Posts tagged Jesus

Let Us Hold Fast Our Confession

The following was preached by the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, secretary of Synod, on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at the LCMS International Center. The text for the day was Heb. 4:14-16.  

 

polycarp

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna

On this day on the Church calendar, we remember the Early Church father Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.

Polycarp lived during the first and second centuries after Christ. He may have had, in his younger years, opportunity to spend time with John, the last surviving apostle; he may actually have been a disciple of John and he may have been ordained bishop of Smyrna by none other than John. In any case, he lived to an old age as the bishop of Smyrna, the location of one of the congregations of Asia Minor addressed by Jesus in the Book of the Revelation of St. John, chapter 3. Jesus had this to say to the congregation at Smyrna:

I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.

The congregation at Smyrna did suffer, and so did Polycarp, culminating in him being burned at the stake for not offering incense to the Roman emperor. He is recorded as saying — on the day of his martyrdom — when asked to deny Jesus Christ:

“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.”

And then there is one other thing: History and tradition also suggest that he may have been involved with assembling the books of the New Testament, one of which is the Book of Hebrews, the source of our text for this morning, the second of our subjects to consider together.

This brings us to our text for our meditation this morning:  Heb. 4:14–16.

 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Could it be that Polycarp was familiar with this text? If so:

  • He certainly would have appreciated its imagery more than we. “Since then we havea great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14a). Even as the high priest in Old Testament times killed the bullock and the goat and delivered their blood through the veil into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it on the mercy seat to remove the sins of the whole people, so Jesus, the great High Priest, delivered His blood, passing through the heavens to deliver the forgiveness of sins for all people. Polycarp could certainly have said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
  • He certainly also would have appreciated, especially when tempted on the day of his martyrdom to deny Christ, the words of verse 15: “For we do not have a high priestwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Polycarp was in good company, in company with his Savior and His Savior’s far greater sufferings. He could certainly have said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”
  • And he certainly would have found courage in the words of vv. 14b and 16: “Let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Polycarp found that “grace to help in time of need” and the courage to say, “Bring forth what thou wilt.”

That leaves us to consider the importance of this text also for our day.

Ordinarily texts like this, especially from the Book of Hebrews, might strike us as rather obtuse, not commanding our interest. But in the context of this day on the church calendar and the things going on in the world in which we live, we may see otherwise. Here in this text, first of all, is the heart and core of our Christian faith — that Jesus has become one of us:

  • to face temptations to sin that we often cannot withstand;
  • to suffer far more severely than we ever will;
  • to shed and then deliver to His Father in heaven the only blood that could suffice for our forgiveness of our sins.

Already in its first verses there is plenty in this text to cause us to sit up and take notice.

ISIS

Twenty-one Coptic Christian martyrs

But it is also the encouragements to “hold fast our profession,” to “come boldly” and “find grace to help in time of need” that are taking on greater urgency and significance now every day. How rapidly things are changing for us as the bright conditions that we have been privileged to enjoy most of our lives begins to grow dim. In my childhood, the words “let us hold fast our profession” predominantly meant, “Beware of what they teach in that church down the street from our parochial school.” Or it meant, “Keep the faith while diving under our school desks for the latest nuclear bomb drill.” Now we are beginning to recognize that possibilities for personal suffering we once thought preposterous are no longer so; that we, too, might have to “find grace to help in time of need” because our Christian way of life and faith or even our lives might at some point be direly threatened.

I expect I will never get out of my mind the recent picture of the 21 Coptic Christians, young men dressed in orange, waiting to be martyred on the seashore. I felt I owed it to them, my brothers in Christ, to watch the video disseminated by their executors. I was disgusted, of course, but more so I was amazed — at their calm demeanor as they kneeled with knives at their throats and at the last word on their lips: the name of Jesus. I wondered how they could do that. But they, like Polycarp, had the encouragement of God’s Word. And they clearly had the last word: the name of Jesus clearly the last word on their lips. They are the best commentary of our text this morning: “Let us hold fast our confession,” to which the only thing more for us to say is, “Amen.”

 

The Name of Jesus!

The Gospel for New Year’s Day, the “Name of Jesus,” is very simple: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

That’s all. Eight days after his birth (which we celebrated December 25th), he was circumcised and given the name Jesus.

Yeshua = “the Lord saves” – “for he will save his people from their sins,” the angel had told Joseph in dream (Matthew 1:21).

So we begin the new year 2015 in the name of Jesus, as the church observes on January 1.

Whatever the new year brings, Jesus has it covered. Whatever happens to us, we bear the name of Jesus. Whatever we go through, Jesus has been there before us.

Eight days old and he already sheds his blood for us. Eight days old and the name he is given is for our redemption. Eight days old and he is already being prepared for his saving work for us. It is as the church sings:

Jesus! Name of mercy mild, Given to the holy Child
When the cup of human woe First He tasted here below.

Jesus! Only name that’s giv’n Under all the mighty heav’n
Whereby those to sin enslaved Burst their fetters and are saved.

Jesus! Name of wondrous love, Human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee Helpless, O our God, to Thee.

(Lutheran Service Book, #900, st. 4-6)

Happy New Year, then, in the name of Jesus. “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).

A blessed New Year to one and all!

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS

LCMS responds to Oklahoma tornado, offers resources and ways to help

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

After May 20 tornadoes devastated parts of the Midwest and especially Moore, Okla., killing at least 24 people – some of them school children – we are requesting prayers and gifts to help with The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s ongoing relief effort.

The tornado swept dozens of homes and buildings off their foundations, shredded cars and trucks, littered streets with debris and power lines, injured at least 145 people in the Oklahoma City suburb and struck two schools and a hospital.

Aaron Uphoff, a vicar from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., is serving at Trinity Lutheran in Norman, Okla. He spent Monday evening in Moore, praying with and comforting those who survived the devastation. “I prayed with as many people as I could,” he said. “I asked Christ for comfort and for the peace that that surpasses all understanding, which is ours by virtue of Good Friday and Easter.”

At the same time, there is a great deal of mercy that needs to be shown to the people who have been hurt by this spring’s tornadoes. You can help support your Synod’s disaster response relief effort by contributing today to LCMS Disaster Response. The Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of the LCMS’ Mercy Operations Group,said, “The needs are going to be huge. We don’t know yet the extent of what they will be, but, by the grace of God, we will be there to respond with the love and mercy of Christ to help those affected by the tornado to regain some sense of normality.”

When the 6,200 congregations of the Synod respond, together we make an enormous difference by bringing our resources to bear where people are hurting. (Download a letter of encouragement I’ve written for our LCMS members and congregations here.)

Now is the time to help. Support those in need by:

  • Making a donation online at http://www.lcms.org/give/disaster.
  • Mailing checks payable to “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
  • Calling toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. – 4:10 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

Additional Resources:

Give a gift to help the LCMS provide immediate and ongoing response when disasters happen.

Watch LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison’s video message of Christ’s help and hope.

Keep up-to-date on the LCMS response to disasters around the globe at www.lcms.org/disaster

Download disaster-related worship resources for use
this Sunday, including a Bible Study, devotion, hymn suggestions and prayers.

“It’s Never Jesus And…”

[Note: Mondays in chapel at the International Center we work through a Biblical book in small sections. Right now we are in Colossians. Yesterday, I had the privilege of preaching on Colossians 2:16-23. Blessings! + Herbert Mueller]

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

 

Dear People Redeemed by Christ: I have a confession to make…

There was a time when I was enamored with the charismatic movement. This may date me a bit, but as a student at Concordia, Ann Arbor in the early 70’s I regularly attended a charismatic prayer meeting.

I desperately wanted one of the impressive charismatic gifts that others seemed to have. The one I really wanted was the gift of prophecy – knowing the future. I thought that’d be really COOL.

One of those who seemed to be a leader of the group gave suggestions for spiritual exercises I might do to make way for the Spirit, to invite the Spirit, to make myself ready for the Spirit, etc.

Then when it didn’t seem to work, the intimation was that there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t doing it right. I had some unrepented sin I had to find that was blocking the Spirit…

Well, we grew past that, eventually, and I came to see that I was falling into the same spiritual trap that the people in Colossae were tempted with.

That’s the trap of thinking that somehow having Jesus, trusting Jesus, well, it isn’t quite enough. There’s got to be Jesus – AND. Jesus AND these spiritual exercises designed to pull in the Holy Spirit. Or, in Colossae, Jesus AND – making sure you follow the Old Testament regulations concerning food and drink. Jesus AND making sure you observe the proper festivals.

Jesus AND – some kind of asceticism or worship of angels – whatever!

All these, Paul tells us,

“Have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value…”

What about now?

How might WE be saying – Jesus AND… something else?

Think of the things you hear. What is the next latest and greatest plan for saving the church?

What is the next thing the church just HAS TO do or it will fade and become irrelevant?  What’s the thing people are saying is the thing you must do, or you are not missional? Or you are not doing it right?

Now I’m all for excellence, and for being faithful to the mission of the church, and faithful to the Scriptures and our confessions. That’s our calling!

But if we think the future of the church depends on US getting it right, we’ve got things all turned upside down. The Church has a future because Jesus promised –

“On this rock I WILL BUILD my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

The New Moon and Sabbath festivals and all that Paul mentioned, they are a shadow of things to come, but the substance, literally, the body, belongs to Christ.

When you are reading a mystery novel, you may not catch all the clues along the way. But after you read the ending and know how it all turns out, you go back and re-read earlier chapters to find all the clues that were there all along.

That’s how Paul reads the Old Testament. Everything points to Christ, but it’s often only in Christ, and knowing Christ crucified and raised from the dead that we look back and see everything that was revealed in the Old Testament, we look back and see it was ALL about Christ.

So, for us, WE are called, in everything,

“to hold fast to the Head, to Christ, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

In Christ, by our Baptism, we have died to the elemental spirits of the world… have died to everything that pulls us away from God, including our own sinful flesh.

Just BEFORE this section, Paul wrote that all our sins are nailed to the cross with Christ, to be buried in His grave forever. He took the indictment that was against us with its legal demands and REMOVED it forever. And just AFTER this, Paul will assure us that our REAL LIFE is hid with Christ in God.

So there is no such thing as Jesus AND – something else.

But our life, the forgiveness of our sins and our resurrection depend on JESUS ONLY.

Jesus ONLY – in His Word.

Jesus ONLY – in whom we are baptized into His death and resurrection.

Jesus ONLY – who feeds us with His body and blood.

Jesus ONLY – who fills us with His Spirit that we might grow into Him who is our Head.

Jesus ONLY – who will call us to Himself and raise us to life everlasting.

In the name of Jesus – Only.

Amen

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Advent Thoughts

Jesus said, “Surely, I am coming soon!”

And the Church responds, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

These words, found in the closing verses of the Book of Revelation, and echoed even in our “common table prayer,” form the believer’s response to the message of Advent.

Our Lord Christ has come.  “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).  In this blessed, holy season of Advent we prepare for the celebration at Christmas of our Lord’s incarnation, His coming into our flesh.

In this the Son of God has placed on each of us infinite value, showing how God Himself gives us our worth, for God Himself becomes one of us to give Himself on the cross for us.  “You were bought with a price…” (1 Corinthians 6:20).  “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Jesus’ coming in the flesh is the heart of our proclamation and the central fact that gives our lives meaning and purpose.  In Him is life.  Without Him there is no life, no reason even to be.

Therefore, we rehearse the promises:  “A virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, and they will call his name ‘Immanuel’” (Isaiah 7:14).  We pause in wonder:  “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  On His day we sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).

Yet even in our singing the Advent hymns and Christmas carols, we look beyond this tired and fallen world to the time when we join the multitude of heaven and sing:  “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…  Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns…”  (Revelation 19:1b, 6b).  For the Christ who has come is coming again – visibly, in glory, to take us home.

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’  Who ever is thirsty, let him come; and who ever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).  Therefore “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!” is our prayer, as we sing: “The King shall come when morning dawns, And light and beauty brings. Hail! Christ the Lord, your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings!”  (LSB 348, st. 5).

But oh, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, you know there is even more.  For in the midst of all the busyness of this season, Christ comes to us right now, full of grace and truth!

Yes, here He is, in the down to earth, mundane, but clear Word of God (wasn’t His first coming in swaddling clothes?).  You don’t have to climb a high mountain, or plumb the depths of the ocean to find Him.  You don’t have to make pilgrimage to exotic places.  He is here, here in the Word of Scripture.

He reveals Himself in the words we preach and teach from His Word.  He shows Himself under the splash of water and Word in Holy Baptism.  In and with the forms of bread and wine, by His Word of promise, He gives His body and blood.

For that reason we take heart, my friends, and know that in the Lord our labor is never in vain.  For He comes.  And so we also pray, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President

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