Posts tagged Christ

Some Reflections after Reformation and All Saints Day

What is most sure in our lives is the name God placed on us in our Baptism: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

All Saints Day, November 1, comes the day after Reformation Day. This juxtaposition points to the fact that we do not make ourselves holy, but that Jesus makes saints by His death and resurrection through His Word of promise. Everything we do apart from Jesus is tainted by sin and leads only to death. God forms the Church, His holy ones, through the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus. So we begin with the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for this is how God has revealed Himself. Attached to that name are the promises of God, promises beginning in the Garden for our first parents, promises for all people. Every promise of God is fulfilled, comes to a head, comes to full flower in Jesus Christ.

The Church follows from these promises, for the promises of God create the church: especially the promise that all who trust in Christ alone are justified by grace alone through faith alone.  Therefore we do not put our trust or confidence in the Church, or the character of the pastor, or the behavior of Church members, but only in the promises.

Did you ever notice that the definition of the Church in Augsburg Confession VII is singular? “It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (AC VII.1).[1]

The assembly – singular…

Also, the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, we say in the creed (that is “catholic,” small “c,” “universal,” wherever believers are found). One holy Christian Church, that is, the communion of saints.

The communion – singular…

Though now tragically divided by schism and heresy, by false teaching and sinful pride, we still confess that the church, properly speaking, is one. In essence the Lutheran theology of the Church sees the Church from the perspective of the end. We see the Church as the Lord revealed it to John in the Book of Revelation, as the Bride of Christ, prepared by her bridegroom, adorned, washed clean, no spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, ready for her husband. Now we see this only by faith. Now we perceive it in the Promise, but she is, in the end, truly the ransomed and forgiven Church of Christ, revealed to John in the Revelation (7:9-17):

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12  saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (ESV)

Human beings will fail us. “Put not your trust in princes,” Psalm 146:3 says. Human organizations and structures will fail us. This is why the Lutheran Church can exist in various structures – episcopal, congregational, Synodical. The STRUCTURE is not ultimate. It can and does fail. People fail. But the Word and promises of God? These will never fail us. And these are what create the Church.

That’s why the article on which the Church stands or falls is the article of justification.  Everything hangs on the promise. Who are those we see around the throne? “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

Who are those who are justified? Drawn from Scripture, in Augsburg Confession IV we confess:  “Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (AC IV).[2] So, from the perspective of the end, the Church is the one assembly of all believers in Christ, justified by faith, gathered around the throne.

All believers are justified sinners, saints, holy ones, in the Lord Jesus, “for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

But where do you find this Church today? Looking for the right structure, or the right organization, will not necessarily reveal the church. The Church exists within various structures, but the Church LIVES by the Word and Promise of God. That’s why our confessions also say, by the way, that we find the Church by its marks, by looking for the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. This is also the reason the Lutheran Church is identified, not by a structure or an outward gathering, but by our Confession of faith, by the content of our Symbols.

Or, to ask the question another way, if the Church is believers, where do you find believers now? You look for what brings people to faith, namely the Word and Promises of God. But these Words and promises of God are not simply abstract words on a page. The Word of God must be spoken, proclaimed, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

So there must be preachers and teachers of the Gospel, those called and sent to proclaim the Gospel, publicly, that is, on behalf of all. “That we may obtain this faith…” our confession says, echoing Scripture, God “instituted the ministry,” the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.[3]

Yet Scripture also charges all the baptized with the task of “proclaim(ing) the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). In our vocation, our daily life, wherever God has placed us, all the baptized are called to tell what God has promised. Because the Church lives by only Word and promise, God has called the whole Church, the whole communion of saints, to speak that Word before the world. “Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Our testimony points beyond ourselves to the things most sure and certain: the name of God applied in our Baptism, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, together with the Word and promise of God in Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for us. “Come and see” (John 1:39), we say, “see what Christ has done for me and for you.” His Word gives life. That’s what is sure. May God bless our witness and our continued reflection on All Saints and Reformation!

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

[1] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, ed, The Book of Concord, The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 42.

[2] Kolb/Wengert, pp. 39f.

[3] Augustana V, Kolb/Wengert, p. 40.

A New Song to Sing

A friend of mine, and long time brother in the ministry, Pastor Mark Willig, recently sent me a hymn he had written, asking my thoughts.  I thought it quite good and a great confession of why Christ has come.  With brother Mark’s permission, we bring this new hymn to you here.  Pastor Willig says you can use it, if you wish, so long as you do so with attribution, not changing anything, and including the copyright mark.  Christ IS your Immanuel!  Enjoy!  Yours in Him, + Herbert Mueller

 

 

He’s Your Immanuel!
(Sung to the tune Forest Green, the alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” LSB # 362)
(Note: words and syllables underlined are sung to 2 or more beats.)

1.  O sing to God a brand new song,
For now the world’s redeemed.
For He has giv-en us His Son
And in that gift received,
Our hearts He calls from wander–ing
Away from His embrace.
And brings us to the manger light
That we might see His face.

2.  The gentile kings from far a-way
Have heard the prophecies
And bringing gifts they worship Him
Who brings our souls release.
In-to His courts the nations come,
Are welcomed by the Son,
That we might live through endless days
With God the Three-in-One. 

3.  Into Je-ru-sa-lem Christ rode
As dark-ness gathered round.
In deepest ago-ny He prayed,
Sweat fall-ing to the ground.
A-rested, beaten, scourged and mocked
To Gol-go-tha He went,
And there to purchase souls from death
His ho-ly blood He spent.

4.  The dawn-ing sun on the third day
Reveals the wreckage well
It’s not His kingdom lying ruin’d
But rath-er death and hell.
The tomb is broken Jesus lives
And we are sent to tell,
Oh, world, He’s not for us a-lone
He’s your Im-man-u-el!

Copyright © 2013 Mark S. Willig

A Glimpse Into Unseen Spiritual Realities

The focus and purpose of Scripture is to reveal Christ, that we may

gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).

The apostle John also explained that

Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

On the way to fulfilling that purpose, however, the Scriptures occasionally give us fascinating glimpses into spiritual realities normally unseen. To be sure, the Word of God reveals also here everything we need to know for salvation, not necessarily all there is to know, or all we might want to know. For instance, we are told that God sends His angels to preserve and protect us, “to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). The angels carry us home to Jesus when we die (Luke 16:21). God gives His angels to be “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). But these realities are, for the most part, unseen.

Sunday, September 29, is the day the Church gives thanks for “St. Michael and All Angels” in the context of spiritual battle with the forces of evil going on behind the scenes. The Scriptures read this day comfort us with the promise of complete victory also in this unseen spiritual realm. The Gospel of Luke, for instance, records that when the 72 return (whom Jesus had sent out to announce His kingdom), they are full of joy at what they had seen and heard. Jesus saw even more, telling them, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Wherever the Word of God is proclaimed, Satan falls. He’s done for. “One little word can fell him,” Luther’s hymn sings.

In the Book of Revelation, in a passage also read on September 29, we hear that Michael, the leader of all the angels, fought against and defeated Satan and his minions. St. John writes it down:

the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…’” (Revelation 12:9-11).

Many of the details are beyond us, but this we know for sure: Satan is defeated. He cannot take us down, not unless we capitulate to him. He is a liar and murderer, the father of lies, Jesus says (John 8:44). When he tempts us we can call him out for what he is, a liar and, in the name of Jesus, send him packing. Indeed, the devil can’t stand the truth, particularly the truth that Jesus defeated him. When Satan seeks to convince us that we have done things Jesus could never forgive, we can remind him of this Word of God: by His death Jesus broke

the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and [set] free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus has thrown him down so he can no longer accuse God’s own. So the church also sings this day:

Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken
By the devil’s seething rage,
Thwarts the plan of Satan’s minions,
Wins the strife from age to age,
Conquered sin and death forever,
Slams them in their steely cage.

Michael fought the heavenly battle,
Godly angels by his side,
Warred against the ancient serpent,
Foiled the beast so full of pride,
Cast him earthbound with his angels.
Now he prowls, unsatisfied.

Long on earth the battle rages,
Since the serpent’s first deceit
Twisted God’s command to Adam;
Make forbidden fruit look sweet.
Then the curse of God was spoken:
You’ll lie crushed beneath His feet.

Jesus came, this word fulfilling,
Trampled Satan, death defied,
Bore the brunt of our temptation:
On the wretched tree He died,
Yet to life was raised victorious,
By His life our life supplied.

Swift as lightning falls the tyrant
From his heavenly perch on high,
As the Word of Jesus’ victory
Floods the earth and fills the sky.
Wounded by a wound eternal,
Now his judgment has drawn nigh.

Jesus, send your angel legions
When the foe would us enslave.
Hold us fast when sin assaults us;
Come then, Lord., your people save.
Overthrow at last the dragon,
Send him to his fiery grave.  (Lutheran Service Book 521)

What comforting words! Victory is ours, in Jesus. But remember, the greatest comfort is this, as Jesus said,

do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20),

written that is, in the blood of the Lamb, the blood shed for each of you!

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President

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