardt at Higher Things. It’s the same Law and Gospel Bible study, the same catechism, the same hymns and historic liturgy, the same sacraments administered faithfully to Christ’s people of all ages.

When we feed our youth the solid doctrine and practice of Lutheran worship and a steady diet of Christian catechesis, the Church can’t help but stand out in the culture, and that’s a good thing. We’re an oasis from the white noise of culture and pop-Christianity. Here we have everything we need to train our youth up in the way they should go - an unchanging Gospel for ever-changing times, a firm foundation in the historic liturgy and Lutheran confessions, the Crucified and Risen Christ present in Word and Sacrament, and people that care about our youth. It’s time our youth know about it.